Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Teaching Poetry

This semester I'm teaching Creative Writing at Ateneo de Davao. I went through the same class under Don Pagusara just three years ago; and now I'm picking up where he left off. I like the idea of coming full circle.

I had thought of starting with fiction and even focusing exclusively there, but per student consensus, we began with poetry instead. The plan is to move on to one-act plays, then short fiction, and if time permits, comics.

I felt apprehensive about teaching poetry. I'm not a poet, and poetry was never my strong suit. Can poetry even be taught? At best, I though all I could do was point out what looks to be bad poetry.

But hey, you never really know what you can do until you try. Taking a cue from Cesar Aquino--one time several years ago I sat in on his summer poetry workshop for kids--I had my students start off with haiku. Instead of constraining them to the usual 5-7-5
syllabication I told them to focus instead on strong imagery. There were a few false starts here and there, but we did manage to turn up a few good ones:

Warm mornings reveal
every secret flower, yet
the boy hides in frost.


is it imagination or hunger
that makes the beggar see
the moon as a coin?


Two Chickens in a
jeepney, with the legs tied, in
silence they travel.


A palm of pristine cloth,
a needle and a thread -
Alas! A prick of crimson.


Two cats are playing
in the middle of the road
with their tails being cut.


The vase of ancients
acquires a new young master
who yearns for an urn

Next I had them do some magnetic poetry exercises. Most bad poetry comes from an excess of words, or to be more specific, emotion words. By forcing my students to work with a more limited palette of mostly just nouns and verbs, they came up with some startling combinations.

Black Rhythm

capture passion
chisel dreams
draw questions
demand beauty
color impressions
create life
imagination is the madman!


Bored at Work

work is when you
utilize that technology
to maximize the opportunity
we always dress for


the best way to heal my lip

here I see my red lip
that has cuts like deep holes
perhaps time would heal soon
but it never did
then I look for salt to bring peace
once it seeped in
ferocious poison must have died
it works


The Empty Canvas and the Woman

colors sealed
strokes balanced
paint shimmers
as he paints a woman
to mount the beauty in an empty space



drink a cup of bones
eat a pie of decay
bathe dirt
breathe not fresh air
but poison
gods die
to become men


is it true?

love forever
romantic & sweet
as delicious chocolate
as beautiful diamond
promise pleasure
is it true?


One Night

the white silhouette
appears vividly
on this concrete
as colors grace
the soft canvas
of the dreamer

Now that we've set the tone for what kind of poetry they'll be writing, I look forward to seeing the pieces that my students will produce.

(I'll add the names of the poets once I have their permission.)