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« Caroline Malone Guest Blogger January 22-28 | Main | Lyrics that Challenge Us [by Caroline Malone] »

January 22, 2012


I, too, have come back to Whitman as an adult with a deeper appreciation. He's one of those poets that are used to beat high-schoolers over the head with by literature teachers. So, in teaching him, you are kind of fighting an uphill battle with students' ingrained resistance to poetry - they think, with a groan, that they've heard it all before.

But he is so worth the battle. I've had some great success teaching "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry." Especially when they get that Whitman is talking directly to them. A good exercise is to ask them to write a letter or poem directed at people 100 years in the future. What would you say? How would you make the connection? And even having read the poem a bunch of times, I still get a chill up my spine when I think, "He's speaking to me. He means me." And that's part of his wonderful power.

Thanks for posting this.

Hi Laura,

What a great idea for a writing exercise! And I agree about the power of realizing Whitman is speaking to me, so many years later.

I like your counter-intuitive approach of teaching Whitman's short poems. Another great one is "Reconciliation," beautiful and near to being the ideal anti-war poem. Don't you find Whitman -- I think LO does -- to be the most uncanny of poets, who can speak to you across a divide of centuries as if you were in the same room now? -- DL

I haven't read "Reconciliation," but I will. And yes, I think "uncanny" is the perfect word to describe the way Whitman's voice anticipates future readers. Also, his assumption that people of the twentieth century and beyond would find themselves so intimately addressed through his work was not an act of terrible pride. I think it was an act of joy in the power of language.

What a great idea for a writing exercise And I agree.

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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman


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