What I taught yesterday


Image: New Directions.

In high school, there are days when we aren’t all talking about a literary text that we’re all reading together.  We might be working on a paper, or grammar/vocabulary (though I rarely do those things in isolation), or writing on something other than a literary text.

But Thursday I taught:

Heaney’s poem “The Skunk” (in the Norton Anthology of Poetry, AP Lit)

Wide Sargasso Sea (also AP Lit–we had a double period)

The Scarlet Letter (in AP Lang)

Gu Cheng’s “Poetry Lessons” (in World Lit).  This is a series of five short, poetic prose pieces on the “lessons” he learned about poetry from nature and from reading.  I don’t have the book here ( Chinese Writers on Writingfrom Trinity UP) or I would quote my favorite, in which he describes how a hermit crab taught him to love language that moves in an original way–the shell unexpectedly moving among the shellscape of the beach.  Today I had them spend the last 15-20 minutes of class composing a “Poetry Lesson” of their own, in imitation of Gu.

Gu has become one of my favorite poets to teach in translation.  We read his poems in the Vintage Book of Contemporary World Poetry, and we also retranslate, as a class, his poem “A Generation.”  The kids like his work, and they are mesmerized by the tragic story of his life, and by the odd detail of the tall hats he is wearing in many of the available photos, made out of the leg of a pair of pants.  My colleague who teaches Chinese talked to the students last week about her own experiences of being sent to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution, as Gu was.  

It was a good day.


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