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Twitter @TeachingPoetry

posted: 3.23.10 by archived

A few weeks ago, Teaching Poetry entered the world of Twitter. Yes, it’s true. You can follow us @teachingpoetry.

In case you think Twitter is a passing trend, consider this: Twitterature: The World’s Greatest Books in Twenty Tweets or Less, the work of two University of Chicago undergraduates, was published by Penguin in December 2009. It delivers works by Dante, Shakespeare, Stendhal, and Joyce in a series of bite size morsels. Poets & Writers magazine online writes about it.

Similarly, in 2009 Soft Skull Press bought a 480,000 character novel written entirely on Twitter.

Since we anticipate Twitter sticking around for a while, we thought we’d figure out the nature of the 140-character micromessage. We’ve had our first taste of what poets, publishers, and bookstores are doing in Twitterland. Here’s a sample:

Some people are composing poems, tweet by tweet, like Scott Reid @apwpoet. Others use Twitter to advertise the day’s poems posted to their blogs, such as Yiching Lin @yichinglin.

The haiku—or twaikuis popular on Twitter, naturally, since its small form doesn’t overrun Twitter’s character boundaries. There’s even a trend called haiku-throw-down in which fast-typing tweeters riff on each other’s tweets, creating new three-line poems every minute or less.

The Geraldine Dodge Poetry Festival is on Twitter, preparing for National Poetry Month in April.

Poets & Writers, “the primary source of information, support, and guidance for creative writers” is here, as well as the outstanding resource Poets.org, from the Academy of American poets. Poets House gives updated on events at their library, literary center, and hot-seat of poetic inspiration.

You can find news from publishers large and small such as Red Hen Press, organizations such as Poetry Speaks, and bookstores such as Powell’s and McNally Jackson (or McNally Robinson, if you’re in Canada).

All in all, Twitter threatens to unite poets, poetry-lovers, buyers, sellers, and performers of poetry. For those used to poetic solitude, this connectivity might just break all taboos and conventions. Can we stand it?!

Tell Us

Who are your favorite poets on Twitter? How do you use Twitter in your classroom? How do students use it? How do you think social media can be useful in poetry classroom activities? Send us your thoughts.

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Categories: Creative Writing, Joelle Hann (moderator), Literature, Popular Culture, Teaching with Technology
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Free Poetry Culture: Academic Edition

posted: 3.15.10 by archived

The Internet has exponentially expanded the lifetime learning opportunities for the educationally curious. Between podcasts, blogs, vlogs, online magazines and newspapers, even the most ravenous consumer of free culture would be overwhelmed.

Perhaps the most interesting development in free online culture is the advent of course materials—from lecture notes to full videos of lectures—from classes at top universities. Much of this material is collected online at the Open Courseware Consortium, where those eager for some mental exercise can check out the offerings from universities like MIT, Berkeley, Notre Dame, and Michigan.

Maybe the most interesting for readers of Teaching Poetry is Yale Open Courses which features no less than three full courses—these are real Yale courses, every lecture available for home viewing—devoted to poetry. Langdon Hammer’s course “Modern Poetry” is a nice way to get up to speed on poetry in the English world since 1900. It covers all of the greats: Frost, Yeats, Eliot, Crane, Hughes, Williams, Moore, Stevens, Auden, and Bishop.

Those interested in going in the other direction won’t be disappointed either. The English Department features an overview course on Milton taught by John Rogers. And Italian Language and Literature features “Dante in Translation” with Giuseppe Mazzotta, which covers the Divine Comedy.

In a different vein, anyone inclined to apply systematic analysis of poetry or literature of any kind, has a treat in store with Paul Fry’s course “Introduction to the Theory of Literature.” Fry’s course is a clear, comprehensive introduction to literary theory which runs the gamut of twentieth century thought from Russian formalism to neo-pragmatism. The course is mostly taught from Bedford’s own The Critical Tradition and is great for anyone interested in figuring out what academics are doing when they use incomprehensible language.

Happy learning!

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Andrew Flynn is an editorial assistant at Bedford/St. Martin’s. He graduated from Columbia in 2008, with a BA in history and philosophy. Before coming to Bedford he interned at the Paris Review.

