Craft of Poetry Discussion Exercise: “What Is a Poem? What Is Poetry?”

Note: In this in-class discussion exercise, my ENG 2030 students were able to interrogate the questions “what is poetry?” and “what is a poem?” by looking at different texts, some poetic and some religious and some musical, in order to answer the question. The links to the texts are below the directions.

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  • A traditional Irish blessing.

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind always be at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face,

and rains fall soft upon your fields.

  • These passages of religious texts (Qu’ran and Bible).

And until we meet again,

May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Have you considered him who turned away?

And gave a little, and held back?

Does he possess knowledge of the unseen, and can therefore foresee?

Or was he not informed of what is in the Scrolls of Moses?

And of Abraham, who fulfilled?

That no soul bears the burdens of another soul.

And that the human being attains only what he strives for.

And that his efforts will be witnessed.

Then he will be rewarded for it the fullest reward.

And that to your Lord is the finality.

And that it is He who causes laughter and weeping.

And that it is He who gives death and life.

 

Return, O LORD, deliver my soul: oh save me for thy mercies’ sake.

For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?

I am weary with my groaning; all the night make I my bed to swim; I water my couch with my tears.

Mine eye is consumed because of grief; it waxeth old because of all mine enemies.

Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity; for the LORD hath heard the voice of my weeping.

The LORD hath heard my supplication; the LORD will receive my prayer.

Let all mine enemies be ashamed and sore vexed: let them return and be ashamed suddenly.

 

 

 

  • Benjamin Bagby performing excerpts from Beowulf with harp accompaniment:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Discussion on Parity and Decolonization in Literary Editing & Publishing

Before my Literary Editing & Publishing class yesterday, my students completed the following reading assignments:

Read “Self-Portrait of the Artist as Ungrateful Black Writer” by Saeed Jones and “They Pretend to Be Us While Pretending We Don’t Exist” by Jenny Zhang on Buzzfeed; “Sherman Alexie Speaks Out on the Best American Poetry 2015” on The Best American Poetry blog; “Have They Run Out of Provinces Yet?” by Calvin Trillin in The New Yorker; “Have They Run Out of White Poets Yet?” and “regarding the yellowface poet” by Franny Choi; “Diversity in Book Publishing Isn’t Just About Writers — Marketing Matters, Too” by Jean Ho, “Decolonize, Not Diversify” by Kavita Bhanot on Moodle; “Cate Marvin Discusses the VIDA Count: An Interview” (pgs. 279–284) and “Counting Bodies: Notes for Further Consideration” (285–286) by Marcelle Heath in Paper Dreams.

In class, they discussed editorial responsibilities toward the parity and decolonization of publishing. They broke down the semantic differences between “diversity” and “decolonization,” and they discussed the impact on writers of editorial biases through first-hand accounts and poetic responses by Saeed Jones and Franny Choi. In addition to the articles and works above, we read excerpts from “On Pandering” by Claire Vaye Watkins, and I charged my students with interrogating their own implicit and explicit biases. We discussed again the idea that there’s no one literary tradition, that there’s many literary traditions and the “canon” is just one of those traditions. We considered appropriation’s history within western literary culture and the ongoing negative impact it has on creative work. We also talked about how, ideally, all editors should frequently interrogate their own tastes, aesthetics, and biases so that they don’t become lazy in their work. This was one of the most important classes that I think I’ve ever facilitated, and my students had  a great deal of insight, questions, and concerns to contribute during the discussion. Many of them were horrified to find out about these issues in publishing and how these implicit biases were sometimes ignored by editors.