15 feb. 2011


I was a teaching my graduate course the other day, and I decided to embrace the fact that most of the students had very little experience with poetry. In the past, I would have been frustrated, thinking that graduate students, by definition, should know certain things. Once, I had a class in which not a single graduate student could give me a definition of irony. I almost just sent them home.

What I did yesterday was to decide to be open to the level the students were actually working at. I recommended some undergraduate level textbooks on poetry and I showed them how to look at a poem from a "New Critical" pedagogical perspective.

You develop a set of questions. Who is the speaker of the poem? The addressee? The tone? The relation between the metrical structure and the pragmatic function of the poem (is it an elegy, a piece of propaganda?) What kind of tropes are used? What are the dominant images? Does the poem address the nose, the eye, the ear, the tongue? There is no set list of questions, but you need enough of them to address the main stylistic features of the text.

Once you have answered the questions, you can look for anything that catches your attention and seems problematic or interesting. The result of the analysis is not the answers to those first set of questions, but the other, more interesting questions you discover in wondering why certain things in the poem are one way and not another. For example, in "Rosario, dinamitera," a celebration of female munitions worker by Miguel Hernández, we could look at the joyful, exuberant images used to describe the fabrication of an explosive substance, dynamite, used in war. We could ask why the poem is written in a series of décimas.

So the class went extremely well. I explained the meaning of metonymy, a trope unfamiliar to the majority of the students. It was fun to see them realizing that they already knew how to use metonymies in their everyday lives, but did not know the definition of the trope.

3 comentarios:

Clarissa dijo...

This is very useful. I have copy-pasted your questions into my class plan for the lecture on the Romantic poetry.

Teaching poetry is, indeed, very difficult to many people. So thank you for these useful suggestions.

Jonathan dijo...

That's only a very small number of questions. It is also helpful to have the students themselves generate some the questions rather than just having them handed to them. Give them some examples of the kind of questions that can be asked and they will come up with more.

Clarissa dijo...

That's a great idea, too. They can be asked to come up with a list of questions in small groups.