Study Guide

Introduction to Poetry Education

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I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light (1-2)

The speaker, a teacher, asks "them," the students to examine a poem. This is what education, in the most traditional, basic sense is all about: a guided examination of something in such a way as to shed light on it—to make it visible and understandable. In the light we can see, learn, and understand. If you aren't buying this, just consider what symbol represents new ideas, new knowledge, in just about every cartoon ever made: yep, a light bulb.

and feel the walls for a light switch. (8)

Okay… hello… another light reference. Clearly we are onto something here. But wait a minute. Shouldn't the teacher be turning on the light switch for the students? Why are the students "feel[ing]" around in the dark on their own? Is this teacher just lazy? Does the teacher have a cruel sense of humor? What's the deal?

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem


But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope


to find out what it really means. (9-10, 12-13, 16)

The teacher wants them to learn with a sense of exploration and fun. The students just want to get straight down to business—find the answers (by any means necessary) and move on. (Just the facts, ma'am. Just the facts.) It's the classic battle: education as a means to true understanding and appreciation versus just learning what you need to answer the test questions and get out of the class.

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