Feb 14, 2007

Frumious, Vorpal, Snicker-Snack

I taught Jabberwocky today. I win at life.
Well, that was what it felt like at the time.
One of my private classes (the bright kid I mentioned in this post) had a textbook unit on deduction, all particulary with regards to deducing the meaning of new words by their context. For the lesson, I decided to junk the frankly boring textbook, and bring instead introduce him to one of the best poems in the English language.
At the beginning of class, I had him read the poem and I asked him "What do you think this poem is about?"
"I dunno," he said.
"What do you think a Jabberwocky is?"
"I dunno."
"Is it a good thing, or a bad thing."
"A bad thing?"
"What happens to it?"
"It dies."
"How does it die?"
"The guy cuts its head off."
"With what?"
"A sword."
"What kind of sword?"
"A vorpal sword."
"What does vorpal mean?"
"Very sharp."
BING! And that, ladies in gentlemen, is when everything clicked.
"How do you know that?"
"I dunno. It goes 'snicker-snack.'"
"What does 'snicker-snack' mean?"
He mimed grabbing a two-handed sword and swung it back and foth. "Snicker!" he said on the first swing, "snack!" on the follow through. "So," I said, "What's a Jabberwock?"
"It's a big monster like a dragon or something."
And then the kid went and ascribed meanings to all of Lewis Carroll's nonsense words. "That's what you need to do with real words," I told him, "find the meaning from the context."
We ended the class with the kid making up his own monser, and tentacled spacebeast called Gales that ate both planets and people. I aske him to make up words to describe it. "Gazzy" was in there, as was "knific," due to its bladed arms. You know the scene in Dead Poets Society where Robin Williams gets the kid to describe Walt Whitman's picture? I got to do that for real. it made me feel all teacher-y.
I was amazed, really, at how energized I was at teaching something that I really, really cared about. I know that everyone likes Jabberwocky, but I'm not going to let its popularity get in the way of it being one of favorite poems. The textbooks that we use are alright, but most of them are so dry that they make Strunk and White seem like party animals.
I do try to inject my own interersting spin on stuff into my classes (more on that later) but for the most part I don't really have any interesting primary sources to work with. After the class, I started wondering if it would be worth it to find easy to understand bits of poetry to tack up in my classroom or sometimes reference during classes.
Or would that be just really, really pretentious? I mean, lots of people come to my school just to improve their TOEIC or TOEFL scores, not to read bits of Dickinson and Coleridge. I'll have to mull this over.
So, are there any really, really easy to understand poems out there that I could make utilize? Thoughts? Suggestions?


..... said...

:) The introduction of your blog says most part of my life! but I did not have the courage to teach in Japan! hehehe
Happy Vday!

Joseph said...

What about the Wasteland? I hear that's pretty accessible.

You did play Jabberwocky Blues for that student, right? RIGHT? I've done my part spreading the gospel of Prisoner's Dilemma to Ethiopia, now you have to do your part in Japan, dammit.

Eric said...

I knew there was going to be no way I could be the first to drop the obvious PD reference. Maybe some Neruda? I know it's translated, but there are about a couple dozen nice love poems, plus some other ones he wrote. A nice tie-in to V-day and your sunken libido. Of course, some translated Renaissance poetry like Petrarch or Dante would be fun. Did Japan ever have a Renaissance? Or a Reformation? I know they had a Restoration, what else they got?

Joseph said...

Aw, shucks, you were waiting to make a PD reference. Gee whilickers...

SonicLlama said...

Aw, Eric! You were waiting for a PD reference! Awesome, dude.
Unfortunately, I didn't play him Jabberwocky Blues- I didn't have a copy of the CD on me, and I also said "don't fuck with the Bandersnatch" on the track. Which, is too bad, really, because if I hadn't done that I probably would have played it for my student.
I'm actually listening to it right now, and damn do I say "anyhow" a lot. I think I was also trying to subconciously imitate Ira Glass when I was at the mic- not that's a bad thing, mind you.

As for classroom poetry, I think that The Wasteland might be a bit... much.
I'm thinking more like:

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white
-William Carlos Williams

The sort of thing that language learners could get fairly easily.

Joseph said...

:-) I notice the preponderance of "anyhow"s everytime I listen to that track. Also the "fuck" -- I gave a copy of the CD to my middle-school band teacher, and he was so excited about it. He was going to play it for his class, until he realized that every song on it had a swear word. Which is a particular shame with JB, since I think that was easily our best song. Ah, well.

Anonymous said...

after doing the Headways unit on Shakespeare's sonnet 'shall I compare thee to a summer's day...', describing love in poetry, I gave my students a copy of Anne Sexton's 'To my Lover, Returning to His Wife'

The idea was just for them to compare the imagery and the style. One of my students, a middle aged businessman, got really into it and wanted to discuss Anne Sexton! It was really cool.

but that's my teacher's opinion. my bossy opinion may be different. never the twain shall meet....

Anonymous said...

If you're going for William Carlos Williams, how about "This Is Just To Say...":

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

That was one of my favorite poems when I was a kid...


SonicLlama said...

Stephanie, that is perfect! Perfect! Delicious plum poems are precisely the sort of thing I need.
You know, W.C.W. kind of reminds me a little of Basho.