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Poet of the Month: Robert Lowell

posted: 3.2.10 by archived

Born in Boston on March 1, 1917, Robert Lowell was the son of prominent New England parents. Lowell attended Harvard, Kenyon College, and Louisiana State University, where he studied with literary and critical giants like John Crowe Ransom, Robert Penn Warren, Cleanth Brooks, and Allen Tate. In his twenties, Lowell converted from Episcopalianism to Catholicism. Though he later left the Church, his strong religious beliefs during this period deeply influenced his early work.

From 1947-1948 he served as the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress (the precursor position to the Poet Laureate). Lowell maintained a lifelong interest in history and politics—an interest that shows up in his work—and was a vigorous opponent of the Vietnam War. (During World War II, he had been jailed for conscientious objection.) His life was also dominated by emotional and marital instability—Lowell married three times—and he struggled with alcoholism. Lowell died of a heart attack in 1977 at the age of 60.

Lowell’s work is famously varied. His early books, Land of Unlikeness and Lord Weary’s Castle, were written under the influence of the New Critics with whom Lowell had studied. They display Lowell’s considerable skill in writing in traditional forms. He is most famous, however, for his 1959 book Life Studies, which was a departure from his earlier writing, and from the sort of writing that was most prominent in the world of poetry at the time. Lowell wrote loosely, without adherence to conventions, and incorporated autobiographical events heavily into his poetry. This volume is considered to have begun “confessional poetry” and altered the course of modern poetry.

A. O. Scott argues for Lowell’s enduring importance in his review of Lowell’s recently published Collected Poems:

Lowell’s story, of heretical, Promethean ambition dragged to earth and chastened, has struck a number of critics over the      years as overly melodramatic, and Lowell, since his death, has been somewhat overshadowed by less self-aggrandizing contemporaries like Elizabeth Bishop or Frank O’Hara, who neither made inordinate claims for the authority of poetry nor a big fuss when those claims proved to be untenable.

They left behind bodies of work, whereas Lowell, like Yeats and Milton and very few others, left behind the monumental narrative of a career, which may well, curiously enough, be remembered longer than any single poem he wrote. It is the entirety of that story—the saga of an audacious maker struggling with the raw materials of history, personality, and language—that gives so many of the poems their aura of courage and pathos.

Curious readers can find numerous online resources on Lowell’s life and poetry. The American Academy of Poets features a brief bio, along with a guide to confessional poetry, an overview of Lowell’s Life Studies, and numerous poems by Lowell, including recordings of Lowell reading “Skunk Hour” and “The Public Garden.” The Poetry Foundation features an extensive bio and bibliography, along with numerous poems by Lowell, as well as articles discussing his work. Recordings on the site include one of Helen Vendler discussing Lowell, one of Troy Jollimore talking about “Skunk Hour,” and one focused on “July in Washington” and politics. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux recently published Words in the Air, the complete letters between Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop. (Readers interested in the relationship between these two major twentieth-century poets can read Helen Vendler’s incisive review of the volume in The New York Review of Books.) Lowell’s Paris Review interview, conducted by Frederick Seidel, is available online.

Happy Birthday, Robert Lowell!

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Andrew Flynn is an editorial assistant at Bedford/St. Martin’s. He graduated from Columbia in 2008, with a BA in history and philosophy. Before coming to Bedford he interned at the Paris Review.

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Remembering Lucille Clifton

posted: 2.23.10 by archived

Teaching Poetry mourns the loss of poet Lucille Clifton, who died on February 10 at the age of 73, after a long battle with cancer.

Clifton, perhaps best know to students for her widely-anthologized poem “homage to my hips,” was the author of numerous books of poetry as well as prose. She grew up in Buffalo, New York, the daughter of working-class African American parents, and attended Howard University.

Her poems frequently focused on the African American experience and family life, and are marked by their sparseness—Clifton usually wrote in short lines without capitalization or punctuation.

