Thursday, December 2, 2010

I really enjoyed yesterday's 10th-grade ballad workshop. It was short--only an hour--but the kids, who don't have much poetry experience, began the class quietly and by the end were chatty, focused, and engaged. They were studying a Joe Bolton poem stanza by stanza, looking for repeated sounds, discovering links between those sounds and the story arc of the poem. Clearly a few of them were rather amazed to watch themselves probing the poem so effortlessly.

But why a Joe Bolton poem, you may ask? He wasn't a traditional ballad writer; why use his work? Well, the answer is that I decided to concentrate on the simplest definition of ballad I could find: a song that tells a story. In "Lord Randal" the song elements are very easy to track; the story, however, is both simple and ambiguous. In Bolton's "Party," the song elements are much more subtle, yet they, too, reinforce the narrative. Just as a rock ballad isn't a traditional sung ballad but an opportunity to slow-dance at the prom, a contemporary narrative poem isn't "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" but has evolved into a looser, more visual (as opposed to aural) form. Nonetheless, the sound-story connections exist, and I was so happy that the students immediately caught on to them.

Bolton's "Party" is under copyright and doesn't seem to appear anywhere on the web, but I'd be happy to send you a copy if you're interested. It's a pretty great poem as well as a fine way to shock 16-year-olds into poetry.

Moby-Dick update: Chapter 70. First whale caught. Blubber peeled. Head cut off. Stubb has eaten a whale steak. Weirdo from visiting ship has warned Ahab of his doom. Thanks to my friend Jamie, Paul has just acquired 3 different graphic-novel version of MD. He's reading them all so that he can tell her which one is best. So far his comments have been: "Is Queequeg a good character or a bad character?" and "Ahab is crazy!"


Allison said...

Please let me know if Paul would recommend any or all. Eamon loves graphic novels.

Dawn Potter said...

I will definitely let you know. Paul is thrilled to be the reviewer.

Thomas said...

I'd love to hear the review, too. My six year old son has become obsessed with Moby Dick: he's had me read several passages aloud to him (he especially liked the nailing of the doubloon to the mast), and even though I'm far behind, I've jumped ahead to the last chapters to read aloud to him the final encounter with Moby. He has asked for his own copy of the book for Christmas, and one day when I came home from end-of-term grading, he proudly read to me "Call me Ishmael" and most of the following sentence (he had worked with mom on it during the day).

At the rate of my reading, he's going to finish the book before I do!

There's also a pretty great pop up Moby Dick that one of my colleagues owns. We asked Eli if he wanted one of those, but he was pretty adamant about wanting the real thing. But a graphic novel might be pleasing.


Dawn Potter said...

Okay . . . we have a winner: Lew Sayre Schwartz's "Moby-Dick," published by Houghton Mifflin in 2002. However, a "Library Journal" review highly recommends "Bill Sienkiewicz's breathtaking 'Classics Illustrated' edition (Berkeley, 1990)." That said, the Schwartz bio on the back of the one in my hand does say he "collaborat[ed] with Stanley Kubrick on 'Dr. Strangelove.'" Which casts an interesting color on the question.