(review on Helen Vendler’s interview ‘The Critic’s Craft’. )

“Poetry should be taught from the beginning with good poems, not bad poems, and it should be surrounded by a lot of related language arts.”  This is the sentence I chose from Helen Vendler’s interview to expand and develop.  According to her interview, I recognized that my life has been poetry-friendly enough so far.  Positive surroundings which Helen Venlder’s early life went through affected her educational point of view as well as her suggestions for would-be poets.  My experience of learning languages and procedure of getting closer to poetry might be a good example to show my attitude toward Helen Vendler’s opinion.

Children don’t choose their own environments as they are born.  Since not every child is lucky to have a chance to be surrounded by books like Helen’s case, the importance of education of poetry is emphasized.  Both of my parents were elementary school teachers.  They had been enjoying various kinds of activities such as reading and composing poems themselves.  I remember them reciting to me their own poems on how they felt after I was born.  It really was a big influence, like an open invitation.

There is a Korean ode called ‘시조’.  Its basic form consists of a single stanza of three lines which have a syllabic meter as shown below.

(3 syllables)(4 syllables)(3 syllables)(4 syllables)

(3 syllables)(4 syllables)(3 syllables)(4 syllables)

(3 syllables)(5 syllables)(4 syllables)(3 syllables)

One of the policies of my elementary school was to let students memorize two 시조s per week.  There was a memorizing competition at the end of the semester.  Thanks to the first prize, some phrases pop into my head up to these days.  My teacher encouraged classmates to write one poem everyday before beginning the day’s class.  I don’t think that I wrote good poems.  The purpose of the activity was more focused on having 13-year old children sit down and write something on their own, not on writing good poems.  However, the classmates sometimes parodied Korean traditional odes 시조 from their own memories and found it interesting.  The value of the memorizing 시조 policy lies in the fact that it made children to have interests in finding words for right syllables with appropriate meanings.  The teacher published the collection of our clumsy poems and gave them for our elementary school graduation as a gift.

I graduated from a foreign language high school.  The percentage of English classes was dominant.  German was the second, Japanese the third.  Korean society urges students to study for learning English, but later on, students feel the need to study English for learning something else beyond.  But, if one is obsessed with the idea of lacking sense to understand the meaning of poems as a foreigner, s/he might lose a chance to feel the fresh feeling of sensing the sound or structural shapes of poems.  One who doesn’t speak English as his/her native language might have the greater chance to be moved by poems written in foreign languages, because the poems written in foreign languages are already ‘defamiliarized’ for him/her.  There are quite many differences between learning a mother tongue and foreign languages; however, students like me reading foreign great poems can be compared to a child who encounters <The Tyger> at his/her early age.

Tyger!  Tyger!  burning bright

In the forests of the night,

Wwhat immortal hand or eye

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

I first read <The Tyger> in ‘Romantic Period’ class last spring reading William Blake.  And then the next semester in ‘Science Fiction’ class, I read <The Tyger> again in Alfred Bester’s fiction, <The Stars My Destination>.  ‘Poetry and Culture’ class suggested the same poem in a different approach.  In the ‘Linguistics’ class, the professor used the poem to explain how tone work in English language.  Even though I coulnd’t read <The Tyger> when I was thirteen, there are many advantages for me to have an access to good poems by studying English Literature in form os concentrated series of literature courses.  I am a student of Electronic Engineering department – one of the non-majors in Cole’s diction.  The Engineering way of thinking nourishes English Literature, and vice versa.  It doesn’t mean that I am in a disadvantageous position to begin with good poems but the opposite.

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