Matthew S. Monahan
3.1 Outline: Texts and Methods
3.1.1 Tone and Author's Aim in Literary Poetry
Included in our required readings for seminar were works by Hayden and Roethke. I found the pairing to be a compelling one. This is in evidence by my inclusion of "The Whipping" and "My Papa's Waltz." If one were to compare and contrast these two works, you could possibly point to a thematic link (depending on your reading of Roethke). It seems to me that the "Waltz" is somewhat [intentionally?] ambiguous, while "The Whipping" clearly makes a case for the cyclical nature of domestic violence i.e. child abuse. This simple observation leads me to the question, how do I move past theme and analysis of other literary devices? What about the sound(s)? Whether or not it is appropriate, I would like to impose a rhythm and beat similar to that of a Waltz on Roethke's poem. With a little work (and research to confirm my findings) I discovered that Roethke's poem is written in iambic trimeter and that a Waltz is traditionally in ¾ time. It is my belief that the lyrical qualities of the work lighten both the mood and the tone, which in turn strengthen any arguments that the father's drunken "romp" is, for lack of a better term, benign.
Where is the hip hop? I have thus far included Roethke, Hayden, Carver and Dunbar. Roethke's and Dunbar's poems are lyrical; Carver's and Hayden's are free verse narratives bordering on prose. Neither Carver nor Hayden employ rhyme but rather emphasize image. An overarching theme (with the possible exception of the Roethke poem as previously discussed) is that these poems all deal with abuse. How does this tie in with the personal statement? Historically speaking, students who are, or have been, disenfranchised like to include anecdotes about overcoming adversity. One might argue that the only speaker or subject to have successfully overcome is that in Dunbar's "We Wear the Mask." The speaker is reminiscent of the grandfather in Ralph Ellison's
The Invisible Man
who essentially says that you must kill "them" with kindness; no matter how hard the struggle, never reveal yourself to be susceptible [to what?] or vulnerable.
But it is simply not enough to say, "I am the first in my family to graduate high school and to attend college." This is true of many of our students. What they need are the tools (one of which being process writing) to communicate that they are in fact
…so hip even my [their] errors are correct…
I am so perfect so divine so ethereal so surreal
I cannot be comprehended
except by my permission (Giovanni, "Ego Tripping: there may be a reason why,"
It is becoming increasingly self-evident that no unit that contains both hip hop and poetry would be complete without the inclusion of Gwendolyn Brooks, especially her poem "We Real Cool."
3.1.2 Ballad Meter across the Ages: "The Seafarer," "Junk" and "Rapper's Delight"
I am increasingly interested in the neo-formalists, esp. Richard Wilbur and George Starbuck. I stumbled upon Starbuck looking for an entryway- a gateway so to speak- to iambic pentameter, which in turn I was hoping to use as a point-of-entry to Shakespeare. I may have found a way to work Wilbur in. Although this unit does not provide for a complete reading of "Beowulf" I will include it in at least an extremely excerpted form.
Senior English both traditionally and in our district has a focus on British literature. I realize that inclusion of "Beowulf" is somewhat counter-intuitive as its protagonist is of Scandinavian extraction; however, its title is synonymous with Anglo Saxon epic poetry. I will introduce "Beowulf" by means of the Sugar Hill Gang. In seminar we looked at classic, modern and contemporary examples of verse that employed common measure (e.g. "The Seafarer, Ezra Pound's "Cantos" and Richard Wilbur's "Junk"), also often referred to as ballad meter. It is Bradley who points out the fact that Sugar Hill Gang's "Rapper's Delight," oft-times credited as being the first rap song, even if equally derided for being "pop" in the basest sense somehow akin to the music of The Monkees or the boy bands from the nineteen-eighties up to today, follows common measure. Bradley goes onto acknowledge that Wonder Mike's choice of meter was more than likely the result of synchronicity and the collective unconscious (18). If for some reason "Beowulf" as included in the McDougal Littell anthology
The Language of Literature
does not follow ballad meter I will always have these earlier examples to fall back on (i.e. "The Seafarer" and "Junk").
Now WHAT you HEAR is NOT a TEST
I'm RAPpin' TO the BEAT.
And ME, the GROOVE, AND my FRIENDS
are gonna TRY to MOVE your FEET (Sugar Hill Gang as transcribed by Bradley,
3.1.3 Nonsense Poetry and Das Racist's "Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell"
In a world increasingly sophisticated, poetry is one of the few ways in which we
can still afford to be primitive (Nims xxxviii).
