Music by Elizabeth Douthitt Sharp

Teaching Poetry

We start with diagrams on the chalkboard and show that vocabularies have roots in biology. The word “milk” mimics nursing. The act of breathing gave us the verb “to be.” Ezra Pound called this “buried metaphor.” This is using the word “metaphor” in the widest possible sense, for any kind of meaningful relationship. So we see that a line in a poem does not merely convey a meaning, but should be a physical experience, overt or subliminal. Even couch potatoes watching a game mimic its action. Next we see that a poem has a cadence, kinetic, like a choreographed dance. Reading it, you should be acting it out— its rise and fall, its pacing, its rush to completion. I give a Gertrude Stein’s poem as an example: Susie Asado was a flamingo dancer, Sweet sweet sweet sweet sweet tea. I leave more subtle, more philosophical assertions for later discussion, but I emphasize that when you read a poem, it’s your experience, no one else’s. Nobody should be allowed to tell you what to make of it. A poem can have meaning, like any other experience, good or bad; but it can also be an experience, whether you approach it with effort or with ease. What it’s not. It’s not merely rhyming or any form of repeated pattern. It’s not merely using metaphors or similes. It’s not presenting imagery, wit, or philosophy. It’s not a product like soap that can be sold. A poem can include anything that the poet wants to stuff into it like a time capsule, hoping, hoping that in years to come someone will dig it up and it will mean something to the one who opens it. There are many good examples. We read these aloud and we talk about them. It’s best not to talk about them too much. Over time, like living with a loved one, if a poem works, it gradually becomes better.