Deconstructing poetry is an advanced academic pursuit while constructing poetry is child’s play.
Imagine this. You are called into a classroom and asked to hunch over images of Tiger Woods swinging a golf club. You answer a set of questions beside the picture. These questions have been developed not by a golfer, but by one who has mastered the art of writing formulaic questions about golf. You then compare Woods’ image with the image of another golfer. You are asked to formulate an argument on why one of their swings is superior, similar or different to the other’s, what makes his grip effective, how his natural talent is reflected in his follow through. All this and you haven’t picked up a golf club since second grade when you awkwardly whiffed a few balls in the backyard.
So, you read other people’s analyses of Woods’ swing to help unlock the mystery. You read about his childhood, his daily workout regime, his marital troubles. You have to fill five paragraphs with your analysis, so you come up with three strong arguments and dig through other people’s analyses to support your observations. You will be graded on how well you are able to cite the experts, so you include that gifted talker with the 80s blow dry on ESPN, a bald headed black commentator who moonlights as a spokesperson for a golf ball manufacturer, and a Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader, evidencing your range, your respect for diversity, and a propensity to think outside the box.
Welcome to the world of literary analysis as set forth by the Common Core (CCSS) which ask students to “demonstrate a knowledge of figurative language” but do not suggest that kids might write a poem to do so.
NOTE: The standards don’t say you CAN'T write a poem to demonstrate this knowledge, but since it is difficult to evaluate a handmade poem in terms of automated aggregates, the CCSS remain mute on the matter of the construction of poetry, (see above re: they don’t say you can’t).
This is just plain nonsense. Any golfer knows you can’t perfect your swing sitting under a study lamp just as any auto mechanic knows you can’t learn engine repair without getting your hands dirty. You can’t learn to swim without getting wet or how to make soup without stirring the pot. (How’m I doing with the figurative language thing?).
You know how I learned to use figurative language?
By writing poetry.
Poetry is powerful language. It is precise and concise. The writing of poetry helps kids perfect their communication skills. Short and (not always) sweet. Poetry, the original tweet. (oops, rhyme, academic points off). Poetry is both an art form and a craft, perfectly suited to be vehicle for learning language and content area skills. Unfortunately, most of us have been schooled to study poems rather than getting into the swing of things, which was why Salinger and I wrote High Impact Writing Clinics, to give teachers some, starter ideas for constructing real (handmade) poems as a means of understanding how language works. And the reason we put these ideas on projectable slides is so that students wouldn't be hunched over in mystified isolation, but heads up, ready for human interaction as they read and discuss poetry as a prelude to writing their own.
So. Can we compare writing poetry to a summer’s day as we proceed through the winter of our CCSS educational discontent and stay focused on what really matters (kids’ thinking and communication skills) and refuse to cloud the splendors of poetry with relentless analysis with no escape hatch for self-expression?
Full many a glorious morning have I seen
Flatter the mountain tops with sovereign eye,
Kissing with golden face the meadows green,
Gliding pale streams with heavenly alchemy;
Anon permit the basest clouds to ride
With ugly rack on his celestial face,
And from the forlorn world his visage hide,
Stealing unseen to the west with this disgrace;
Even so my sun one early morn did shine,
With all triumphant spendour on my brow;
But out, alack, he was but one hour mine,
The region clud hath mask’d him from me now.
Yet him for this my love no whit disdaineth;
Suns of the world may stain when heaven’s sun staineth.
P.S. I'm not sure I understand all that Shakespeare means here, but I sure like the parade of images. Here's hoping we give each child more than one (alack) hour of poetic sunshine on their brows.