At the end of each week, sophomore World Literature students celebrate with poems. We study some and write some. I believe strongly in mixing reading with making. Typically, the poems match the material we are studying during the other days. For example, last week we began reading Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, set in Norway. On Friday, I introduced students to Tomas Transtromer, Swedish winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature.
During February, while reading Khaled Hosseini’s novel, The Kite Runner, which revolves around Afghanistan, we studied and wrote ghazals. This traditional form began in Arabia with the qasida. Persian culture then adopted the qasida’s opening section, turning it into what poets know as the ghazal.
In a later post, I can describe the various benefits of Poetry Friday. For now, let me say that more have emerged than I expected. For example, students and I look forward to Fridays–as much for the material as for the end-of-week signal. We have come to expect fun discoveries–made by being open to surprises–for instance, in Transtromer’s poem, “The Open Window.” We mine poems for warm-up exercises. In this case, students each wrote lines that give life to an inanimate object. Then they shared objects and wrote more lines.
Last Friday, one student selected as his object a leaf of grass–presumably a dead one to fit the instructions. His choice allowed my brief comments about Leaves of Grass and about finding Whitman’s poems under our boot soles. Poetry is always underfoot. It is everywhere. Not in a designated unit (typically in spring), but everywhere. Committing myself and the students to poetry every Friday embodies the ever-presence of the art. Poetry does not hibernate. It is not a special-delivery package at holiday time. It is in you and me, every day.
So, you cannot knock it down with a sledge hammer. You can’t murder it then share the video of your destruction. It’s not going away–not this week or next week.
I’d like to end with a student ghazal from last month. This poem is part of our cultural inheritance because it borrows from pre-Islamic Arabic poets, Medieval Persian versifiers and modern American high school students. Here is her poem.
Stays in Motion
We cannot see, but we are collections of echoes.
We think we know the real jurisdiction of echoes.
When we think, our thoughts bounce each other like echoes in a cave.
The thoughts we decide on are final productions of our echoes.
Our parents may seem completely different than us.
Keep in mind we are imitations of their echoes.
There is a vast future and a dead past to an echo.
We all die, but we are the never-ending echo.
Some think you can’t change an echo once it has begun,
Keillor, it can be done, the revision of an echo.
art work by Franz Richter, from cover of Tomas Transtromer: Twenty Poems. trans. Robert Bly (Madison, MN: Seventies Press, 1970)