atypical post or maybe a typical post.
Jonathan Culler makes a point about how we view poetry, or even recognize it. Sometimes I use this point with my students when we cover something from the avant-garde. Usually, students are accustomed to dealing with poetry on classical terms.
How do they recognize a poem? Its (predictable) orientation on the page (at first glance). Perhaps it’s a sonnet with two stanzas of four lines each and two stanzas of three lines each. It doesn’t extend down the whole page, some say. It doesn’t cross the whole page, others offer.
So, in taking a cue from Culler, I often write a line on the board. Something like. Heat fully before serving. And I ask them to tell me about what they read. Often, they tell me, “Well, that’s clearly from cooking directions.” Good! I enthuse. Then I ask them, “Is this a poem? It’s isolated. It doesn’t have any context, right?” I see their faces screw up and their, lips pursed, brows furrowed. Usually, there’s one leader in the pack who then offers, “No, that is not poetry.”
Ok, why isn’t it poetry? I ask them. The response is usually something like, “It doesn’t sound like poetry.” Aha! I say. So, “Poetry has to sound like poetry?” They nod their heads affirmatively (everyone hopping on board). I then ask them to tell me what poetry sounds like. And they do. Long (and studious) explanations about rhyme schemes, patterns of sound, and so forth. Very smart stuff.
Then I ask them to consider something. What if I take our excerpted line of directions and I do something like this with it:
F U L L Y B
“Ohhhhhhhh” They say. “That’s different.” Different? How? I ask. Well, that doesn’t look like directions any more. What does it look like? “Some kind of art,” they say.