Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Putting it to a Vote

So, someone in class today requested that the final paper --- we're being Introduced to Poetry right now --- be the option of either writing a traditional analysis or a poem. There was much agreement among the class and agitation for us to enact this new option. "What if I don't like your poems?" I asked. They responded that I would like them. "What if they are bad poems, what then? Would I mark you down for not writing good poetry?" I asked. They responded that they could write up an analysis of their own poem explaining it and how they had used all sorts of the devices we were learning about. And besides, who better to explain a poem than its author? I don't know about that, I said. One student agreed with me: "that might be hard. How would we put our own words into our own words, if that's what paraphrasing means?" I said I would ponder the matter and get back to them.

As I see it, this option has its ups and downs:
  • pro: I would have to read fewer essays
  • con: I would have to read student-written poems.

I thought I'd throw it open to the wisdom of teh internets: what do you think? Vote "yes," "no," or "splunge" in the comments box below. Or, if you have other fun/sadistic/confusing suggestions for what they should do in class or in their paper, make those suggestions too. They have hit the "last-week blahs" behavior and craziness a week early, and I'm not quite sure what I'm going to do with them. Beating them with sticks seems like too much work, but just letting them out early every day and having them go off and write poems seems like not enough work. Where's the fun in it without the beatings? Hmm. I await everyone's advice. (lurkers especially! everyone join in!)


September Blue said...

I vote yes. I've done this before (poem plus short-ish analysis of poem), and it can work really well if there's a structure to stick to - something like 'write a sonnet, accompanied by a ~1000-word essay on how you used the conventions of the sonnet form in your poem.'

Fair warning, though, that the poems themselves are really tough to mark in a constructive way. I know people teach creative writing all the time, but I just can't make myself say anything remotely close to negative when the students write about angsty stuff in their lives. And oh, they do.

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

I think there is a lot to be gained by reading what someone else has written about your writing --- so, maybe they ought to trade poems and analysis... writing about your own stuff seems a bit like shooting fish in a barrel.

You could have them all turn in a poem and you could assign the analysis --- and then perhaps facilitate a response for a finished product...

Sisyphus said...

Hmm, interesting suggestions. Of course, since I have them do a final paper instead of an in-class final, I wasn't going to be workshopping or giving back these essays, which kinda doesn't work with ITPF's idea. Or maybe I could make them do a poem _and_ a paper! Mwahahahaha! Poem this weekend, workshop/critique it Monday, then essay due Friday?

Huh. Now I have to weigh my evil qualities against my lazy ones.

Fretful Porpentine said...

I'd be tempted to allow it as an option, on the grounds that they probably would learn something useful from the exercise and besides, the poems might be amusing. But I'm a soft touch.

And I SO hear you about hitting the last week blahs a week early. I'm hoping mine will come out of their slump.

Earnest English said...

My first thought was "oh no." It's terribly hard to write in a smart interpretive way about one's own poem -- even if you're a top-flight poet. You would certainly find out all sorts of things about students' real ideas of how poems get generated -- with perhaps too much "but that's the way I wanted it" -- that is, they might take the artiste part way too far.

I teach creative writing, and my default reaction to this is just no. The complexity of one's own poem is not the same as the complexity of reading someone else's poem. It's just not. Are they really going to write poems that are as layered as the poems you're reading together? Really? Am I just terribly skeptical? (I've taught poetry writing more than once -- do you know how many weeks it takes for people to get out of the whole poetry as emoting on the page thing?) I'll tell you what a professor allowed us to do with a similar assignment though: either we had to do an analysis of a poem about poetry (Marianne Moore's What Is Poetry?) or we could go ahead and argue that a particular set of song lyrics was a poem. Not only was my essay on one of Suzanne Vega's songs NOT terribly well-received, but it drove home to me that since arguing that something is a poem involves defining poetry, defining poetry was practically, for me, impossible. (Is it any wonder I no longer teach literature, people?)

Anyway, these are my two cents. I'll be very interested to find out what you decide, why, and how it goes.

On the other hand, I love it when students come up with a writing project that is real and authentic to them -- so maybe if you could focus the project in the ways suggested above by Sept Blue, it could work -- AND you could have some set and agreed-upon guidelines walking into it. (Agreed-upon criteria seems key to this, or you'll end up with a bunch of angry or distraught young poets.)

Sisyphus said...

Hmm, yes. Even though this is the introduction to the major course, none of these students are majors --- they are trying to get out of a different GE by using this class. So I'm pretty sure I don't have any poets or frustrated creative writers here; they're all taking the course because they thought an abbreviated summer session course would be less work (stupid assumption!).

I also know they hate poetry because they have made it pretty plain. They think this will be less work. I'm tempted to assign this to them, based around a poetic form (sonnet, villanelle, sestina etc), just because I think learning that writing poems well is _fucking hard_ would be a valuable lesson in itself.

Still torn. I'll ponder further while swimming today.

Bardiac said...

I have students write a couple of poems during the course of my poetry class, just to get them to think about form and such in a fuller way, and then they write a short analysis paper talking about the choices they made.

It works okay, but the poems are usually dreadful, and the analyses not very deep.

I don't know how it would work for your purposes, though.

Does the other paper assignment try to get them to synthesize across the semester? Or is it only focused on poetry?

Good luck with deciding!

kermitthefrog said...

Or, in a variation, you could have them do an assignment I had in high school, which is to pick one of a small selection of poems and write a poem imitating it, with the same formal features. (We didn't have to write an analysis of our choices, but presumably you could ask your students to.) I imitated "Her Kind" by Anne Sexton, which has a lot of clear formal aspects and an interesting rhyme scheme, and I found it most definitely a worthwhile assignment.

Artemis said...

I agree with Kermit--a pastiche of another poem works well. Or you could have them write try to explain the difference between their "bad" amateur-ish poem and one that has been reputably published. It could be useful to try to get them to figure out what cliche is and why it's not that great.

Good luck!

k8 said...

Just chiming in to say that historically, Imitation has been an important element in rhetorical education. So, you have a couple thousand years of pedagogical thinking backing you up if you choose to go the imitation route.

Psycgirl said...

I would hate reading all those poems, but I'm not in anything close to English/Literature. Can you have them swamp poems and analyze each others? I think it would be super hard to grade the poems, so instead you'd have to grade the analysis?

Ortho said...

Allow them to write poems!
Don't read the poems!
Give everyone an A!
After all, they deserve it, the pulled a coup on you and now control the class!