Analysis, interpretation, literary research and explication all have their own pleasures, of course, but these are intellectual rewards which often come — students are quick to say — at the price of “enjoying” stories, poems, etc. The students would prefer to be blissfully entertained.
I’m very conscious that, for many students in my American Lit survey class, this might be my only chance to introduce them to the pleasures of literature. When I became aware of the “poetry slam” scene, I decided to work one into my survey course last term. It was a smash hit, so I’ve worked two into this year’s term. The first, the “Retro Poetry Cover Slam,” had students doing oral interpretations (not memorized) of works by Poe or Dickinson. For the next Slam, I’m going to have students work in small groups to create a program, with the full text of the poem and a few notes; I’ll distribute this program in advance, and students will have it to consult after the Slam is over (when I’ll ask them to write and/or blog a response).
Part of me wants to jump up and start analyzing the works in great detail, but there will be time for that, should these students take an advanced literature class. If not, then at least I hope when they look back on their time in Jerz’s American Lit class, they’ll remember the poetry slams (if nothing else).