There has been countless times in my life as a Teacher of Literature in English when I have needed a poem – or a story or an anecdote, anything – more than the one(s) my students and I readily have in hand, in order for us to grasp a concept or to see a pattern unfurl. In order to watch the outcome of tweaking or overhauling what is seen as the typical, the rule (read, literary convention). Or in order to explore just about anything about the boundless ways that Poetry works.
I have explained, once and again, how I will (forever) be wary to call myself a Writer. I am even more careful to go saying who ought to call him/herself Writer and who, in the common, supreme interest of humanity’s sanctity, unity and all, should denounce pen or pencil and paper or anything(s) which so much as suggests anything (creative) writing. In fact, I do not consider it my place to say any such thing. At least, not now, and maybe not until forever too is past.
For this reason, I would rather talk about a particular piece, taking great care to not let my perception – or even ‘prejudice’ – of its writer get in my way of encountering and making meaning of the said piece. I may go on to make great fuss about why I so much respect and adore the piece. And too many times than I can forgive myself for, I may as soon, also, go on to forget the name of the said piece’s writer, before I even know it!
But for this great fuss, I would rather be silent altogether, I would not judge a writer or any piece of writing for that matter. Because if not for anything at all, writing means so many things and serves some of the most obscure reasons and purposes for those who ply in the craft, whether or not they (choose to) describe themselves with that demure word. Writer. Because there will always be those people for whom writing – no matter what the rest of the world chooses to call or describe or make of theirs – remains the one, or one of the few reasons or things which keeps them sane and breathing…
Having said this, it has also never been that a certain poem or piece of literary work which my students and I had in hand had not been good (enough), in and of its own self, for what needed to be taught and understood. Rather, it has almost always been more of a need for a further, an-other example. And it is at such times when Poetry – or Story or other of the genres – pays my class an awesome visit. It is moments like this that Poetry pours into a class I happen to be teaching.
It might have been many days or only an hour ago when I last wrote anything new – even if it is something that may never come full circle and rounded. Whatever be the case, Poetry (and or Story) has always found its way into my lessons, sometimes, when poetry is not even the topic, but only that I HAVE to mention something about it, even if in passing, because this something has a link with some other thing which my Literature class is studying about say, a short story. Something like Writer’s Use of Language – including, but not limited to Diction and Imagery – it may as well be Tone or some other Trope or even Syntax! – to achieve a particular effect on reader.
Two poems posted in an earlier blog titled Verse-sions of Love. Some., specifically the first verse of Tears in the Rain and one of the early drafts of Brown, are other of my poems which poured when Writer-in-me met or came to the rescue of ‘wanting’ Literature-Teacher me.
How I get my poured poems back after the lesson is ended? I ask one of my students for his/her note book. Then I copy my poem. Sometimes, I am lucky to have a thoughtful student write it on a separate, very decent sheet of paper and bring it to me after class – all without my having asked. A student like Keklevi Ansah, the writer of When Father Comes Home From the War, one of the poems featured in my Fifteen Pieces of Literature: Fifteen Shades of What They Call Love series.
I will later cut parts out, patch or pad up others and do some tinkering and chiseling here and there, until I arrive at something, a poem more polished like Yours,, Blue and Source, as shown here.
Perhaps, I must add that it is not every poem that have poured while I was teaching that I have gone on to glean something out of.
Yours, poured when I needed something short and simple to explain how:
- generally, the term Verse refers to any poem, whether a straight one-stanza piece or each of the major ‘chunks’ of lines (minor ones, usually optional, would be what is often called ‘refrain’ or ‘chorus’, same line/s repeated after every major ‘chunk’) in a piece of poem. In Lyrical Poems, which are known for their strong rhyme and or rhythm patterns, it is typical for a verse – in both sense of it – to contain one or more marked, full unit of thought. Examples of Lyrical Poems include sonnets, ballads (may double as Narrative Poems), villanelles and limericks.
- It is not always the case that a verse, especially as a major set of lines in a poem, has a full unit of thought. For Open Forms like Free Verse and Concrete Poems, a verse or stanza or portion of a poem can consist of 1 or 26 lines, any of which may also consist of a word, even the article ‘a’ or ‘the’, or who knows? even a punctuation mark! Thus, it is not quite accurate or even safe to define a verse in terms of chunk(s) of complete (unit/s of) thought/s. This is because, a poem may contain one or more such units, any or all of which may ‘spill’ into a next line or set of lines, which is clearly set off from the rest of a poem with a line space i.e. a stanza or verse. This ‘spillage’ of one piece of thought from one line or verse/stanza of a poem to another line or verse/ stanza is what is called Run-on-lines or Enjambment.
