Like Humpty Dumpty in Wonderland, undergrads think poetry means whatever they say it means, regardless of the words, setting, form, tone and rhetorical devices, writes Stephen Zelnick, who teaches English at Temple, on Minding the Campus. He committed the thought crime of telling a student her interpretation of a poem was wrong. Wrong! How could that be. It was her opinion!
In an online discussion, students argued poems evoke feelings; meaning is irrelevant or unknowable. So why bother?
It is a sad business for students that words mean something particular, that “churlish” is not a term of praise, as I had to tell one “Humpty-Dumpty-ite.” She called me “pretentious,” though I am not sure what she meant. . . . Poems, sad to say, are not Rorschach patterns but carefully constructed designs.
Poetry for my students happens in a sacred grove where creativity runs naked and free and where no opinion is unworthy or fails to earn astonished praise.
Via Maggie’s Farm.