On October’s Poems
Continuing my practice, since the conference at the Frost Place, of beginning classes by reading poetry…
This year the advent of October, and the end of baseball season, and the looming of winter, left me with a feeling of dread. I hoped to combat that with the poems I chose to open my classes with, or perhaps to turn it to my advantage in some way. Thus when I discussed the possibilities at the Simply Not Done weekend with Brenda and Becky, and online with the poet Jenny Doughty, I thought maybe doing something thematic might be interesting. October poems? Jenny sent along a pair of her favorites…but as I had a brain cramp and could think of relatively few October poems, Becky suggested that, as it’s the month of Halloween, I just read poems by dead people.
(Of course, on October 1st, I was away at an Effective Practices conference, and had to leave something quickly for the sub–that’s how Meg Kearney gets to be the only live poet amongst this bunch.)
Because I’m dealing with young people of a certain age, this became a matter of curiosity. By the second week, the kids wanted to know all the gory details about these poets’ deaths. I began to have to research. In most cases, death was simply caused by old age–that happens to poets, too. If the death wasn’t interesting, then I got Well, didn’t they do anything interesting while they were alive? Besides write poetry, I wanted to ask the students. But I told them what I knew; there is, to my way of thinking, importance in letting the kids know that these writers were people, too. When I got to Philip Larkin and “Days,” though, I did get the question I’ve been waiting for all quarter: Did he write anything else cool like that? Hehehe. We’re in school, I told that class. Look up this poem, but don’t tell your parents I said to (I think you know which one I mean…). In the last week before Halloween, I segued into a bunch of Poe, that freaky poet, saving “The Raven” for the day everyone wore their costumes (myself included: I wore the floor-length black velvet cloak Jennifer Hallsey, a former student, gave me when she graduated). I read “The Raven” in semi-darkness. The kids in first period claimed a familiarity with the poem, and by the end, were supplying, in chorus, the raven’s one croaking word. That was fun.
Monday, October 4: “October Dawn” by Ted Hughes (with thanks to the poet Jenny Doughty)
Tuesday, October 5: “October” by Patrick Kavanagh (thanks again, Jenny!)
Wednesday, October 6: #120 “These are the Days When Birds Come Back” by Emily Dickinson
Thursday, October 7: “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer” by Walt Whitman (after a discussion with the writing class)
Friday, October 8: “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley
Wednesday, October 13: “Mushrooms” by Sylvia Plath
Thursday, October 14: “XLIII: How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Friday, October 15: “i carry your heart with me” by e. e. cummings (because yesterday was his birthday)
Monday, October 18: “She Walks in Beauty” by George Gordon, Lord Byron
Tuesday, October 19: “Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night” by Dylan Thomas
Wednesday, October 20: “Days” by Philip Larkin
Thursday, October 21: “Hawk Roosting” by Ted Hughes
Friday, October 22: “Finding a Long Gray Hair” by Jane Kenyon
Monday, October 25: “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” by John Keats
Tuesday, October 26: “Annabel Lee” by Edgar Allan Poe
Wednesday, October 27: “The Haunted Palace” by Edgar Allan Poe
Thursday, October 28: “Spirits of the Dead” by Edgar Allan Poe
Friday, October 29: The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe
Stay tuned for November! And as always, I’m still looking for suggestions. Anyone have any favorites?