Brian Spears

Poet, Editor, Teacher, Blogger.

Summer reading list

Yeah, I know–it feels like summer outside down here in south Florida, but we’re still weeks and weeks away from it. Nonetheless, I have to provide our book purchasing system a list of texts for my class this summer. I’ve been given a terrific opportunity this summer–a 4000 level Modern Poetry class. It’s only six weeks long, so I don’t want to kill them (or me), so I’m limiting the scope a lot. I’m looking to make it more of a contemporary poetry class, focusing on the variety of voices in contemporary poetry. So here’s the list, in no particular order.

Chinese Apples: New and Selected Poems by W. S. DiPiero
Talking Dirty to the Gods by Yusuf Komunyakaa
Boss Cupid by Thom Gunn
The Moon Is Always Female by Marge Piercy
Native Guard by Natasha Trethewey
Emails from Scheherezad by Mohja Kahf
Nine Horses by Billy Collins

Yes, gods help me, I’m teaching a Billy Collins book this summer. I figure at some point, I’ll need a break, and so will they. I still have a couple of days to toss this around, and maybe add a book or two. If anyone has a suggestion, something published in the last 20 years or so, that a class which won’t have a ton of time will be able to digest, let me know.

March 6, 2008 Posted by | summer reading list, teaching poetry | Leave a comment

Sex in Poetry

I’m always amused by how younger generations are convinced that the poetry of the past was stolid and conservative, that the people of 400 years ago certainly would never have mentioned sex, and if it did, with only the mildest euphemisms. One of my first-day-of-class activities every semester is to give my students a handout of poems, names removed, and have them try to place them in chronological order. Last fall, I gave them a surprise in the form of Robert Herrick. Here’s the poem:

The Vine

I dreamed this mortal part of mine
Was metamorphosed to a vine,
Which, crawling one and every way,
Enthralled my dainty Lucia.
Methought, her long small legs and thighs
I with my tendrils did surprise:
Her belly, buttocks, and her waist
By my soft nervelets were embraced
About her head I writhing hung
And with rich clusters (hid among
The leaves) her temples I behung,
So that my Lucia seemed to me
Young Bacchus ravished by his tree.
My curls about her neck did crawl,
And arms and hands they did enthrall,
So that she could not freely stir
(All parts there made one prisoner).
But when I crept with leaves to hide
Those parts which maids keep unespied,
Such fleeting pleasures there I took
That with the fancy I awoke,
And found (ah me!) this flesh of mine
More like a stock than like a vine.

The class discussion that day was, ahem, vibrant.

March 3, 2008 Posted by | Robert Herrick, teaching poetry | Leave a comment