Class Discussion: On Poems by Auden, Alexander, and Others

Directions

You’ve just finished reading a selection of poems, including those by Auden, Alexander, and Ginsberg, and now it is time to have a conversation about them. Please answer TWO of the following questions in your initial post and, as usual, respond to one of your student’s posts to get full credit.  Your reply, as usual, should do more than simply agree or disagree with your peer’s posts. Instead, make sure to add something original of your own to deepen the conversation. And make sure to quote the poems directly at least ONCE in your post and ONCE in your reply!!! Each post should be at least 100 words long, and replies should be at least 50 words. 

Questions 

  1. In his poem Harlem, Langston Hughes uses a series of similesessentially just a metaphor introduced with the word as or liketo make his point that if the white, rich, and powerful people continue to deny basic human rights and opportunities to the African-American population, that population might explode into some kind of violence. Which of the similes that Hughes uses do you think are the most interesting and why? What similes can you think of that Hughes might have also used to make the same point? In which ways might any of these that youve thought up be weaker? Or stronger? Explain your answer.
  1. In his poem Jabberwocky, Lewis Carroll shares his love of language, and of words in particular, by making a variety of words up. He does this using what is called the portmanteau method of combining two words that already exist to create something new. For instance, the word slithy from the first stanza is a combination of the words slimy and lithe (meaning graceful). So slithy technically means something that is both slimy and graceful. (Huh. You learn something new every day, dont you?). Modern examples of portmanteau words include Spanglish (a combination of English and Spanish) and brunch (a combination of lunch and breakfast.). Know that you know this, what do you think a few other words in Carrolls poem mean? What words are they a combination of? And what portmanteau words can YOU think of? And why do you think the world needs them? Try to come up with two or three .
  1. Meena Alexanders poem has a simple theme: the speaker laments the suicide of three young womenthree young women driven to despair by the cultural mores of their time and so that their father would not be forced to tender gold he did not have to marry them off. The poem, then, is about shame and sexual violence, and the fact that suicide is often the only way of the puzzle box that shame creates. This is the question though: if Meena Alexanders point is essentially politicalto raise awareness of the plight of women in India who are stuck in this morass of shame, why put it in poem form? Why not simply write an essay, or write a screenplay and make the drama into a film? Try to defend the use of poetry for this kind of political message by discussing how the language of the poem is important to the overall experience of the message itself. And try to choose an image or two from the poem that, you think, might be lost if the ideas in the poem were simply translated into prose.
  1. Regarding Allan Ginsbergs Howl: same question as above. If Ginsbergs point is essentially politicalto raise awareness of the plight of the poor and downtrodden who suffer in a deeply unfair system that denies the American dream to the majority of the populationthen why write a poem about it and not simply write an essay or a piece of investigative journalism. Try to defend the use of poetry for this kind of political message by discussing how the language of the poem is important to the overall experience of the message itself. And try to choose an image or two from the poem that, you think, might be lost if the ideas in the poem were simply translated into prose.