7 Quick Takes Friday (1/10/14)

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Right before Christmas break, my apartment complex sent out an email warning us about the dangers of frozen pipes. Since I’m a Boston native, this news came as no surprise to me. Here’s a wonderful reflection about frozen pipes… well, really, frozen hearts that you are worried will never change by Simcha Fisher: “How to Thaw a Frozen Heart.”

You think you are probably heating it up, and making that little gob of ice smaller and smaller, but what if you’re not?  What if the real trouble spot is icing itself up more and more as you speak, and you’re sitting there like a moron, concentrating all your time and effort on a bit of pipe that is fine?

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Since our school began doing the Poetry Out Loud program last year, and will be doing it again this year, I began teaching my kids a poetry unit. Here’s an interesting fact you may not know:

There are always THREE people involved in every poem you read. Yes, three. And no, they’re not the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (as many of my students guessed). They are 1) the reader / you, 2) the author/poet, and 3) the speaker / narrator. Everyone always forgets #3, or assumes that the speaker IS the author. This is largely due, I believe, to the confessional poetry of the last century a’la Sylvia Plath in which the speaker usually WAS the poet, or at least expressed the poet’s feelings. But it’s a BIG mistake to assume that this is always the case. The poet has the freedom to create a fictional speaker–and, in some sense, ALL speakers are fictional. They are perpetually feeling and expressing the content of the poem, whereas the poet is a historical person who moves on with her life even if she intended to express herself through the speaker.

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Whenever I teach poetry, I also teach mood and tone.

Lots of people get these two things confused. The distinction between them is simple, but also very important.

Mood = the way the reader is SUPPOSED to feel / i.e. the way the author WANTS his reader to feel.

Eg: Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories usually have a suspenseful or creepy mood, because the reader is meant to feel in suspense or frightened.

Tone = the way the speaker feels toward the text / the speaker’s attitude

Eg: The speaker’s sarcastic tone alerts the reader to the fact that he is being mocked.

The nice thing about teaching mood and tone is that the kids usually accept the fact that these are useful things to know. Recognizing the tone of voice of someone with whom you are conversing is obviously important, since meaning depends so much upon how we say things, not just what we say. Sarcasm in particular can make all the difference in statements like this: “Great job today!”

Mood, on the other hand, is the feeling somebody is trying to get you to feel. Thus, tone influences mood. If someone says “Great job today!” kindly, you are supposed to feel encouraged or happy as a result. If someone says “Great job today!” sarcastically, you are supposed to feel ashamed or embarrassed as a result.

Poetry habituates us to tone and mood and can help increase emotional intelligence.

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I know you’ve always wondered why our Solar System is Flat. So here is MinutePhysics to the rescue, to tell you why:

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One of the things that really troubles “conservative” Catholics (for lack of a better word) is Pope Francis’ relative silence on abortion (although he has, actually not been utterly silent on the issue).

Francis Rocca at Catholic News Service just came out with an interesting article on the topic:

“Some people think that the Holy Father should talk more about abortion,” Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston said in a speech to the Knights of Columbus in August. But the cardinal added: “I think he speaks of love and mercy to give people the context for the church’s teaching on abortion.”

In a widely quoted interview published the following month, Pope Francis acknowledged that he had “not spoken much” about “issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods,” and that he had been “reprimanded for that.”

“But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context,” the pope said. “The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.” (Rocca)

The whole article is here: “With Few Words on Abortion, Pope Francis Shows a New Way to Be Pro-Life.”

What do you think? Does it bother you that Pope Francis doesn’t say very much about abortion? Pope Pius XII was also criticized for being too reticent about the Nazis–although Rabbi David Dalin and others argue that the pope’s approach to the great evil of his time was actually quite appropriate.

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Throwback to my first year of teaching. This is what I was writing about in January of my first year:

At a few faculty meetings, my principal has mentioned “rigor and relevance.” I feel that though I have been pretty successful with the “rigor” part, I still have a lot to do in trying to help my students connect more personally with these classical texts. I didn’t use to like the idea of “selling” literature as if I were a salesperson trying to manipulate an audience—but I’ve begun to realize that some “selling” is necessary. This quest to make English “relevant” to my students does not have to be superficial or dishonest (as I used to perceive such efforts). The truth is, we do not live in an ideal world and education of any kind can’t simply speak for itself—educators are responsible for revealing the true worth of their subject as much as they can. Ultimately “relevance” is about taking my students seriously where they are and being sensitive to their opinions and interests in order to bring them into a relationship with literature, and more particularly, into conversation with the authors and ideas that have shaped our culture whether we realize it at first or not.

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A dear friend of mine from ACE just invited me to join her in starting a blog that is going to be “a collection of female thought.” I think you’ll be hearing a lot of great perspectives here, so I’ll be keeping you updated and will send you a link when things get going!

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2 Comments

Filed under Catholicism, Education, Poetry, Teaching

2 responses to “7 Quick Takes Friday (1/10/14)

  1. Re: people in a poem: three, or four? What about the fictional listener? Not an important distinction with some poems, but with some–e.g. Browning’s “Fra Lippo Lippi”–it is.

    • Great point, and I think you are probably right. But I guess I find that the distinction between poet and speaker is usually a lot more important than actual vs. fictional reader. And my high school kids can barely handle the former distinction.

      Although, maybe I’ll propose the idea to my honors class…

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