Clifton was much lauded.  She was a two-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; won an Emmy, a Lannan Literary Prize, and the Ruth Lilly Prize; and received two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities. She was poet laureate of Maryland from 1974 to 1985. She won the National Book Award in 2000 for Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems, 1988-2000.

There are numerous moving tributes to Clifton in print and all over the Internet. The New York Times featured a lengthy obituary that sums up Clifton’s life and work well. On the New Yorker’s Book Bench blog, poet Elizabeth Alexander writes a stirring remembrance of a poet she admired deeply:

No matter how elaborate the words they use, poets strive to tell elemental truths. As Clifton often reminded her acolytes, ‘truth and facts are two different things.’ Time and again, she made luminous poems premised on clear truth-telling, but always with a twist, and with space for evocation and mystery. Her style was as understated as the lowercase type of her poems, a quiet, even woman’s voice telling sometimes terrible truths. Like psalms, koans, and old folks’ proverbs, Clifton’s poems invite meditation and return.

The Poetry Foundation dedicated their Poetry Off the Shelf podcast to remembering Clifton. The American Academy of Poets main site prominently features a tribute to Clifton, and their resources on her include a recording of Clifton reading her well known “homage to my hips” and a lesson plan for teaching women poets.

The Poetry Society of America remembers Clifton on its blog. The PSA was scheduled to present Clifton with their Centennial Frost Medal on April 1. The event will serve as a tribute by other poets to Clifton’s memory.

Readers interested in learning more about Clifton can find a lengthy bio on the Poetry Foundation’s site, alongside a number of her poems that appeared in that magazine, and audio recordings of “praise song” and “why won’t you celebrate with me.”

Rest in peace, Lucille Clifton.

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Andrew Flynn is an editorial assistant at Bedford/St. Martin’s. He graduated from Columbia in 2008, with a BA in history and philosophy. Before coming to Bedford he interned at the Paris Review.

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Approaching Valentine's Day

posted: 2.8.10 by archived

What to do with poetry around Valentine’s Day? Assign students doggerel? Analyze Robert Burns? Recite Shakespeare?

Poets around the country have dealt with sentimentality in a few inventive ways.

In 2008, when Ted Kooser’s book Valentines had just been published, NPR’s All Things Considered recounted how the former poet laureate had been sending an original Valentine’s Day poem to women all over the country for the past 20 years.

In 1986, when the project began, his list contained a mere 50 women. In 2007, the number had grown to 2,700. According to the story, he spent almost $1,000 in postage that year.  Read the full piece and listen to Kooser’s valentines here.

But back to this year. Anticipating a sticky day of chocolates and roses, writer-provocateur Jonathan Ames, with poets Mark Halliday, Bob Hicok, Donna Masini, and “break-up expert” Jerry Williams, will host an anti-Valentine’s Day party in Brooklyn, NY (February 11). The poets are launching the compilation, It’s Not You, It’s Me: The Poetry of Breakup (powerHouse books) and celebrating, as the listing says, “the darker side of love.”

If you’re looking for well-loved poems as models for writing or for teaching, or even as gifts for friends, the videos on Favorite Poem Project’s Web site are quick and inspiring.

Finally, the Poetry Foundation has a fabulous resource page, organized by themes such as “funny love,” “classic love,” “teen love,” and “break up.” The page includes audio resources and feature essays such as “Love Lessons from High School Students,” by Brian Staveley, that should prove helpful for lesson planning, teaching, and getting through the day itself.

However you teach, ignore, deny, or celebrate Valentine’s Day in the classroom, drop us a line and let us know how you did it.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Categories: Creative Writing, Joelle Hann (moderator), Literature, Teaching Advice
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Celebrating Poetry in Black History Month

posted: 2.1.10 by archived

Terrence Hayes reads at Cornell University, April 15, 2009

With the arrival of February comes the celebration of Black History month in the United States and—on this blog at least—a recognition of the pioneering work of  writers and artists of African descent in this country.

There are a lot of great Web resources to help you appreciate these innovators and to structure activities for your students.

The Academy of American of American Poets has compiled a wealth of material for Black History Month and invites readers to “[c]elebrate and explore the rich tradition of African American poetry through essays on literary milestones, intersections of music, poetry, and art, and profiles and poems of historical and contemporary poets such as Harryette Mullen who continue to pioneer new ground while keeping an eye on the past.”