How to get the boast bang for your muck? In seminar such a transposition of sounds (albeit I bent bast [sic] to boast from most) was revealed to be a spoonerism, a term named for the British cleric William Archibald Spooner. Word play; puns are fun, as are oxymorons. I always get a kick out of students' reactions when I include Biggie Smalls in a list of oxymorons. Many seem to think that it is meant to be an insult. Although one does not wish his or her personal statement to be nonsensical, having a little fun with words may prove to be good training and or exercise.
Personally having recently read, listened to and performed a number of works by May Swenson and Wallace Stevens, who unbeknownst to me was a native son of the Nutmeg State and led the rather superhero-like existence of mild-mannered insurance man by day and poet by night (not unlike one of my personal favorites Ted Kooser, whose works I would highly recommend to anyone developing a poetry unit for the secondary classroom esp. "The Abandoned Farmhouse," "Flying By Night," "Selecting a Reader" and "Epitaph for a Sky-diver"), I am drawn to the Brooklyn-based hip hop outfit Das Racist's 2008 single "Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell." The rap perfectly blends the nonsensical and absurd while creating a sense of whimsy that evokes fun, free-spiritedness and camaraderie. My boys Otis and Oscar, one and three respectively, cannot get enough of its use of rhythm, repetition and obvious rhyme.
I'm at the Taco Bell, I'm at the Pizza Hut,
I'm at the combination Taco Bell and Pizza Hut,
I've got that taco smell, I've got that pizza butt (Das Racist).
Although nonsensical on the surface, not unlike Stevens' "The Man on the Dump," there seems to be a comment on the alienating effects of modernity. In Das Rascist's rhyme suburban sprawl has encroached upon the inner city with its cookie cutter fast-food box chain stores causing an added layer of disconnectedness and confusion. By the rap's conclusion you realize two friends are attempting to meet and although they are both where they believe they are supposed to be, they are in fact at different locations. It is as though you were asked to meet at either the Duncan Donuts or the Starbuck's on Chapel Street in New Haven. The situation might likely devolve into something like Abbott and Costello's baseball sketch "Who's on First?"
3.1.4 Jay-Z's Decoded and the Personal Statement
In the research and development of this unit I have learned some very valuable lessons. First and foremost is that I must better position myself as a teacher of writing, as Fabb points out in "Unit 10 The Voice to Write In" of his book
How to Write Essays and Dissertations
, "Academic register is not your spoken voice" (91). Additionally, in the essay "The Process of Writing" Kinneavy points out the modern pitfall of becoming so immersed in and enchanted by "process" that we as writers and teachers of writing neglect the final product.
As I have previously mentioned there is much to be learned by the writer of the personal statement from the emcee. In his extended personal statement
the rapper Jay-Z discusses how the braggadocio in hip hop is similar to the theme of love in the sonnet; it has been done so many times, one has must incorporate some personal flair to get anyone to pay attention (26). In explicating his lyrics to "Public Service Announcement," he observes:
Identity is not a prison you can never escape, but the way to redeem your past is
not to run from it, but to try to understand it, and use it as a foundation to grow
Throughout his book Jay-Z not only analyzes his own art but that of his predecessors, contemporaries and progeny. Using this frame to position himself brings to mind a short piece published in New York magazine that described the admissions process at Sarah Lawrence College, the one school that claims that standardized test scores such as the SAT and ACT have no bearing on their decision-making. In the article a student who wrote a thoughtful and yet personal analysis of the writings of Stephenie Meyer was selected over someone who had chosen it write yet one more canned
3.2 Details: Sample Lesson Plans
3.2.1 Analyzing Tone in Roethke's "My Papa's Waltz"
Journal/Motivation: Think back to time when both you and a friend or family member witnessed an event and later, in retelling what had happened, discovered your perspectives differed greatly. Whose recollection was more accurate? How do you account for such discrepancies?
Aim: How can we use text evidence to support our interpretation and analysis of Roethke's "My Papa's Waltz"?
Objectives and Goals: SWBAT…
1. interpret and analyze a poem by Theodore Roethke
2. cite text evidence in support of their ideas regarding the true meaning of a print text.
Read and annotate the poem "My Papa's Waltz" by Theodore Roethke.
Workshop. In groups discuss and answer the following questions:
1. Had the father in "My Papa's Waltz" been drinking?
2. Where does the action in the poem take place?
3. What was the mother's facial expression while her husband and child
4. What was on the father's hands?
5. Where does the father keep time?
6. What images in the poem do you find most striking?
7. Why do you think the poet has chosen these images?
8. What might the term dance refer to other than its literal meaning?
9. What is your interpretation of the poem?
10. How sure are you that your interpretation is the correct one? Might there be alternative viewpoints that are as valid? Why or why not?
