Earl Gray

Earl Gray
"You can argue with me but, in the end, you'll have to face that fact that you're arguing with a squirrel." - Earl Gray

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Practical Poetry: Presentation

     This being the last installment, let's take stock of what students have learned:
  • The definition of poetry (i.e. verbatim speech);

  • scansion;

  • sonics:  the effective use and repetition of sounds;

  • form in both the broadest (e.g. technique) and narrowest (e.g. sonnets, limericks, villanelles, et cetera) senses;

  • the jargon;

  • the perils of Content Regency and Convenient Poetics;

  • the value of performance;

  • that song lyrics have eclipsed [spoken] poetry in our culture; and,

  • that a market for [spoken] poetry will have to be created.

     As rudimentary as this knowledge is, it places the student in a tiny minority of those who like to think of themselves as poets, well ahead of most PhDs and any of the hundreds of MFA graduates we'll meet.  Now we come to the most important poetry lesson they will ever learn.

     Time to repeat that experiment (i.e. "Find two mediocre contest-winning and/or published poems that have been blurbed.  Add this poem and this verse  into the mix.  Ask your students which two of these poems are better than the other two.  Record your results.")  Before taking the vote, though, show them the blurbs of the two poems you chose and the analyses of "Savonarola" and "Beans" poems.

     This time we'll discuss the results.  Ask the class which was more compelling:  the blurbs or the analyses? 

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #21

     The students' first exposure to these four pieces was as readers.  After they learned about the craft, critical thinking and the value of performance the consensus typically moved toward the technical masterpieces.  This was also a remarkably accurate predictor of who would drop out of the course along the way:  those without an ear for poetry were more likely to vote for the lesser works and more likely to give up early.

     This is not news.  In general, the more people know about anything the more they will enjoy it.  Baseball, football, needlepoint, science, bridge, chess, fishing, Russian verb tenses, anything.  The more we know about philosophy the more we're going to enjoy it, with or without linebreaks.  The more we know about the elements of poetry the more we're going to appreciate it as opposed to doggerel or prose with linebreaks--including deep, philosophical or dramatic prose with linebreaks.

     This brings us round to a discussion of presentation, either performance (often recorded for a larger audience) or graphics.


     Check out some of the astounding recitations on "Poetry Out Loud".  Why, oh, why, can't adult poets--especially but not strictly slammers--come close to this standard?  Another point of discussion is the chronological decline in performance value.  Like rings on a tree, we can guess a poem's age by how difficult it is for the reciter to render it without sounding like a Tamarian's interpreter.


    Montages, dramatizations or slide shows featuring the text or an audio recording of the words can be very effective.  Ideally, the instructor could go through some of the basics of creating such videos and how to upload them to a site like YouTube. 

    The class might discuss whether the somewhat amateurish videos of "Savonarola" and "Beans" add to their effect.

         No amount of graphic technique will rescue shoddy writing, as the finalists of the VidLit Contest so aptly demonstrate.  That said, we shouldn't use this as an excuse for not acquiring those film skills.  That combination of skills is the future of poetry.


           If we could encapsulate the fundamental nature of great poetry as opposed to fine prose, rhetoric, film or theatre it would be thus:

           Poetry isn't about what you say but how you say it.  It's about the words, not the message.

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