Highlights include classic recordings, such as Langston Hughes reading “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” and Gwendolyn Brooks reading “We Real Cool,” along with overviews of poetic movements like Slam and Negritude, essays, videos, and biographies.

Langston Hughes reads, “I, Too.”

The Library of Congress has provided an equally impressive collection, though its focus is broader, covering the whole spectrum of politics and culture. Of special interest to readers of this blog will be videos of poet Sheila Moses at the 2006 National Book Festival, David Kresh discussing the poetry of Langston Hughes, and poet E. E. Miller giving an interview.

The Smithsonian’s Web site for Black History month features a host of resources for educators including a Harlem Renaissance reading list.

And, on that topic, the History Channel offers a brief video overview of the Harlem Renaissance—the surge of creative activity in Manhattan’s Harlem neighborhood in the 1920s and 1930s that involved poets such as Claude McKay and Langston Hughes.

The Biography Channel’s Web site features a lengthier, written introduction to the Harlem Renaissance, with links to biographies to major writers, artists, and intellectuals associated with the movement—including, of course, poets.

About your classroom:

How will you celebrate Black History Month in your poetry classroom this February? How do you celebrate all year round?

Send in your exercises and ideas and we will feature them here on Teaching Poetry.

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Andrew Flynn is an editorial assistant at Bedford/St. Martin’s. He graduated from Columbia in 2008, with a BA in history and philosophy. Before coming to Bedford he interned at the Paris Review.

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Poet of the Month: Louis Zukofsky

posted: 1.19.10 by archived

As Guy Davenport once put it, Louis Zukofsky, our January poet of the month, is a “poet’s poet’s poet.” Though he stands as a central figure in the development of modern poetry, he hasn’t achieved the widespread recognition of Eliot or Pound or many of the other Modernists, though poets and graduate students may know and appreciate his work.

Born on January 23, 1904, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan to Russian immigrants, Zukofsky’s first exposure to English literature was in Yiddish translation. He attended Columbia University where he worked on student literary publications and, in 1924, received a master’s degree in English. A devotee of Ezra Pound, he corresponded with the poet who was impressed by Zukofsky’s early work. In fact, it was through Pound that Zukofsky got his first big break into the poetry world: Pound convinced the editor of Poetry to let Zukofsky guest-edit an issue.

In editing the issue of Poetry, as well as a subsequent anthology, Zukofsky was credited with creating the Objectivist movement. (The Objectivism of second-generation Modernists, not the Objectivism of Ayn Rand.) More a sympathetic cast of mind than a defined school of poetry,  Objectivism sought to treat the poem as an object, breaking up the normal patterns of speech by conscious fragmentation. Much in the mold of Ezra Pound, Objectivists were also concerned with incorporating history into their works. Thus it’s not surprising that Zukofsky’s own poetry is often obscure, intellectual, and rife with allusions.

Zukofsky published forty-nine books in his literary career—ranging from fiction to poetry to criticism—but undoubtedly his major accomplishment was his 800-page poem “A,” an eclectic mix of personal reflection and historical allusion. He worked on this epic project throughout his life.

“A is Zukofsky’s masterwork but was only published in full and made widely available in 1979, a year after his death. It includes twenty-four sections—one for each hour of the day—and is what poet and critic Dan Chaisson called “a mélange of styles and forms, from Poundian free verse to Italian canzoni.”

Chaisson writes of the all-encompassing nature of A: “Zukofsky’s life was unusually directed toward the poem that was unusually open to absorbing it; you cannot talk about Zukofsky the man without talking about the poem that collected, to an extent few writers have ever attempted, the history of one person’s perception of experience, from Bach to Watts, from Spinoza to Kennedy.”

We’d love to offer you a sample of Zukofsky’s work here on our blog, but the strict copyright interpretation of Zukofsky’s son makes that impossible. We encourage you to take a trip to your local library to check out his poetry in book form, or browse the many online sources.

