Friday, January 20, 2006

Poetry Fridays, installment #1

One thing leads to another leads to another...

In her post about returning to school, jo(e) mentioned (not for the first time) her plan to teach poetry on Fridays this semester. This led to a clamor of voices asking her to let us in on it, which led to her suggestion that we all start posting poetry on Fridays. (Oh, and let's talk about the poems, not just read them...)

One of the rewards of an active-learning, student-based class is how much the teacher gets to learn. I've been teaching poetry in part by assigning groups to poets and letting students choose which of the poet's poems we'll study. Among the advantages: it's not the mean ol' teacher's fault if the class doesn't like the poem, and anyway, they probably will like the poem since it has already passed peer-muster. Thanks to students I've come to appreciate Raymond Carver's poetry. While I've always been a fan of his fiction, I never took the poetry seriously. It appears I was wrong to do so.
To those not familiar with Carver, biographical information might enhance your appreciation of the poem. Carver had a hardscrabble life. A poor kid, he married his pregnant girlfriend when he was quite young -- 19, I believe -- and struggled to support her and the two children they eventually had. Carver fell into alcoholism, divorced, beat the drinking problem, became famous, found love again with poet Tess Gallagher, quit smoking (not necessarily in that order) -- then developed lung cancer and died at age 50.

This poem was chosen by my students this past fall. I'm grateful they pointed me in its direction:

What the Doctor Said
--Raymond Carver

He said it doesn't look good
he said it looks bad in fact real bad
he said I counted thirty-two of them on one lung before
I quit counting them
I said I'm glad I wouldn't want to know
about any more being there than that
he said are you a religious man do you kneel down
in forest groves and let yourself ask for help
when you come to a waterfall
mist blowing against your face and arms
do you stop and ask for understanding at those moments
I said not yet but I intend to start today
he said I'm real sorry he said
I wish I had some other kind of news to give you
I said Amen and he said something else
I didn't catch and not knowing what else to do
and not wanting him to have to repeat it
and me to have to fully digest it
I just looked at him
for a minute and he looked back it was then
I jumped up and shook hands with this man who'd just given me
something no one else on earth had ever given me
I may have even thanked him habit being so strong


jo(e) said...

Your students picked this? Smart students ....

Scrivener said...

Wow, I'm amazed that your students would pick that one.

Like you, I've focused much more on his fiction, but he's got some poetic doozies too, doesn't he?