"...poetry does not have to be hard to be good. Say it with me: difficulty is not an invariable sign of quality."
Teaching Poetry: Starting with AOur third guest blogger, Catherine Carter, is a poet whose poem “Arson in Ladytown” appears in our Spring 2011 edited by Colm Toibin. Catherine will post on Fridays through August.
This is why, after all that buildup, I’ll finally offer a positive rather than a negative premise: poetry does not have to be hard to be good. Say it with me: difficulty is not an invariable sign of quality. Sure, difficulty and quality can often be seen hanging out together over a Guinness, both slightly stoned, as they are in Shakespeare…but they are not actually the same thing. Showing students the densest and most difficult poems we know, Q, is no way to convince them that poetry is anything that they might enjoy on their own.
Instead, I’d suggest some really accessible poems—not simplistic, necessarily, but not hiding too far away, either. For this, my favorite text is Naomi Shihab Nye’s lovely book (with pictures!), Salting the Ocean: it’s a hundred poems by young poets, public school students, the kind who on bad days get stuffed into their lockers and sustain near-terminal wedgies. The kind that students—the same ones rendering the trout look while we wax lyrical about William Cullen Bryant—actually know, maybe the kind they are.
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