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GS 297, Fall, 2016

Assignments and Updates

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This page has the most up-to-date information available on this website. Please check this page frequently throughout the quarter!!

(Information on this page will be listed in reverse chronological order—beware!)

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Tuesday, December 6:

Reading: Lee, "Persimmons." For our last week let's return to poetry. This poem is in your booklet, and we'll pass out a copy on the 29th, too.

Writing: We will have spent some of last class working with the opening three stanzas of Lee’s poem and starting to think about what Lee's "project" for his poem is.  We will connect it to the conversation we had about “Mrs. Sen’s”—the story we read for last week’s class.  There we had talked about how the narrative theme of "innocence to experience" we had seen in “Boys and Girls” was here, too, though in a very different way. 

If the girl in “Boys and Girls” has moved from the innocence of girlhood to the threshold of experience as she frees herself from idolizing her father and actually resists his will by refusing to shut the gate and instead throwing it wide open, so both Eliot and Mrs. Sen begin this story as innocents—he a young boy, she a new arrival in America—but instead of moving to experience (for her something symbolized by learning to drive, and for him his new status as a latch-key kid who no longer needs a baby-sitter), both leave us wondering whether they have gotten there at all.  After all, she actually crashes the car—so her driving is a failure, and though Eliot's mother gives him a key and tells him he no longer needs a baby-sitter, he seems anything but ready to deal with full adulthood.  Instead he seems like a tiny bird pushed out of the nest before he is really ready to fly. 

So “innocence to experience” has been a theme for both the stories we have read, and it turns out to be a theme here, too.  Lee begins the poem with a memory from his 6th grade class and the slap on the head he gets from his teacher.  At that point he is surely an “innocent”—a child trying to make sense of being treated badly at school.  He then in the third verse paragraph skips to his teenage years and a tryst with Donna and an initiation into sexuality. The chui for “cricket” is an effort to capture the pinyin qu with (I think!) the character: 蛐. (It is also another sound play—looking back to the section preceding this one.)

After that we will see him later in the poem as an adult coming back to his home to visit his aging parents.  Persimmons come up in the first stanza, then again at mid poem, and then they come to dominate the conversation he finally has with his father as the poem ends. 

For today, then (our last class), you need to bring two things.  First you will bring to class your Class Portfolio, including your 2 page reflection about the class and what you have or have not learned (see link The GS297 Course Portfolio for more description). 

Second, you will also bring your last paper, this one describing the ways in which you think the speaker of the poem "Persimmons" has changed, or NOT changed, in its last section.  Has he become more experienced and adult, more aware, more sensitive (as the narrator in “Boys and Girls” has) to his relation to his father?  Or is he still the boy he was as described in those first few stanzas? What should he now be proud of for himself, and what might he feel badly about? 

Look for key words that describe his feelings towards his father at this point and, more generally, to his immigrant heritage, as well.  Is this finally a poem about the conflicting cultures of America and Asia, at least as Lee sees them? or is it more about the ways his early feelings of alienation from either culture has led to his final relationship to his parents? Or?

So what do you think? How well you can notice key words ("whats"), and offer "why's" to explain how they work in the poem?

We will also have a short in-class quiz--a quiz to connect our ten classes, and to fulfill my promise as we began that we would have a "final." If you have been coming to class, you will have no trouble with this.

Tuesday, November 29:

Reading: Review "Mrs. Sen." We'll do this by thinking in a new way about how to think about literary texts. We've already talked about the What, Why and So What method, and we've identified some frequently occurring themes—like the transition from innocence to experience and its partner the coming of age narrative. We used William Carlos Williams to illustrate an indirect connection to the Eden myth and "The Fall," one particular form of the innocence to experience motif.

A different way to think about a work of literature is as a thing that is made by a writer, and to imagine that that writer had some project in mind as she or he wrote. From this point of view, each element of a story is doing some form of work as part of the larger "argument" or "project" the writer has undertaken.

What follows from this is that you can begin to look for the way the writer sets out her story--what first, what second, what third. Each of these is a step towards completion of the work's project, and we can ask of each step "what work is this part of the work doing? How does it enable us to think about the unfolding narrative?"

To illustrate how this works we will look at a series of paragraphs in "Mrs. Sen" and ask of each one what it does to develop the overall story. (Don't worry if this isn't fully clear--just look at the paragraphs and try to figure out for each what seems to you to be important to the story Lahiri is telling.)

Writing: Below I've identified 6 paragraphs in the story. Reread these paragraphs as a way of reviewing the story, and for each write out your own paragraph explaning what you think Lahiri was trying to accomplish with the paragraph. (I give a page number and then the opening words to each of the paragraphs.)

Page 117: "By the time....";

page 119: "They proceeded directly....";

page 125: "Before he could answer....";

page 127-29: "In November came a series....";

page 130: "Yes, today..." and

page 134: "Damage was slight..."

See you Tuesday!!

Tuesday, November 22:

Reading: Finish Mrs. Sen!!

Tuesday, November 15:

Reading: Munro, "Boys and Girls" part 2.

Writing: As we said in class, for your writing I'd like you to do the same thing for Part 2 as you did for Part 1 of "Boys and Girls"—but this time pick what you might call the "key" paragraph—the one that does the most to make clear what you think the point of the story finally is. Remember that we talked about the story as leading from innocence to experience, or childhood to adulthood. It could also be thought of as a move from a naive and relatively simple way of seeing the world to a more complicated way of seeing the world.

So again, find a "key" paragraph (now one that seems important to our overall understanding of the point of the story) and explain what key words you can find and why they are particularly important to understanding the paragraph (and even the story as a whole!)