Poets.org has a biography with a link on the Objectivists. The Poetry Foundation’s Web site includes a lengthy bio and bibliography along with a number of links to audio recordings on Zukofsky.

The Electronic Poetry Center at SUNY Buffalo offers links to a large number of critical and academic resources, and Z-Site is a thorough companion to Zukofsky’s work…in case you should find any of it confusing. For those dying for more, Mark Scroggins has written the authoritative Zukofsky biography.

Happy Birthday, Louis Zukofsky!

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Andrew Flynn is an editorial assistant at Bedford/St. Martin’s. He graduated from Columbia in 2008, with a BA in history and philosophy. Before coming to Bedford he interned at the Paris Review.

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From Classroom to Creative Work: How do You Get There?

posted: 1.11.10 by archived

What did we do in class today?

Oh, nothing.

Early on in my experiences as a poet-in-the-classroom, I went to hear John Ashbery, who read some poems but who also had a few words to say about the teaching of poetry. Someone asked him what his “secret” was as a teacher of poetry—what exercises did he use, how did he structure assignments so that his students produced poems, what were his secrets.

He said that as a teacher of poetry, he believed there was only one thing he could do, one thing it was all about: “creating an environment.”

And that was it.

That was John Ashbery’s big secret.

At the time, I had a picture in my head of John Ashbery in one of the dingy, overcrowded, sweat-stinking NY public school classrooms where I encountered my fledgling poets. He would come tiptoeing in, he would close the door, he would reach up high and pull down the shades or at least turn off the dimmerless overhead lights, and he would switch on an old-fashioned dial radio he had with him. Some bewitching scratchy music of an uncharted station would fill the room, from the linoleum to the flaking ceiling. The radio would screech or hum as he fiddled with the dials and bent the antenna.

And “environment” would have been at last created.

Poetry would fill the room and the students in it would turn to their sheets of paper and begin writing.

That was my first impression of “creating an environment.”

It hasn’t changed much.

From my experiences teaching high school and middle school poets, those standard issue classrooms are not usually the most creative spaces in which to work, add or subtract carpet, linoleum, windows that open or don’t, desks that are welded or unwelded to their chairs, bulletin boards with pushpins, or walls with masking tape.

But creativity seems to abound there, in that range of most uncreative environments.

I read through the anthologies of student poems from past years, looking for traces of what my lesson plans were, as if I were John Ashbery and an earnest teacher had asked me how I teach my students to write poems. And I read through my diligent teacher notebooks. My instructions to myself—and to them—are sketchy. Or rather, sketches. As if the poetry “lesson” were so ephemeral, it never really made it to the paper.

It’s not as if nothing made it to paper: I did write things down, by way of lesson plan, things like the words “Neruda today,” with an accompanying worksheet that has “Ode to My Socks” magnified and Xeroxed onto giant 11×17 paper. This particular worksheet also has, at the top right, a space for the student’s name, with the word “name” written in curlicue cursive, and then a prompt as unhelpful as:  “Now think of some ordinary object and write your own ode, right here next to Lorca’s!”

How could that have possibly lead to poems?

But it did.

As I try to write a few paragraphs about how there is so little “on the page” after all my experience teaching poetry, I think the answer does lie with John Ashbery. What those half-worksheets and rich anthologies attest to is how much of teaching poetry is about creating an environment, in this case a rich classroom environment.

That is how poems get made—you have to conjure them up, call them down, court the Muse or the spirit of poetry, all in the standard issue classroom.

How?

How do you create an environment?

The main way is nothing fancy. It requires no radio, no costumes, no appliances—it is simply by bringing in poems. A poem. And by reading it aloud in a way that brings it to life in that room.

Neruda was an old friend in this regard: His poems seem to fit so well in the classroom because they are about ordinary things, which can make us remember the magic of being in that ordinary space.

You can read a poem aloud by having students, one after the other, in the order of how they are seated, be it in rows or in a circle, read a line from the poem. That can be fun with Neruda, for example, and his Elemental Odes because sometimes his lines are only a few words. You can read it once as quickly as possible, once as slowly as possible. The third time, you can have a few students chime in at random on a line they like. Clumps of students can read clumps of the poem out loud in unison. Little by little, the sounds of the poem, when rendered this way, make the meaning come alive.  And as the students get used to the sounds of the poem, and the way those sounds feel, the poem becomes more and more theirs.

