Regarding Rumpelstiltskin: did you know that, at the end of one of the Grimm versions, Rumpelstiltskin actually tears himself in half? He has a fit, stomps his foot into the ground so far that he can't get it out, and his solution is to literally divide himself.
Are we doing our children a disservice by "Disneyfying" folk and fairy tales? What are the consequences if Hansel and Gretel are not going to be eaten by the witch, but instead, say, lose their cell phone privileges? What if Little Red's grandmother is not eaten by the wolf, but is instead, say, locked in a closet? Is the lesson learned? Do we coddle our children, even in their stories?
Should my six-year-old understand that Snow White's step-mother wanted her step-daughter's heart ripped from her chest and presented to her in a beautifully crafted wooden box?
These are some of the ideas my classes discussed as a result of their research into Maxwell's poem. Good discussion; interesting topics.
Then, we read this week's selection: "Snow on the Desert" by Agha Shahid Ali. The poem is from the book A Nostalgist's Map of America.
When I picked this poem, I did so knowing full well that it is (for my students) long. But it is so beautiful and compelling (for me) that I wanted to try it.
One of my students compared the imagery of the fog opening and then closing as the speaker's world closing up, and several others mentioned liking the idea of driving through the desert knowing it used to be the bed of an ocean. Everyone got that this poem was about the relativity of the passing of time. If you're reading this, I hope you read the poem and get what I'm writing about. If you haven't yet, let me give you the first lines:
“Each ray of sunshine is seven minutes old,”
Serge told me in New York one December night.
“So when I look at the sky, I see the past?”
“Yes, Yes,” he said, “especially on a clear day.”
I don't think I'll ever look at the sky the same way again. How much do I want to write a poem that does this?
Back to my classes though - I found that many of my students have never actually been to a desert. It is so much a part of my upbringing, going camping across the southwest, growing up in Southern California, that it is hard to believe that less than 10 of my 75 students can visualize driving across a landscape so desolate that one doesn't need to be told it once was a sea to believe it. Pictures do not do the desert justice. It is something one has to experience first hand. I wonder how many of these students will ever actually go.
There were plenty of opportunities for research in this poem for students of all areas of interest. Some of the things they are looking up are the Bangladesh War, singer Begum Akhtar, the Papagos, saguaro cactus, and the book (?) The Desert Smells Like Rain. Can't wait to see what interests them come Tuesday.
Now...is this working? Yes. The poem warm-ups are putting my students into the thinking mode. They are actively engaged from the beginning of class: reporting their research, listening to the new poem, blogging, reading and listening to the blog entries. This has translated into more actively engaged students overall. Today, we did our first whole-class critique of a student's first draft, and I got better responses than is usual.
And...I'm reading poetry not just for my own enjoyment, but also for my students' range of experience. Perhaps we'll get some new readers of poetry? Perhaps someone will venture out to the desert and feel the passage of time.