Sunday, September 20, 2015

Prayer to the Teachers to Forgive them for Solely Using TPCASTT

Last year, I began moving away from the formulaic TPCASTT and Somebody-Wanted-But-So methods of poetry analysis in my AP course. I still teach those methods of analysis; any tools my students have for decoding poems that serve as potential pathways toward understanding are valuable, and I want them to have as many tools as possible! However, I found that by emulating mentor texts, my students were able to find all of the poetic devices and reach a deeper understanding of the author’s work. This is simply a natural by-product of analyzing which parts of the poem – diction, syntax, theme, repetition and other devices – that they would like to mimic in their own work. My students came up with some of the most beautiful and deeply personal work I’ve ever experienced – some of which they performed at a poetry slam that they organized at the end of the year.

To that end, tomorrow we will read “Forgive My Guilt” by Robert P. Tristram Coffin and “Prayer to the Living to Forgive them for Being Alive” by Charlotte Delbo (one of my favorite poems to teach, by a Holocaust survivor and heroine). We will look at the TPCASTT method as well as Somebody-Wanted-But-So, but my students will ultimately choose one of the two poems as a mentor text from which to gather inspiration. I will ask my students to follow the original poem as much as they see fit as far as structure and ideas, but they have creative freedom to make their own choices. This provides a safety net for students who need a bit more support in poetry-writing. They can simply replace nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. More adventurous students can depart significantly (or entirely) from the mentor text. This approach provides built-in choice and differentiation that are crucial to our modern classrooms. In my experience, students are capable of creating works that rival those in the literary canon.

I always do what I ask my students to do. It demonstrates that we are all writers and that this writing has value; it is not merely busy-work. Tomorrow, while my students write, I will craft my version of “Forgive My Guilt.” Today, I wrote my version of Delbo’s poem based on how I felt about the socioeconomic disparity between me and my peers in the mid-1980s. I recommend sharing as much of your life with your students as is appropriate. This will make it safe for them to share, let them know that they, too, can overcome obstacles, and engage them in a learning community in which everyone has a voice and valuable ideas to share.

When I discuss my version of this “Prayer” poem with my class, I will talk about my decision to emulate the syntactical style, fragmented thought pattern, repetition, and the accusatory effect of the use of 2nd person. This is also a good time to note why we don’t use “you” in essays, as it sounds very harsh! I will discuss the differences as well, such as my use of specific examples, the weight of her subject matter compared to mine, and the fact that mine is more personal (though I speak for everyone who felt this way) while Delbo’s definitely speaks for those who cannot speak for themselves.

Teachers, I urge you: please get your students writing, and write with them! They will amaze you with what they write.

“Prayer to the Living to Forgive them for Being Alive” by Charlotte Delbo
(mentor text)
“Prayer to the Affluent to Forgive them for Being Materialistic” by Amber Counts
(inspired by Delbo’s mentor text)
You who are passing by
well dressed in all your muscles
clothing which suits you well
or badly
or just about
you who are passing by
full of tumultuous life within your arteries
glued to your skeleton
as you walk with a sprightly step athletic awkward
laughing sullenly, you are all so handsome
so commonplace
so commonplacely like everyone else
so handsome in your commonplaceness
with this excess of life which keeps you
from feeling your bust following your leg
your hand raised to your hat
your hand upon your heart
your kneecap rolling softly in your knee
how can we forgive you for being alive…
You who are passing by
well dressed in all your muscles
how can we forgive you
that all are dead
You are walking by and drinking in cafés
you are happy she loves you
or moody worried about money
how how
will you ever be forgiven
by those who died
so that you may walk by
dressed in all your muscles
so that you may drink in cafés
be younger every spring
I beg you
do something
learn a dance step
something that gives you the right
to be dressed in your skin in your body hair
learn to walk and to laugh
because it would be too senseless
after all
for so many to have died
while you live
doing nothing with your life.

You who are passing by
well dressed in designer clothes
the latest styles that suit you well
so you think
until you look back one day
and feel embarrassed
embarrassed that
you wore a rabbit fur coat
when it was 85 degrees
under the Texas sun
embarrassed that despite
perm after perm
after perm
your hair looked like fried straw
and your rubber bracelets
did not make you Madonna
You who cast aspersions
on my character
downward glances dismissive
based on my clothes
at least I stand out
in my second-hand jeans
clothes my grandmother
lovingly chose for me
while you
you all look the same
you all look like everyone else
everyone with money
everyone who can buy Gloria Vanderbuilt jeans
oh wait it’s Jordache this month
no it’s Guess
well guess what
I am more than the label on my jeans
You are just a label
a superficial label seeking
the acceptance of your clone peers
how can we forgive you
those of us who cannot
fit your mold
how can we forgive you
that you have everything
while we have nothing
yet you’re still unhappy
and often mean
how can we understand each other
when you think tragedy
means not going to Florida on spring break
or not getting the right color car
on your birthday
when tragedy for me
is bathing in the laundrymat sink
for school
because I am homeless again
skipping another meal
because there is no money for food
but these aren’t tragedies for me
they’re commonplace
this is my reality
But go ahead
laugh that I don’t have
my own Sony Walkman
because you do not have
the depth of thought
compassion or character
to understand my life
while you superficially make your way
through yours.

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