There are mysteries for students to solve which seem to make sense as the poem is brought to life by reading it aloud: in “Ode to My Socks,” who is Maru-Mori? What are green deer? Is the tuna in “Ode to a Large Tuna in the Market” just a tuna? Or is it someone he loved—someone who worked hard and dies beloved? Is this a serious poem or a silly one? Reading out loud allows for a lot of permission to play, to play with tone, not just sound.

A poem’s mysteries can open up more mysteries, and more ways for students to approach their own odes. There are so many points of entry for the students when they write their own odes—they can invoke their own Maru-Mori, their own green deer, their own line lengths, their own roller coasters of feeling and tone.

But even this starts to sound vague as I write it.

How does the mention of “green deer” lead to another poem, an ode?

How does a poem about a dead tuna lead a 14-year-old boy to write an ode to his father?

I don’t know, exactly, except that I was there and it happened, over and over again.

The reading out loud of the poem, in these cases, was the key to “creating an environment” where poetry could take place.

Even as I write this now, I can remember how urgent it can feel, in a classroom, after experiencing the energy that reading (and rendering) a poem aloud, together, in different ways, releases.

It’s transformative.

In that moment, when the poem is most present in the “environment,” it is at last time to ask the students to flip the page over and write—write their own odes, write until you tell them they can stop.

And they will and do.

There are other ways to create environments, ways involving stopping at greengrocer and buying a Chinese persimmon, or procuring some postcards, or bringing in a scratchy record of your own, or no doubt wearing flowy scarves, but for now, this feels like enough. To create an environment, you must create an energetic focus. You must choose the poem. And you yourself in some real way have to show up in the environment, too; you have to be there, risking something. It’s a collaborative environment, after all, and as a teacher you are using your own link to poetry to help others find their own.

For now: To create poetry in the classroom, create an environment in which poets can work. To create that environment, use poems.

No wonder so little is written down in my lesson plans except the names of the poems themselves. It’s not a class you can make up, really.

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Mary Dilucia, has worked as a teacher of literature and an editor, and has also taught in the Expository Writing Program at NYU. She has a PhD in Comparative Literature from Harvard University and an MFA in poetry from NYU, and now lives and writes in Manhattan.

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Season's Greetings! A New Take on "'Twas the Night Before Christmas"…

posted: 12.22.09 by archived

Clement Clarke Moore’s seminal 1823 Christmas poem “A Visit from Saint Nick”—which became “The Night Before Christmas” and a world-wide favorite—is as emblematic of the holiday season  as candy canes, snowmen, and loop-tracked rock’n’roll holiday tunes in retail stores.

However, new research suggests that Moore, a biblical scholar, might have plagiarized the poem.

It’s true: The poem that gave us the roly-poly, white-beard-donning, red-suit-wearing Santa, along with his reindeer, from Dasher to Blitzen (sorry Rudolph!) in fact might have been written by Henry Livingston Jr., “a gentleman-poet of Dutch descent,” says Don Foster, English professor at Vassar College.

The poem was first published anonymously in a Troy, New York, newspaper. Only after Livingston had died did Moore claim to be its author. It was a time when gentlemen often published anonymously, considering newspaper publications beneath them.

Foster’s literary analysis as well as the sleuthing of Livingston’s heirs suggests that Moore could not have penned the often imitated and parodied poem (“A Florida Night Before Christmas”? “A Laboratory Night Before Christmas”?). For one thing, Moore, who owned much of what is now the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, was too much of a grouch. As the New York Times writes, “He took a stern approach to being a parent, and his poems and writings often focused on the annoying noise of ‘clamorish girls’ and ‘boisterous boys.'”

Authorship might be a moot point now, anyway: This poem has almost become a part of the fabric of Christmas itself.

As well as the classic 1950s scene rendered in the YouTube video above, you can also hear Bob Dylan recite the poem on his XM radio show, or build your own made-to-order “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” using “crazy libs” to sub in certain words for others.

