Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the tag “Billy Collins”

Committed to Poetry or Was that Commentary of Poetry?


English: Former United States Poet<br /><br /> Laureate (2... Admit it–we like poetry
because for the most part it’s a quick commitment. Two to five
minutes we get our emotions stirred, we open up our imagery files,
and we tuck away a line to ruminate on.  This is not cynicism,
merely observation. We love, love, love poetry more than we love,
love, love short stories. At least, this is what I am beginning to
surmise as I dole out literary experiences to high school students.
Since I’ve been English literature teachering for the past
decade, I have discovered poetry is amazingly versatile in its
ability to stir up passion in students.  Students  run
the Richter scale of response of “Just hand me a dull spoon so I
can dig out my eyeball” (LOL–actual quote from a senior) to
“Poetry! I love poetry! Can we write our own poems!” (yet, another
true quote). There doesn’t seem to be much of the middle roading
when it comes to reading or writing poetry. Why is that, I wonder?
My students aren’t sure either.  Somewhere between Shel Silverstein and Shakespeare
sonnets the love of verse becomes irrevocably squashed.
I think Billy Collins presented oh so well:

Introduction To Poetry

I ask them to take a poem and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its
hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem

and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s
room

and feel the walls for a light
switch.

I want them to
waterski

across the surface of a

poem

waving at the author’s name on the

shore.

But all they
want to do

is tie the poem to a chair with
rope

and torture a confession out of
it.

They begin beating it with a
hose

to find out what it really
means.

Thank you,
Billy. I am trying to convert my rubber hose approach into one of
ski rope handles.
One of my goals as a teacher is to inject the love of
words into my students.  I want them to turn to poems like
they do to their tunes.  After all, song lyrics are mostly
poetry with infused music.  Once students realize that if they
actually unplugged their buds long enough to actually read
their play list lyrics out loud they will see all those
literary terms of assonance, imagery, rhythm, rhyme, simile,
allusion floating around.
I try not to have them beat the stuffing out of
poems.  I much prefer them waterski and wave in
acknowledgement as we launch out on poetry’s
waters.  Grooving on poetry is, I hope contagious. My
excitement at reading a really marvelous poem out loud causes me to
have physical reactions.  The other day I read Seamus Heaney‘s “Digging.”

English: Picture of the Irish poet and Nobel P...

English: Picture of the Irish poet and Nobel Prize winner Seamus Heaney at the University College Dublin, February 11, 2009. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound

When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.

 

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.
By God, the old man could handle a spade.
Just like his old man.
My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.
The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

 

When I finished reading the poem
out loud I sucked in my breath and danced a bit in
place, so moved was I with Heaney’s wordsmithing.  My AP
students benignly tolerate my antics. I’m hoping my
unfettered appreciation will one day stir them  into
showing me their unabashed admiration.
Considering I had minimal
exposure to poetry during my own K-12 school days, and didn’t
really discover its merits until college, I am continually amazed
at its power to stir my emotions.  I valiantly want to pass on
this joy to my students and even before the Common Core required a
unit on poetry, I taught it anyway.
My commitment to poetry is my
commentary on how words artfully placed meaningfully lend a
dimension to our lives that makes us linger to inhale the
fragrance of as Coleridges states, “the best words in the best
order.”
Do you have
any poems that cause you to dance a bit in place when you read
them? Oh, do share.

The Guilt-Free Read


One of the first items of my “I’m-finally-on-summer-vacation” list is to trot down to the local library and leisurely select a few novels to enjoy without guilt. During the year I am either guilty of sneaking my reading in between grading essays or I feel guilt because I am not reading.  With no papers in sight for the next couple of months I shall enjoy reading at all hours of the day guilt free.

I tend to mix up my reading,  and although I don’t like to make lists, here are a few goals I plan on to accomplish while lounging in the hammock this summer:

1. Room with a View (a reread, the first time I read it too fast determining if I would teach it for AP–the verdict? A resounding “Yes!” The subtle humor and digs at Brits and their habits are delightful–the film caught the spirit well, also.)

2. A really good mystery series–I haven’t found one since I finished my Inspector Evans series by Rhys Bowens.  I’m picky though–no bedding, no swearing, no gratuitous violence–limiting, isn’t it?  Take it up as a challenge 🙂

3. Classics yet to read:  The Sound and the Fury; Middlemarch; Faust (really, I never have); some Dickens, more Shakespeare, and perhaps a Hemingway, and of course a revisit with Austen.

4. Look up current YA–I discovered Hunger Games before the masses did, and hope to find a new trend-setter.

5. Kid Lit: what’s going on in picture books these days, and it never hurts to look up old friends for an afternoon of revisiting.

I’m open to suggestions. Got a good read to recommend? My schedule is wide open until end of August.

image from guardian.co.uk

Billy Collins captures the guilt-free read so very well in his poem “Reading in a Hammock”. An excerpt:

Around the edges of the book
is the larger sky,
dotted with clouds,
and some overhanging branches
that appear to be slowly swaying
back and forth,
as if I were the one lying motionless…

Fare thee Well, and so it ’tis…


English: Daguerreotype of the poet Emily Dicki...

English: Daguerreotype of the poet Emily Dickinson, taken circa 1848. (Original is scratched.) From the Todd-Bingham Picture Collection and Family Papers, Yale University Manuscripts & Archives Digital Images Database, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

we part with such sweet sorrow,
the course is spent,
Come again Aprile as would t’morrow.

 

True–it’s over. Every day the Cricket has Mused her way through National Poetry Month.  Thanks for joining and I look forward to next year.  Thanks for the stop bys, comments, and new followers.

 

My favorite poems?  Certainly.  Glad you asked. Here a a couple I never tire of:

 

“Hope” is the thing with feathers

 

254

“Hope” is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—

And sweetest—in the Gale—is heard—
And sore must be the storm—
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm—

I’ve heard it in the chillest land—
And on the strangest Sea—
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb—of Me.

Emily Dickinson

English: Billy Collins at D.G. Wills Books, La...

English: Billy Collins at D.G. Wills Books, La Jolla, San Diego Deutsch: Billy Collins bei D.G. Wills Books, La Jolla, San Diego (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Introduction To Poetry

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

Billy Collins

 

Emily rocks. Hands down, she is ThE Poet who has changed the landscape of verse, that is except for The Bard.  Now, as for Billy.  He’s cool.  He is such a poet pro he’s even been named Poet Laureate (high honors, that). His “Teaching Poetry” always reminds me to NOT beat the snot out of a poem when teaching poetry.

What are your absolute all time favorite poems?

 

 

 

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