At the start of this school year, back in August, I introduced an experiment: Poetry Fridays. Now, as March approaches, the benefits of sustaining this practice are blossoming.
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)
5 responses to “Poetry Fridays and Islamic Art: they shall not hurt nor destroy”
I like the student’s poem – and I have admired Transtromer’s work, from my graduate English work way, way long times ago…I do wonder, however, if poetry does hibernate: nearly comatose through periods of our lives so it might rise up even more powerfully after a deep and restorative sleep that can’t be understood….lyrical, noisy, disturbing, and beautiful.
I agree about hibernation, incubation, temporary cessation–at least with each of us as individuals. Maybe someone living in a different latitude borrows or absorbs the energy, as we and our poems sleep. And maybe I was unconsciously committing myself and the students to a no-hibernate approach to poetry with its return each Poetry Friday throughout the academic seasons. Traditional curricula that I have seen tends to bury poetry, for the most part, until it emerges in spring for an urgent re-visit during the weeks before Commencement exercises. Thank you for approaching the sleeping bear with such respect.
As always, my friend, what a beautiful re-reply. You are right about how many/much “English” curricula bury poetry, as though it should reside underground, emerging like the groundhog for special occasions. Your students are fortunate in having someone who knows just how integrated a poem can be with inhaling and exhaling throughout every day of the year, no matter what the weather forecast.
Thank you, Stephen. On a grammatical note, I noticed–too late–my subject-verb agreement problem. I should have written: traditional curricula . . . TEND to bury. Although I try to show students that an adjective clause can suspend our attention, I sometimes forget to check this situation myself. I like to think that I caught the problem before I saw your diplomatic use of “curricula bury,” but to be honest I am not sure. It’s little mysteries like this that make memory intriguing. I like to think a lot of things.
Curriculum…curriculae…tomatum…tomatae….potato…pota—-Well, you get the idea. Latin still fills me with joy when I recall my high school teacher, Miss Shidler. But I remain troubled by the proper use of data as a plural noun — it just sounds funny — and sound in the language has to count for a lot…speaking of poetry….