Monday, August 25, 2008

Introduction to Poetry

In my last post I mentioned that I went to a NYSEC conference in Albany a few years back and saw Ben Mikaelsen give an amazing talk. At that same conference, poet Billy Collins also spoke, giving readings of some of his newer poetry.

At the time, I did not realize that I was listening to such an amazing poet that I would read more of in later years. I did not seize this opportunity perhaps as much as others did. But, at least I did have this opportunity.

Anyway, Billy Collins writes amazing poetry. He put together a very helpful and interesting website called Poetry 180, a site where teachers can teach one poem every day. These poems are contemporary, not like the traditional poems that you might remember from high school or college. They range from one-liners to multiple stanzas, but they are funny or enlightening, serious or witty--check them out.

The first poem on the website it called "Introduction to Poetry" by Billy Collins. I will post it below.

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.

I absolutely love this poem because this is the reason why so many people end up hating poetry. Students are taught to dissect the poem in such bleak ways to try to discover the "meaning." The joy is lost because students feel so pressured to literally tie down the poem, as Collins writes, and pull the meaning out of it like in an interrogation. Enjoying poetry does not normally come in this manner, but this is how poetry can be taught and how students automatically respond to it. His use of images in this poem really gets his message across. His talent can also be easily observed.

So what do you think of the poem, Poetry 180, or Billy Collins?

1 comment:

Mike said...

I really liked the poem. Some of the lines were so good at conveying a certain feeling... i noticed how they stimulated the different senses: sight, sound, touch...

I'm going to check out the sight right now.