- Hence, Yours, can be said to have 1 unit of thought unevenly spread in 5 verses/ stanzas. Source has 2 parallel units of thought neatly structured in 2 stanzas – no ‘spillage/s’, no Run-on-lines or Enjambment across verses/ stanzas – but across lines in the same verse/stanza, definitely! Depending on how one reads Blue, there are several, more than 8 units of thoughts cast in 3 tricky stanzas.
Blue poured in answer to a further example of a Colour Poem. With six to eight lines, a Colour Poem can loosely be described as a poem about the feelings/ emotions and images evoked when one thinks of a particular colour. Usually, the name of the colour does not appear anywhere in the poem, but may be used as the poem’s title. Unlike Blue here however, Colour Poems, typically come compact, in one stanza.
Source is one of the pieces which poured with quick, excited, earnest eagerness. And it proved far too generous with what I needed if for:
- to show how repetition of not only words, but also, sounds, structure and form can be exploited for a beautiful and meaningful effect on the reader, rather than the repetition coming across as boring and plain lazy; or irritating or jarring at worst.
- to illustrate how incremental repetition works: adding layers of extended layers of meaning on and to that which has been previously said, irrespective and in spite of the fact that each new repetition (and or line/s) brings the poem nearer and closer to its end – on page, at least.
- to hint at how the ‘shape’ of a poem (especially a Concrete Poem) on a page can contribute to or magnify its meaning. For example, note how the rough arrow-head shape of Source‘s stanzas – together with its title, and (how the last line ends) – contributes to the (possible) meaning/s of the poem…
And now, three of many Poured Poetry:
dancing in the rain
moonless, starry weeknight
mess up – sorry, pack up – after
you’ve lost guard – no, lost heart – and broken it
cloudless, high skies nudge edge of watery
goodness. splashes tail dives, stillness stirs.
coolness, clean and crisp melt into yawning
calmness. ripples trace waves, silence purrs.
Life is fluid, giddy with measured warmth.
Life is full, tipsy with myriads of smudged,
swaying pictures. Happiness happens.
Happiness has a name. Happiness
has a thick, indulgent white hue
ear and my eye
are worlds, worlds far
too vast for my shoulders to
bear in a month
a minute, a
tongue and my teeth
reside words, words ready
to create, and call and cast into
being shapes and forms
and lives, as I am
The FEATURED IMAGE of this post is a picture of one of many submitted Poetry Portfolios I received as individual student end-of-term project, an initiative I undertook when I used to teach Grades 7 to 9 Literature in English, towards the Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) curriculum.
From their understanding and exploring of all that is taught and learnt about Poetry – the peculiarities of the genre; its types and forms; its styles and ways of communicating both surface and implicit meanings; and exceptions to all these and more others etc. – throughout the term, students are required to produce a given number/collection of original poems in a printed, comb-bound copy.
I share and agree on all the details and instructions for the project at the very onset of the term with my students, including the fact that the project forms a major part of their academic grade for the term in question.
Like any real thesis, I supervise and guide students, individually, throughout the term, and outside normal class hours: how to generate ideas for their poems; how to work their drafts/writing into effective, thoughtful and exceptional pieces; how to break conventions and or make these ‘rules’ work for them, or add to the intended message/s or overall effect of their pieces et al.
In as much as I make my lessons fun and accessible to all my students, those students who discover that they (can) love Poetry after all!…and so they even want to continue writing more – and not only Poetry – I am all too glad to encourage and mentor them.
The projects are usually Poetry for First Term, Prose for Second Term and Drama for Third Term.
The project in Drama, unlike those for Poetry and Prose, is a group project for which not only a play script is submitted for grading, but there is also a day set aside – usually close to the end of the term – for the performance of all original plays written and staged by both Grades 7 and 8. Because each grouped is supposed to have met several times during the term to rehearse and make all other necessary preparations for their final performance, each member of each group is expected to act on stage and when not in a particular scene, co-ordinate or help with costuming, stage set-up and transitions, effects like sound, backstage management et al.
The audience for such collection of stage plays consists of members of two said classes and as many other students and staff who are available and want to watch. I let one or two of my colleague teachers help out as judge/s for the staged plays.
And it is always altogether fun, a live-ly learning experience and all joy for my students and I and everyone else!