Monday, June 02, 2008

A Teachable Moment

Although I'm not sure that I want to think of the study of poetry literally as punishment, one prosecutor and one teacher seem to have found just the right occasion to sentence vandals to two nights of poetry:

Call it poetic justice: More than two dozen young people who broke into Robert Frost's former home for a beer party and trashed the place are being required to take classes in his poetry as part of their punishment.

Using "The Road Not Taken" and another poem as jumping-off points, Frost biographer Jay Parini hopes to show the vandals the error of their ways -- and the redemptive power of poetry.

"I guess I was thinking that if these teens had a better understanding of who Robert Frost was and his contribution to our society, that they would be more respectful of other people's property in the future and would also learn something from the experience," said prosecutor John Quinn.

The vandalism occurred at the Homer Noble Farm in Ripton, where Frost spent more than 20 summers before his death in 1963. Now owned by Middlebury College, the unheated farmhouse on a dead-end road is used occasionally by the college and is open in the warmer months.


Parini, 60, a Middlebury College professor who has stayed at the house before, was eager to oblige when Quinn asked him to teach the classes. He donated his time for the two sessions.

On Wednesday, 11 turned out for the first, with Parini giving line-by-line interpretations of "The Road Not Taken" and "Out, Out-," seizing on parts with particular relevance to draw parallels to their case.

"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood," he thundered, reciting the opening line of the first poem, which he called symbolic of the need to make choices in life.

"This is where Frost is relevant. This is the irony of this whole thing. You come to a path in the woods where you can say, `Shall I go to this party and get drunk out of my mind?"' he said. "Everything in life is choices."

Even the setting had parallels, he said: "Believe me, if you're a teenager, you're always in the damned woods. Literally, you're in the woods -- probably too much you're in the woods. And metaphorically you're in the woods, in your life. Look at you here, in court diversion! If that isn't `in the woods,' what the hell is `in the woods'? You're in the woods!"

Although some vandals were quoted making statements that suggested they got it,

[w]hen the session ended, the vandals were offered snacks -- apple cider, muffins, sliced fruit -- but none partook. They went straight for the door, several declining comment as they walked out of the building.


Anonymous said...

Harrumph. I would preferred that Parini recited the poetry of Muhammad Ali - float like a butterfly, sting like a bee - as these miscreants were pummeled by professional boxers.

Nothing against this approach in general. I just hate that it was apparently wasted on these punks.

Bitty said...

I do like your approach!

Yeah, it might have reached one or two or four, but mostly I think they went out and got wasted and laughed about it.

Brave Sir Robin said...

I wish it had been more like two weeks instead of two nights.

Pearls before swine, you know?

Brave Sir Robin said...

PS - I predict you are going to love The Secret History.

AMorris said...

I doubt any of those wankers will make it to Bread Loaf. Something tells me that the only divergence in the roads that they're on will be low-wage jobs in one direction or prison in the other. I guess they could join the army though....

Bee said...

Let's be optimistic: a lot of teenagers do mature from "drunk and stupid." Maybe Frost WILL light a spark in the wet wood of their minds.