11. If one of the author's aims was to be ambiguous was he successful in accomplishing this goal? Why or why not?
Journal II: Write a haibun.
Mini Lesson: Narrative vs Lyric
Read and annotate the following poem:
1. Who is the speaker in Hayden's "The Whipping"?
2. What is the poem about?
3. How does the speaker react to the scene, esp. in lines 1-11?
Is he or she emotional or objective?
4. What do lines 1-11 mean? What might the colon at the end of line 12 suggest?
5. What does stanza four refer to? How do you know?
6. How does the speaker feel about the incident from his past?
7. What might he mean by "the face I no longer knew or loved? As he looks back over the years do you think his feelings toward the person who whipped him have changed? Explain.
8. How is the old woman "purged"?
9. Why did she whip the boy?
10. Why does the speaker repeat "it is over" in line 19? Is it? In what way may it not be over? How is this ironic?
11. Do you think the poet is against corporal punishment? Are you? Why or why not?
Homework (choose one):
1. Draft (write) a brief narrative, may be either an essay or a poem, in which you use the device of flashback.
2. Briefly describe a controversial incident in which you have personally participated. Quickly jot down your thoughts on the matter. Now consider an alternative viewpoint. Write two short poems, each describing one point of view.
3.2.2 Speaker and Symbol in Carver and Dunbar
Motivation: Read, annotate and quick write three questions or comments regarding the following:
"My Daughter and Apple Pie"
Think about what emotions people are most likely to hide. What makes people afraid to show certain emotions? Why are people sometimes unwilling to show their true selves to others?
Aim: How can we identify the speaker and analyze symbols within "The Mask?"
Objectives and Goals: Students will...
Identify a speaker and symbol within a poem.
Use a poem as a tool for self-expression.
Mini Lesson: Review of Symbol and New Term Speaker
Symbol. A symbol is something (generally a person, place, object, or event) that represents both itself and something else by association, resemblance, or convention. Writers use two types of symbols- conventional and personal/idiosyncratic.
Speaker. The speaker is a character that speaks in, or narrates, a poem- the voice assumed by the writer. The writer and the speaker are not necessarily one in the same.
EX. T.S. Eliot takes on the voice of J. Alfred Prufrock in "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." In Carl Sandberg's "Grass", the grass is the speaker.
A. Read the poem and analyze its meaning, literary elements, rhyme scheme etc.
"We Wear the Mask"
B. Reinforcing the Mini Lesson:
Discuss and answer these questions with your partner/group:
Speaker. Review the definition of
For whom is the speaker speaking?
How might your interpretation of the poem change if you decided the speaker was talking for the entire human race? Who then would represent "them" and "we"?
Does the speaker express a positive or negative attitude toward human duplicity (phoniness)?
Symbol. Review definition.
What does the mask symbolize?
Why do people wear the mask?
What other symbols could the poet have chosen to represent his ideas other than the mask?
C. Workshop. Making a Connection to Literature (text-to-self)
1. Take a blank sheet of paper, fold it, and on the outside and inside draw the outline of a mask.
On the side facing out, write words and symbols inside the mask showing what you do reveal to the outside world.
Inside write words and symbols that represent the part of yourself that you do not allow others to see.
Share your mask with your partner and ask them to update the mask that you reveal (the one on the cover) and you update theirs.
Using the words, images, symbols on your masks begin to write two poems, one for each.
Finish and edit your two poems.
3.2.3 Shifts in Register
Journal/Motivation: Do different situations require you to use different types or patterns of verbal and written communications? Rate the following from formal to informal in descending order: a conversation with your pastor or spiritual advisor, a conversation with a friend on the street corner before or after school, a letter written to a friend or family member who has sent you a gift or has "put you up" for a night or two while on a long journey, an essay written for English class.
Shifts in register
is a state of proper alignment or a variety of language used in a specific social setting.
Class Workshop A:
1. Write a scene in which you are having a conversation with a friend (please refrain from using any explicatives
2. Now isolate the main point of your conversation and rewrite your scene as though you were speaking to your parent or guardian on the same topic.
3. For your final rewrite, use your chosen topic to craft a non-narrative that you would use a starting point for a formal English paper.
Once you have completed Shift in Register you are to complete the story. You may use the excerpt or the idea presented in any way you like:
Here I normally insert a prompt that you can most likely locate by entering the title "Moe's Café" into your search engine of choice (notice the lack of blatant/shameless product placement).
On loose leaf chose another topic and put it through the process that you used in class (3 steps: informal, formal familiar, formal academic). When you have completed this task write a paragraph describing your writing process (what you did as a writer in order to accommodate the appropriate register).