Tuesday, May 13, 2008

teaching and doing

"Leonardo da Vinci,” sound poet Bob Cobbing liked to say, “asked the poet to give him something he might see and touch and not just something he could hear. Sound poetry seems to me to be achieving this aim." Seeing and even hearing we (teachers of modern and contemporary poetry) can manage, albeit the latter with special new effort. But touch? Enabling such an engagement is next to impossible in traditional poetry pedagogy. And although seeing a printed poem—really seeing it as a thing, in William Carlos Williams's sense (poems aren't beautiful statements; they're things)—is a feat we believe is effected in a close reading, yet looking at a poem, even staring hard at it, is of course not the same as comprehending it. All this strikes me as relatively easy to discuss in theory, but actually doing it, making out of poetics a consistent practice, is daunting.

But I'll say this: taking any next step in this necessitates accepting the distinction, first and foremost, between teaching and doing--between teaching poetry and doing poetry. I want, at least, to teach poetry in a place where it is being done, and to derive a practice from that doing.