Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Edgar Allan Poetry Class

I'm teaching a poetry class for the first time ever this year. As with any new class a teacher takes on, there are learning curves ...

The biggest flop to date has been the now-notorious Poe unit (which seems willing to go on forever). Basically, I thought it would be cool to do an author study, my main point being that a poet's work is often linked intrinsically to his or her life. Poe seemed ideal for this--he was an infamously volatile alcoholic (yeah, this should have clued me in ;)), he was found mysteriously unconscious in a gutter with someone else's clothes on just before he died (and with some interesting last words), he married his thirteen-year-old cousin when he was in his mid-twenties, and so on.

Well, each student was assigned a poem by Mr. Poe to lead a discussion about and then write an analysis paper. The first day was pretty cool, with everything from Poe's haunting via tuburculosis (everyone the guy got close to died of TB--talk about bad luck!) to his possible Oedipal complex (both his biological mother and foster mother died of TB when he was quite young and impressionable, and he seemed to be searching for maternal love throughout his life--including with the cousin/wife). Pretty interesting stuff.

By the third day, though, the class and I made an interesting--and depressing--observation: all of Poe's poetry is pretty much the same. He mixes it up a bit in terms of style (it was especially neat to read a couple of his sonnets, since we've studied both Petrarchan and Shakespearean sonnets already), but the themes--pretty much same old, same old.

I've managed to ruin Poe's poetry (through overexposure and excessive analysis) for an entire class and for myself as well. I mean, I used to LOVE Poe, and now it's like, "Yeah, yeah, death, loss, darkness, dreams of better things that didn't turn out the way you expected" and so on.

Oh well ... you win some, you lose some ;)