On Wednesday we talked about the poems that sucked us in and appealed to us immediately by allowing us to identify easily with the speaker. However, I find that it is often the least immediate (and most difficult) parts of the poem that tend to be the most rewarding over the long term. I would like your group discussions today to focus on those less immediate aspects of the poem, so once you get settled let’s try following these steps:
1. Choose one person to read the poem aloud slowly, deliberately, and authoritatively.
2. Briefly discuss the over-arching theme and trajectory of the poem. What aspect of life is the poem concerned with? How is the end of the poem different from the beginning? How does it move from point A to point B?
3. Work together to identify three or more words or phrases that seem curious, difficult, or enigmatic. These might be symbols that you’re not sure how to interpret (like the nails in “The School Children”), words or phrases that seem strange (such as Wallace Stevens’ “inert savoir”), or details that seem on the surface to be irrelevant (such as how Yusef Komunyakaa mentions his race at the beginning of his poem).
4. Discuss your interpretation of these words or phrases as a group. Why do you think the author chose to express him or herself in this way? What other choices might s/he have made? How does this particular way of expressing a point help the poem move from point A to point B? Can the word or phrase be interpreted in more than one way? If so, what are these ways? Why has the author chosen to leave its meaning unclear?