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the best poem ever

This morning, I was one of 7 students to give a mini-lesson in my University Teaching Course. All of the graduate students in this class (there are 22 of us) are from varied fields of study, so it proved to be a very interesting time. We learned about art theft (who steals art? what kinds of things do they steal? why?), textual analysis of poetry (what tools do you use to interpret a poem?), the political system in Canada (who has the power to appoint the prime minister?), fair play in sports (is Fastskin swimwear giving certain swimmers an unfair edge?), fine art (what constitutes a portrait?), and verb forms in the Hindi language.

The jewel of the morning was a poem we received in a hand-out from a student teaching Introduction to Literary Studies. I believe its message applies to any subject that we are trying to study, but is especially relevant to reading such a text as the Bible. Here it is:

Introduction to Poetry
by Billy Collins (1988)

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

Here are the notes I jotted down in the margins of the poem:

When I read the Bible, do I hold it up to the light? Do I really see it?
Do I really listen? Do I recognise the plurality of voices?
Do I offer up my thoughts and ideas, letting them drop into the text to see if they can find a way through?
Do I dislike being in the dark? Do I take the time to feel for the light? Is this a tactile experience for me?
Is there action, skill, and a thrill involved in engaging with the text? Is it a friendly interaction? Or do I feel that it is an antagonistic exercise? Is it static or dynamic?
Do I enforce restrictions to keep the text tame?
Do I demand that it gives me what I want instead of letting it speak freely?

Let me never make the Bible a prisoner of my own small-minded motivations nor a victim of my weak and inferior version of truth. Today is a good day for waterskiing.

This is me learning to waterski in South Africa in 2006.


Shelley said…
I love it! I wish school teachers would stop tying stuff to chairs too. :)

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