Thursday, October 18, 2012

Grading Poems

This is a difficult thing.

Ideas of surprise, cliche, originality, even music are affected by how much one reads and, I guess, in what century. But if your instructor writes notes suggesting many changes and none are made--well? If your poems do not lift off the page, even a little, even like a chicken with clipped wings--well.

I realize it's paradoxical to say at the same time in the same conference make it longer and make it shorter--develop and delete, but people who have been practicing a while understand that there's so much chaff that drifts out of our figurative poetic mouths. Let the great wind of revision blow those unnecessary, already understood-from-context words away.

Some of my students have made me happy by finally furnishing titles that are not labels. Some have purged but not opened wider. Some have not turned their portfolios in. Some have stopped centering the text. Some have not corrected the spelling errors. How much weight to be given to ambition?

What ends with a period does not have to be a sentence. Maybe there don't have to be any periods at all. When is a fragment too fragmentary? Answer this question with the body of the poem: How can the reader know what I know?Why are you stopping too soon?

The good news is that these are only midterm grades--short-term markers of how flexible and calisthenic are the poet/poems.

In other news, I'm thinking that there should be poetry flash mobs across the land. What poem would they recite in unison? Also, cogitating the idea of a group poem whose primary worth would be in sound and performance.

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