Whatever you decide, enjoy these poetic tidbits—and enjoy your well-deserved holidays.

Teaching Poetry will be on a two week hiatus now until January. We’ll see you in the New Year.

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Show Movie Clips to Teach Writing

posted: 12.18.09 by Traci Gardner

The MovieClips site, shared by Teresa Ilgunas on the English Companion Ning Group at Diigo.com, has the potential to change the way you use movies in the writing classroom.

MovieClips is what I’d call mini-lesson ready, whether you’re teaching literature, creative writing, or expository writing. The site hosts a collection of over 12,000 movie clips, which are “completely searchable by actor, title, genre, occasion, action, mood, character, theme, setting, prop, and even dialogue.”

The Technical Details

You can browse the site easily and combine the different search types to find an appropriate clip for your class. For instance, you might look for movies that combine a specific theme and mood, clips that focus on a particular actor and action, or films that have the right combination of setting and prop. Let me share an example.

  • Since it’s December, I’ve decided to start with clips from the film It’s a Wonderful Life. MovieClips has eight tagged clips from the movie.
  • I can click on any of the categories in the “browse by” section to narrow down the clips by actor, action, mood, character, theme, setting, and prop.
  • I choose theme and click on disillusionment. Now I have two clips from It’s a Wonderful Life to use in the classroom: “Angel Second Class” and “A Great Gift.”
  • I can show the clips to the class with an LCD projector as well as ask students to view (or review) the clips outside of class. If I’m in a computer classroom with headphones, students could view the clips at their desks as well. I can even embed the clip on my course site by copying and pasting ready-made code. Here’s the “Angel Second Class” clip as an example:

That’s all there is to it. Your computer will need to have the latest version of Flash Player, but generally speaking, if you have watched YouTube videos, you have everything you need to watch MovieClips.

The Pedagogical Details

The folks at MovieClips put together an Intro video (at the top of their homepage) that demonstrates how they imagine the site being used to track down clips on the fly, as they come up in conversation. In the classroom, we could use the site in the ways explained in the Intro, but we can do so much more.

The film clips are like any text you might use in the classroom. Anything you can do with a model essay, novel, or poem, you can try with a film clip. The clips are especially well-suited for mini-lessons on strategies like using dialogue or establishing a setting. Further, they are plenty of opportunities for analysis and comparison. Here are some specific ideas:

  • There are a handful of clips from films based on literature, such as Henry V, Dracula, Frankenstein, and Of Mice and Men. If you’re teaching literature, you can use the clips to highlight scenes for class discussion and explore the difference between the movie and the play or novel.
  • If you’re talking about setting or place description, use the “browse by: setting” option to choose clips that focus on specific places. There are 12 clips focusing on bowling alleys, for instance, and for vampire lovers, there are 7 clips featuring Transylvania. Show several clips focused on a specific place and ask students to identify the features in the clip that tell viewers where the story takes place. Sort details into categories (e.g., specific props in the scenes, landscape features) and ask students to read through other texts (their own or literary) looking for similar details that indicate the place where events occur.
  • Choose clips that focus on mood, character, or theme, and ask students to compare their presentation to other texts they are reading or exploring. Take the category of character. MovieClips has segments that focus on heroes and anti-heroes, different professions, and family members—mother, father, in-laws, sisters, etc. There are good guys, bad guys, cowards, and cowboys. Any discussion of stereotypes and characterization could benefit from exploring related clips.

A Few Comments

  • Be sure the movie clips you choose are appropriate for the classroom. There is no censorship in the clips, and you may find that some are a bit more raw than others. Always preview the entire clip and be sure that you know a bit about the movie the clip comes from before you use it. That’s the best way to ensure that the clip will fit with the students and local community where you teach.
  • Note the “buy” links. The good folks at MovieClips need to pay the bills, so you’ll find links to buy the related films that the clips come from. You don’t need to buy the movies to view the clips, however. If students are confused by the “buy” links, spend a few seconds explaining why they are there and letting students know that they do not need to click on them.

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Literature
Read All Traci Gardner