Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Poet of the Semester

When I got up this morning there was a book waiting for me on the kitchen table.  Jane Kenyon's Collected Poems.  I was excited to get started preparing the Poet of the Semester. 

This will be my fourth experience with Poet of the Semester.  The Previous Poets of the Semester include:

1.  Mary Oliver
2.  Kay Ryan
3.  Rumi

Each week, I introduce my classes to a new poem (Poem of the Week) from the Poet of the Semester.  I have selected poets that I think would be accessible to a wide variety of students--poetry lovers or newbies to the world of poetry.  I usually introduce the poems at the end of class.  They serve as a centering and transitioning practice, from the world of the classroom and its discussions to the wider world of students' lives. 

My goal is multi-fold. For students, I think it reminds them of another medium that can convey meaning and enrich our thinking about the topics we encounter in class.  I don't choose poems to match the content.  I prefer to let students stretch themselves from the content to the poem and see what they come up with.  Sometimes the reading leaves a silence or pause, and then everyone leaves.  Sometimes there are comments.  Anything's OK. 

For me, the practice is a way for me to transition between the states of active teaching and leave taking.  It is also a practice that allows me to connect to poetry again.  I've now worked in some depth with three going on four poets that I hadn't been all that familiar with before. 

The poems come back to haunt us in different ways.  Reading Mary Oliver prompted one student to purchase a copy for a loved one.  Kay Ryan's short, sharp poems really hit the mark in the Qualitative Research Methods class, where we were working on autoethnographic and visual responses to our data collection experiments.  At the conlcusion of the class, I created a book that tried to capture the experience of this class, and, of course, Kay Ryan's poems found their way into the book.  Here is a sample from that piece in which Ryan's poem "Gaps" led to a collage thinking about the notion of gaps in interviews and the purposes they serve.  The collage was then cut up and reshaped into the book.  And thus it goes....

Rumi was Poet of the Semester for Fall 2009--and he had to work across many levels...undergraduates, advanced graduate students, and doctoral students at the conclusion of their program.  I can say that he was more than up to the challenge.

I like it that my classes listen to language carefully for the brief reading of the poem.  For the online classes, I teach I have used a podcast feature to share the sound of the poem. 

I definitely think it is worth the time spent, finding the poet, gathering the books, and sharing the poems.  It adds some special mist to the proceedings. 

Try it:  I highly recommend the practice. 

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