Flatter the Mountain Tops with Sovereign Eye

Myth #2
poetry is an advanced academic pursuit while constructing poetry is child’s
this.  You are called into a classroom
and asked to hunch over images of Tiger Woods swinging a golf club.  You answer a set of questions beside the
picture.  These questions have been
developed not by a golfer, but by one who has mastered the art of writing
formulaic questions about golf.  You then
compare Woods’ image with the image of another golfer.  You are asked to formulate an argument on why
one of their swings is superior, similar or different to the other’s, what makes his grip effective,
how his natural talent is reflected in his follow through.  All this and you haven’t picked up a golf
club since second grade when you awkwardly whiffed a few balls in the backyard.
So, you read
other people’s analyses of Woods’ swing to help unlock the mystery.  You read about his childhood, his daily
workout regime, his marital troubles. 
You have to fill five paragraphs with your analysis, so you come up with
three strong arguments and dig through other people’s analyses to support your
observations.  You will be graded on how
well you are able to cite the experts, so you include that gifted talker with
the 80s blow dry on ESPN, a bald headed black commentator who moonlights as a
spokesperson for a golf ball manufacturer, and a Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader,
evidencing your range, your respect for diversity, and a propensity to think
outside the box.
Welcome to
the world of literary analysis as set forth by the Common Core (CCSS) which
ask students to “demonstrate a knowledge of figurative language” but do not
suggest that kids might write a poem to do so. 
standards don’t say you CAN’T write a poem to demonstrate this knowledge, but
since it is difficult to evaluate a handmade poem in terms of automated aggregates,
the CCSS remain mute on the matter of the construction of poetry, (see above
re: they don’t say you can’t).
This is just
plain nonsense.  Any golfer knows you can’t
perfect your swing sitting under a study lamp just as any auto mechanic knows
you can’t learn engine repair without getting your hands dirty.  You can’t learn to swim without getting wet
or how to make soup without stirring the pot. (How’m I doing with the
figurative language thing?).
You know how
I learned to use figurative language?
By writing
Poetry is
powerful language.  It is precise and
concise.  The writing of poetry helps
kids perfect their communication skills. 
Short and (not always) sweet. Poetry, the original tweet. (oops,
rhyme, academic points off). Poetry is both an art form and a craft, perfectly
suited to be vehicle for learning language and content area skills. Unfortunately, most of us have been schooled to study poems rather than getting into the swing of things, which was why Salinger and I wrote High Impact Writing Clinics, to give teachers some, starter ideas for constructing real (handmade) poems as a means of understanding how language works. And the reason we put these ideas on projectable slides is so that students wouldn’t be hunched over in mystified isolation, but heads up, ready for human interaction as they read and discuss poetry as a prelude to writing their own.
So. Can we
compare writing poetry to a summer’s day as we proceed through the winter of
our CCSS educational discontent and stay focused on what really matters (kids’
thinking and communication skills) and refuse to cloud the splendors of poetry
with relentless analysis with no escape hatch for self-expression?
Full many a glorious morning have I
Flatter the mountain tops with
sovereign eye,
Kissing with golden face the meadows
Gliding pale streams with heavenly
Anon permit the basest clouds to ride
With ugly rack on his celestial face,
And from the forlorn world his visage
Stealing unseen to the west with this
Even so my sun one early morn did
With all triumphant spendour on my
But out, alack, he was but one hour
The region clud hath mask’d him from
me now.
Yet him for this my love no whit
Suns of the world may stain when
heaven’s sun staineth.


P.S. I’m not sure I understand all that Shakespeare means here, but I sure like the parade of images. Here’s hoping we give each child more than one (alack) hour of poetic sunshine on their brows.

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