Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Monday, two poems

Yesterday, a couple of poems showed us a good time. In one class, Robert Frost's "Mending Wall" resulted in a small wall extending for a couple of feet across our classroom. (The assignment was to bring a rock and oh yes read the poem.) In the poem, a playful speaker teases his neighbour about his simple, uncritical belief in the necessity of mending the stone wall between them. Yet it is the speaker, not the too-sensible neighbour, who every year initiates the mending of the wall--the wall thus dividing and linking the two, as if (as one of numerous on-line commentators on this poem have noted) both sides, the non-sense and the sense, are needed. The poem raises these matters in blank verse, spoken as plainly as can be. It's a beauty, this little poem.

In the later class, it was time for William Robertson's "End of the the 90s Poem" from his 2005 collection Just Living. It's a poem about irony that may or may not be ironic. It offers a series of statements--"I love you", "Let's get married" and so on--which may or may not be ironic, ending with "I meant every word I just said" which may or may not be ironic. When I suggested to the class that maybe the speaker is just fed up with the ironic distance so prevalent in late-90s popular culture and just wants to lay his emotions out as genuinely as possible, no one admitted to believing me (not that I was sure what I believed anyway). Once irony is evoked, I realized as I stood in front of the class trying to help us all understand what this poem was doing, we can't be sure where we are.

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