Do You See?
RIP Gil Scott-Heron. Everybody (including me) is talking about his very charged “The Revolution Will Not be Televised”. I heard about this one below from a bunch of folks who ardently debated the video. Mostly intelligently.
In between teaching English Composition to Rutgers freshmen based on Toni Morrison, Margaret Atwood, Tim O’Brien, etc. — all fiction — I also taught some poetry and watched poetry videos in class. The only measure of success regarding poetry in all this was when one student remarked, “Doesn’t a lot of what Atwood writes, reads like poetry?” Bravo! It was quite another experience with younger students.
But why teach poetry to kids?
I taught poetry long time ago in two kinds of settings — a school in my hometown Guwahati, Assam, and in an ESL institute in Delhi. The first set of students were 5th graders and the latter were adults from non-English speaking countries who were learning “The Owl and the Pussycat” for the first time.
Lately, a poetry teaching stint came about from an initiative started by a poet-colleague of mine at Rutgers University. Essentially, 3rd and 4th graders. Lots of word play, shuffling metaphors and similes, and building images along with a narrative. There were immensely enjoyable phrases like “a park with pizza-roses” and “flying balloon-trees”. Fun!
Very recently, I taught poetry to students of The Baldwin School in Bryn Mawr at the invitation of the school, coordinated by my schoolmate Runie. (By the way, we found out our faces are still 13 year old, while we’ve grown up a bit more in terms of timeline!)
Back to the question. Because someone asked me.
I don’t have an answer. But I could extend the question to sound like — “why teach poetry to prisoners”; “why teach poetry to adults”; “why teach poetry to ourselves”, or “why teach poetry at all”. To clarify, I don’t teach. In these cases, I mostly learn from the folks I meet. And what’s with that missionary attitude about ‘teaching’? The students really teach themselves. They wait for none to deliver… All I/we have to do is initiate a thread.
Alright then, to sound highfalutin, one should teach poetry to kids so they just learn to appreciate the language, its magic tricks, its capacity to show the world in a diverse light, and mostly to be able to think and experience what is outside the straightjacket. Grow up with your head and heart all propped right.
Now my question to the questioner: are you aware of POETRY 180? Go look it up!
–In other news, a very well known veteran Indian poet I admire very very much, has asked me for a published poem of mine so he could teach it in Fall at his university. Sorry, can’t get more specific at this point. Obviously, I was dying to tell you this.
The pic below is stolen from Baldwin’s newsletter.