Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Josh touches on the issue that scratched me this morning reading Frank Beck's essay in the Manhattan Review on what all that Lilly money means for Poetry (and of course, for poetry):
While Kooser's efforts to help poets connect with newspaper readers have been widely praised, the poetry recitation project has dawn [sic] mixed reviews. "This is exactly the approach to poetry that turned off so many sudents [sic] in my generation," Georgia's poet laureate, David Bottoms, told NPR. "I remember very well being forced to memorize poems, and this was all my teachers knew what to do with poetry. No one would tell me how a poem worked."
Josh isn't talking about forcing children to memorize Longfellow, he's lecturing to undergraduates about a single relatively short Milton poem, but the issue is the same: "we don't really teach them how to feel -- and how could we?" Even if he's being rhetorical, and even though trying to answer that question risks heading into the most nauseating depths of emotional misinformation, he touches on what as far as I can tell is the big money -- how a teacher's affect influences students.

This is a basic pedagogical problem. Teaching is not really a job, or anyway, it ought to be compensated on Equity or SAG scale -- the people who do that job are actors. The ones who communicate their enthusiasms model how to make thoroughness and lively interest come naturally. The indifferent ones euthanize their subjects. I imagine there are some subjects impervious to drill-n-kill, and I'm pretty sure I "came to poetry" via a French teacher who was outright hostile to verse and claimed to teach it only to meet the requirements of the AP exam. Ne'ertheless, I keep wondering what if even just ten percent of poetry MFA recipients taught high school English. Would all these post-rational neo-Slovenian wandering souls have an effect on teaching itself? would the day to day requirements of focusing a group's attention change the poets' work for the better? Most importantly, would we get to see hot young actors and actresses playing poets in inspiring films? Anyway.

Later in the Beck essay, Jim Haba of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation clarifies the problem, offering another way to think about it: "Our purpose... is not to teach teachers about poetry or even how to teach poetry but to deepen their own connection to poetry so that they can take pleasure in it, rather than using it as a way to control students, as used to be the case."

So, to turn it back to Josh, how could we?

Jordan - #




I'm Jordan Davis.
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