Friday, September 10, 2004

The battle against abstractions: Round 2

I've noticed that when my students switch from writing poetry to the fiction unit, they feel more compelled to describe and provide detail when they write stories than when they write poems.

My first thought is that they see poems as compressed language. Because of that compression, they need to use shorthand (abstraction), in order to say what they want to say.

My second thought is that they view poetry as closely in league with philosophy. A poem is about ideas first and not about image.

Finally, as was stated in the previous post, the abstract language will allow the readers to interpret the poem in whatever way that reader wishes. It's the idea that the poem allows the writer AND the reader freedom. However, the reader is empowered in this model and ultimately, it's the reader who's writing the poem, it seems.

So . . . what to do? More in a few. I've got to teach in ten minutes. ;-)


Anonymous said...

O, how about writing the most generic, abstract poem you can, and giving it to your students and telling them to write their REAL poem (with concrete images) based on the abstractions? Seems like it might be a good exercise to show them how each person can write a poem that reaches more people with specificity. Just a thought.... Sue

ryan james wilson said...

I think just showing students examples of poems that work without abstractions might help. I know from my own teaching experience that many younger people believe poetry to be something that is very elevated and distant. They have the idea that poets are all Shelleys, or that poets are somehow like Keats' "knight palely loitering." Maybe just show the students that poems and poets can be pro-active, can be hands-on, physical. Maybe show them a William Bronk poem and then immdediately give them a language poem: let them see the diversity of styles that can exist within poetry. If they are interested in reader interaction, show them some Ashbery. Then let them think about what is more appropriate to what they want to say, or maybe to what they don't want to say. I guess my advice is to let them read: if they want to write, they're going to have to figure out for themselves what works and what doesn't. You can't make them, so don't burden yourself with the responsibility. Good luck!

ryan james wilson said...

O, by the way, I've been meaning to ask you where you are teaching now. I'm thinking you're no longer at ASU. Forgive me if this is on the blog already: I may have just missed it somehow. Best, Ryan

Oliver de la Paz said...

Dear all,

It's not just that I have defiant students in this one particular class. I'm merely speculating about what exactly makes younger writers rely so heavily on abstractions in the first place. This little discussion with my students is making me meditate a wee bit on the idea. Anyway, Ryan, I'm at Utica College, which is in upstate NY. ASU was a world away. . . in fact, almost five years ago. Before that I was a visiting writer at Gettysburg College until I landed in Utica.