Important Announcement! 

Class is canceled on Friday because I’ve got a family obligation that came up at the last moment. I’ll put up the readings for Friday on the discussion board (plus the usual blog post). Please complete the assignment online and we’ll discuss narrative vs. lyric poetry on Monday.

Wednesday, October 18th

– Detail Question: If you could enhance one sense (not necessarily a physical one) which would you choose?
-We read the poem of the day, “Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden
– We discussed the Smith essay about Sharon Olds and why we write narrative poetry essay, in conversation with the poem “I Go to Back to May 1937
– I went on a little side jaunt about the importance of the narrative “I” in poetry and how, in poetry, the speaker of the poem (i.e. the poem’s “I”) is not necessarily the same as the author of the poem. I also said that the current trend of trying to take the “I” out of poems is ridiculous (and I stand by that claim). If you don’t want to write I-centric poetry, that’s fine! But telling your own story and controlling your own narrative is an important act of claiming (as the essay we read for today suggests). So use narrative all you want! It’s a tool, just like any other tool.
– We talked about how the details that a poem leaves out are just as important as the details a poet chooses to include, using Ted Kooser’s “I”-less “Abandoned Farmhouse” as an example of this

Homework for Friday, October 20th

Remember that class will be canceled on Friday so instead I’d like you to:

  • Read this informative little essay about the difference between narrative poetry, lyric poetry, and drama. We won’t be discussing the “drama” side too much in class (sorry Abby!) but it’s worth noting that there is a great tradition of poems that were written as “dramatic monologues” (which are typically persona poems that are addressed to “a silent listener other than the reader”, as opposed to a narrative poem, which typically presumes a reader).
  • Read: My brief little breakdown of the differences between narrative and lyric poems and read the example poems attached to each (some of them may be familiar!)
  • Post: I’ve linked three poems to the discussion board and would like you to read all three and comment on two of them. You’re free to say what you liked or disliked about the poems, but please answer the following questions for each poem:
    • Do you think this poem is a narrative or a lyric poem? Why or why not?
    • What narrative or lyric techniques do you see at work in the poem?
    • Which of Greg Orr’s temperaments do you see at play in the poem? (Cite examples, and don’t be afraid to go back and look at the quadrant if you need to!)
  • Write: Continue to work on your poems for workshop! Here’s another prompt for today:

Several of the poems for this week choose narrative moments that focus on a childhood memory from the perspective of a much older speaker, but you’ll notice that the memories that these poems recount have a profound influence on the way the speaker views their present-day circumstances and relationships. In Li-Young Lee’s “The Gift,” for example, the older speaker remembers his father fondly and nostalgically as he removes his wife’s splinter, “shav[ing] her thumbnail down / so carefully she feels no pain.” The juxtaposition here allows us to see two sides of love – the paternal love Lee learned from his father, and the romantic love he now shows his wife.

In comparison, Dorianne Laux’s “The Tooth-Fairy” uses the same poetic structure but accomplishes a very different goal: she shows us a happy, almost sentimental childhood memory by describing how the speaker’s parents worked together to paint glittery footprints from the Tooth Fairy on her pillow, the juxtaposes this memory with a battery of far more sinister, and often scary, imagery, complicating the easy sweetness of the initial image. The portrait she shows us of this family is messy and complex; the poem shows us that families are not only one thing.

Using these poems (and several others from this week, such as “I Go Back to May, 1937” and “Gathering the Bones Together”), write a poem that uses this same technique: juxtaposing a specific image from a childhood memory and complicating it, somehow, by introducing facets of the older speaker’s life.


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