Friday, May 18, 2007


Yesterday, a fellow teacher asked me to visit his Grade 12 philosophy class to talk about poetry. They had been talking about beauty and aesthetics. Earlier in the day they had held a Philosophy Bake Sale. A biology teacher came to the class to joke about the existence or non-existence of the muffins at the bake sale. He joined the class and contributed his scientific perspective to the proceedings.

For this presentation I brought a stack of books including some David McFadden, Lisa Jarnot, Steve McCaffery, bpNichol, Mark Truscott, James Tate, Gil Adamson, and Charles Bernstein. I cut the questions below into individual strips and then gave each student (and teacher) one question to "answer." I also randomly assigned then a book of poetry. I asked everyone to answer their question by choosing a quote from the poetry book that they were assigned. They were also given the option of answering the question in their own words.

I was really pleased with how quickly this process engaged the students. It was fun, a kind of poetry game. The students dug into the books and explored them. When each person read there was the intrigue and humour of comparing their question with their answer. Of wondering about how the quotation worked and then seeing how it jibed with the question. Of course there was often an oblique, anti-rational correspondence, not to mention the inherent recursivity of answering these kinds of questions with poetry.

We had a fantastic discussion afterwards about poetry and about the various issues raised by the questions and by the answers and further questions of those present. And of course, the biology teacher got the question about the amoeba.

Here are my questions:

What is poetry for?

Can poetry change the world?

What is language for?

What does language want?

How does language behave in the ‘real world,’ outside dictionaries?

How does language behave in a world other than our own? In a parallel world?

If an ameoba thought or spoke, what would it sound like?

How would a combination of half a person / half a toaster think and/or speak?

Does language change how we think or how we see the world?

There is such a thing as abstract painting. This is what abstract poetry sounds like:

How do we know how someone else feels or thinks?

What is the sound of one hand barking?

WWPD? (What would poetry do?)

WHIPSIP? (What happens in poetry, stays in poetry) Is it true?

No comments: