Who is getting into National Poetry Month quite a lot. I have a story to share, that will hopefully make her smile.
During College Part Two, I was in my mid-thirties (with white hair, no less), surrounded by kids whose average age was about twenty. Luckily, they thought I was 'cool' and treated me, if not as an equal, then usually as a friend and classmate. I really enjoyed hanging out with the best of them; smart kids with their acts together is always a pleasure, regardless of age difference. Occasionally they would ask for help or advice, and when appropriate, I would help them out (within reason). One favorite topic was homework; more specifically, how to make it interesting. I had a reputation (also among the faculty) for turning assignments on their sides and making them, if not entertaining, then at least interesting enough that they weren't painful.
So, one day, a kid in my Cultural Geography class explained he was taking Poetry Appreciation and his assignment was to memorize and recite a poem. Did I have any suggestions for poems? Something easy to remember, or interesting?
This pisses me off, you see, because nowhere in the term "Poetry Appreciation" is the word MEMORIZATION used or implied. And what is more guaranteed to turn a twenty year old kid off poetry than making them memorize some tedious piece of crap? (Hell, it turns me off poetry, and I'm a former English major!) They're supposed to learn to APPRECIATE the poetry, not find it annoying.
I told him the answer was Beat Poetry. (Amy Lane is laughing right now, I bet you.) I explained that I consider Beat Poetry the forerunner of rap music, and it was originally written to be as much a performance as words on paper - maybe more emphasis on the performance. He was interested. Then I pulled him over to the library, found a poetry anthology, looked up one in particular, and laid it in front of him. "Do this."
HOWL, part I, by Allen Ginsberg
[this is extremely long, so I'm publishing just the first portion; for the whole poem click on the Howl link, above]
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz,
who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and saw Mohammedan angels staggering on tenement roofs illuminated,
who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy among the scholars of war,
who were expelled from the academies for crazy & publishing obscene odes on the windows of the skull,
who cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear, burning their money in wastebaskets and listening to the Terror through the wall,
who got busted in their pubic beards returning through Laredo with a belt of marijuana for New York,
who ate fire in paint hotels or drank turpentine in Paradise Alley, death, or purgatoried their torsos night after night
with dreams, with drugs, with waking nightmares, alcohol and cock and endless balls,
incomparable blind streets of shuddering cloud and lightning in the mind leaping toward poles of Canada & Paterson, illuminating all the motionless world of Time between,
I suggested he also find video of Ginsberg on the internet, performing the poem. Then to go into class and scream it while beating on the walls and rolling on the floor, as is appropriate.
He did. (See what I did?? Got him to APPRECIATE POETRY. Clever, no?)
He got an A, though his professor complained (grouchy old bat). The whole campus talked about it. And when MY English professor got wind of it, and my involvement, I'm told she laughed so hard she nearly fell out of her office chair (she was one of the Good Ones).
Video of Ginsberg performing Howl on YouTube, here. This is SO totally not safe for work.