This is about literature

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I’ve been thinking about the poetry annotation, and the more I think about it, the less I like it as an assignment at this point in the semester. I think there’s value to analyzing poems, and I think we’ve done a lot of that, and a lot of analyzing literature generally, this term. But if all the work we do is analytical, I think we miss out on a whole facet of literature that is at least as important, if not more so. To that end, here’s the assignment, which will also be posted in our modules.

Find a poem by an Indigenous woman from outside our course texts. If possible, make it a poem where you can find a video or audio of the author reading it. There’s lots to choose from, and if you have trouble finding one, Joy Harjo (Muscogee Creek Nation) is extremely prolific, which makes her work easy to find. Make sure to share a link to the poem or the author reading.

  1. Read the poem aloud. Listen to the author read it. Then talk about the experience. Don’t try to analyze the content. We’ve done enough of that this term. Instead, use some of these suggestions:
  • Talk about how the words make you feel.
  • Talk about those feelings in terms of the physical space you’re in these days: perhaps isolated in your home or the dorm, working an essential job, or somewhere else.
  • Talk about them in terms of the time you’re in: in the middle of a pandemic, at the end of the semester, for some of you your first semester, at the end of a college literature class, perhaps the only one you’ll take.
  • Talk about them in terms of the people in your life: your friends, your family, your classmates and coworkers.

In other words, how does the poem itself, your physical space, the contemporary moment, or the people in your life inform your response to the poem? Again, this isn’t about trying to create some analytical meaning. It’s about responding to the poem as art.

  1. Once you’ve thought about these questions and provided some answers (you don’t need to address everything), try producing your own creative work of your own in response to the poem or the setting you’re reading it in. Write a poem or a short narrative; draw a picture; make some music; ultimately, express your response in whatever medium you feel comfortable (or even a little uncomfortable) in.

You’ll have two ways to share your work. I’ll have a discussion post for those who are willing to share their reactions with our classmates, and I hope you’ll consider doing so, even if it feels awkward. We’ve been through a lot this semester, and while we haven’t really been together as a whole class for some weeks, we’ve shared this experience. If you aren’t ready to share with your classmates, you can upload your work as a file or multiple files.

This assignment is intentionally broad, and it’s a lot different than what we’ve done so far. But I think it’s important that we spend some time thinking about literature not simply as an object of study but as a conduit for understanding the world and expressing emotion. Let’s see what happens!

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