Friday, December 20, 2013

On Listening to Poetry

The New Yorker has launched a new free podcast series, The Poetry Podcast.  Each episode, hosted by Paul Muldoon, contains a New Yorker poet reading a poem that he/she has selected from the magazine, followed by a conversation about that poem.  The poet then introduces and reads one of his/her own pieces.  

What a powerful tool for the study of poetry!  In this age of poetry minimized as paired text, often read only thematically, it is important for teachers to locate and use tools that support the reading of poetry as essential, elemental, text - deserving of both a leisurely and a personal reading.  

I quote from my own Scoop of this announcement:

Muldoon writes, "the eye is not the only buyer into, and beneficiary of, the poem. The ear has been in the poetry business for much longer, given poetry’s origins in the oral tradition."  What a model for classroom reading of poetry as text!  Share this episode, in which Philip Levine reads and discusses "What did I love about killing the chickens" by Ellen Bass.  A sure winner.  Some students might want to just visualize, some to draw while listening.  The text of the poem is in the New Yorker archive:  Connections are made to Whitman, Bishop, Harte Crane, Williams, Randall Jarrell and others during the discussion of the power of the poem's structure and diction.  Levine also reads and discusses his own poem, "In another country" : You might discuss how much - what, if anything - Levine's introduction adds to a reading of the poem.  Perhaps some students should read the poem before listening to the poet. 

I would add now that a careful listening to the discussion reveals not "close reading" but a very personal closing in on what makes this poem special.  I discuss this a bit in a previous post called Close Reading and Poetry. Were Levine and Muldoon to methodically attack the poem's use of image or antithesis, the poem itself would lose its life.  

There are other apps for listening to poetry.  The Poetry Foundation currently lists 1165 Poems with "related content," which includes a reading of the poem by the poet.  I am listening to/reading Douglas Kearney's "Every Hard Rapper's Father" as I write this - a fascinating experience.  His recording brings sense to the inventive presentation of the text as well an an emotional depth that can be missed without audio.

The Poetry Archive of poets-reading-their-own-poetry is another great source. Students can create and share a favorites list and browse by theme, poetic element or form.  Did you know Margaret Atwood wrote poetry?  Try "The Immigrants" for a contemporary (and historical) connection every bit as powerful as most Holocaust YA novels.  

Poetry Out Loud is another good source of audio. Navigate to the Listen to Poetry archive of readings. Additionally, and perhaps more powerfully for the student, are the videos of the Poetry Out Loud contest winners and finalists.  This used to be housed on the web site, but is now found on a YouTube channel.  I have used this to engage middle schoolers in recitation, oral reading, and (for the feint of heart) choral reading.  It often opens the door to a poet's work.

Student readers, as soon as they can read independently or memorize effectively, can create their own audio and video recordings and discussions of poetry.  VoiceThread is a great tool for this, but there are now many, many others.  In fact, just about any "presentation" or whiteboard app will do the job. 

One interesting tweak, and a useful one for many students, is to charge them to play the role of Paul Muldoon.  Find an adult or older student reader who will select, read, and discuss a favorite poem.  You are moving toward a PBL unit!  

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