Do we really need poetry?

In several of today’s classes–two sophomore and one senior–we listened to the NPR piece about John Borling’s book of poems, Taps on the Walls.  Having heard this interview during my drive to work this morning, I wanted to share it with students, and hence with readers of this blog.  It is a remarkable answer to a question I have asked my poetry classes in the past:  do we really need poetry.

After students listened to the program, which I recommend you do (7’48” long), we literally tried our hands at composing with the code used by Major General Borling and his prison mates.  Since the sophomores are just finishing The Kite Runner, I asked them to start a poem in the voice of Amir–a poem expressing what Sohrab means to him.  Then they were to try tapping the first line of this poem for their neighbor, as one concrete way to appreciate the importance of poetry for Mr. Borling during his six and a half years of brutal captivity. You can catch a glimpse of their handiwork on the youtube video above. I hope this mini-lesson opens for them a small window on the remarkable human spirit and its need for artistic expression.

p.s. Apologies for the extra youtube videos; I am trying to learn how to post just the one video I made, without these extraneous, unendorsed connections.


Filed under art, challenge, creative solutions, expression, reasons for writing

2 responses to “Do we really need poetry?

  1. The link for the YouTube video didn’t open for me. So I went back to read a poem written by a former student from the perspective of Mariam in A Thousand Splendid Suns. Although she and I shared poems we loved while she was in high school, she didn’t become a poet until this year – her freshmen year at college. As fate would have it, the only course that worked in her schedule was a poetry composition class. She’s taking upper level poetry composition classes this semester. She answers the question that heads your post with a resounding yes.

    “Had Mariam Been Watching Through a Crack in the Door”

    She would have seen her lying on her back,

    her golden hair fanned out around her.

    Her legs parted, a thin white sheet draped

    over her threadbare clothes, the rags

    just beginning to grow too tight to cover her belly.

    She would have heard her sucking gulps

    of air through clenched teeth,

    eyes fixed on the paint that peeled

    from the ceiling. She would have seen

    her fist closed tight around the spoke

    of a bicycle wheel, slightly bent and rusted.

    She would have seen her position it

    between her legs, where her flesh began to

    part. But despite the urge to destroy

    someone she didn’t ever think she could love,

    she would have seen, then, her breathing begin to slow,

    and the spoke drop from her small hand.

    She would have seen her stand too quickly,

    and fall back to her knees.

    She would have heard her whisper

    a prayer under her breath, her voice shaking.

    And finally she would have

    watched as she stood again, leaving

    the rusted spoke on the empty floor,

    and walked halfway to the door

    before she stopped, and returned to pick it up

    so that she could hide it back where it was found,

    in a dark alley behind the house.

  2. Quite a powerful poem, and I imagine your student is continuing to grow in these impressive skills. Thank you, also, for the alert about the video. I hope it works now.

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