Tuesday, November 8:

Reading: Munro, "Boys and Girls" part 1. Download and PRINT OUT(!) the whole story (it's not very long) from Boys &Girls

Writing: In class on Tuesday we looked at paragraph 1 of B&G. We talked about how Munro is a writer who is more or less half fiction writer and half poet, and I suggested that many of her paragraphs are actually a lot like poems. Sometimes people talk of "prose poems"—a form of poetry so free that it is written as if it were prose—in paragraphs. That first paragraph has imagery, sound play, and a way of developing meaning that many would say is "poetic"—something the "How to Read a Poem" essay called "language-plus."

So as you read through the rest of part 1 (the first 22 paragraphs on the handout), pick from all the paragraphs you read one that seems to you to be especially "poem-like"—writing that could be called "language-plus." Insert your chosen paragraph at the top of your paper, underline three or four of the words or phrases that seem "poetic," and then explain what seems poetic to you about the paragraph.

(To make it easy to insert a paragraph, here, again, is a link to Boys &Girls)

We'll use this next week as a way to continue working on "noticing" in fiction.

Tuesday, November 1 :

Reading: Hemingway, "Cat in the Rain"--a bit of mystery!

Writing: This story is very short--just two pages. That is itself interesting. Hemingway writes prose, not poetry, but some have said a Hemingway short story is often a kind of “prose poem.”  That is partly because he is very careful about which words he uses and how he uses them. He said about his writing that a story ought to be like an iceberg: 11% shows to the eye, while the other 89% is invisible, under the water.  By that he meant that a careful reading of his stories would enable you to “see” much more in it than whatever is actually visible.  We suggested last time that "cats" are pretty important to this "poem," and I'm sure it's true.

So first underline each reference to any cat, and then, second, write about how you think "cat" functions as a metaphor in the story. What does Hemingway seem to imply by his use of the cat metaphor? Does it change as the story unfolds? If so, how does it change?

Some have said that this story is about the relationship between the man and the woman.  They have a few lines of conversation, and it doesn't seem like much is said. But looked at more closely, how could those lines be seen as a way of revealing the relationship of these two Americans over in Italy—so far away from home?  And what is the cat doing there?!!!!!!

Don't worry if you feel you are not very good at this. The point is not to be a great literary critic (you can become that NEXT week!), but only to approach the story from the perspective of one who has begun to think about metaphor in a more conscious and analytic way.

Tuesday, October 25:

Reading: The two Ezra Pound poems: "In a Station of the Metro," and "The River-Merchant's Wife (after Li Po)"

Writing: We talked about the first poem in class; I suggested that Pound liked to say a lot with a little, and that he was very interested in "images." An image is anything that a poem names or describes that evokes sight, hearing, touch, taste or smell, or of movement (kinesthesia). Images are poetry's way of "being specific", and part of being a good reader of poetry is being able to pay attention to images and try to work out why the poet is using them in any particular poem. The tigers we looked at last week were images, and this week we have a longer poem in the "River-Merchant's Wife" with several images. They function in poetry as a form of indirection--implying something without necessarily saying it directly.

So your task here is to find 2 images in each stanza and to think about why Li Po, and, in his turn, Ezra Pound, uses them in the way he does. Write about them; we'll talk about images and metaphors in general, and then we'll see what you have been able to locate and talk about in the poem.

We will then go on to talk about images and metaphors and how they work.

Tuesday, October 18:

Reading: The two Tiger Poems: Blake's "The Tyger," and Adrienne Rich's "Aunt Jennifer's Tigers."

Writing: For the two Tiger poems. Here I want you first to read the two poems, and to focus on noticing things about the tigers. Blake's Tyger and Rich's tigers are obviously similar, but they are also different. Use this as a way to NOTICE what each poet is doing. List as many similarities and differences between their "tigers" as you can.

Example: Blake's Tyger is represented as powerful and dangerous, created by a divine blacksmith. Rich's tigers are not as frightsome. Indeed, they are "topaz denizens." Look up topaz and denizen to be sure you know what they mean! (They are not very commonly used words.) Then, which of Rich's words for her tigers might Blake use if he were to write another stanza or two? Which of her words for her tigers would Blake NOT use? And vice-versa: which of Blake's words for his tiger might Rich use if she were to write another stanza? and which of his words do you think she would NOT use?

Finally, write me a sentence in which you tell me what you think each poet is trying to do or say with his/her poem. (Don't worry about being right—that actually isn't important at this point—but do give it your best effort!) This is the "So What?" step.

Tuesday, October 11:

Reading: How to Read a Poem, and then, two poems, both short. The first is William Carlos Williams' poem: "This is Just to Say," and the second is Kenneth Koch's "Variation on a Theme by William Carlos Williams." Both are short, and they are very different—even contrasting—styles of poem. In fact, Koch's poem is what is called a "parody" of the William Carlos Williams poem. That means that it pokes fun at it. What is more interesting is that in poking fun, Koch also suggests the ways that he has himself understood the poem. (Williams' very short poem can be called a "minimalist" poem because he tries to keep the number of words he uses to a minimum.)

Writing: Write a page in which you identify two "Whats" for each poem, and then explain for each What as best you can "Why" the poet decided to use THOSE words and not other words.

Explanation: This assignment is just asking you to do on your own what we did in class today: look for Whats (or possibly interesting choices that the poet has made) and Whys (or possibly interesting explanations for those choices). In "My Papa's Waltz," for example, we chose in the third stanza the words "beat" and "waltz," and noticed that they have potentially very different connotations. "Beat" is connected with striking something, even breaking it; "waltz" is connected with a dance that is graceful, rhythmic and smooth. And then we talked about Why Roethke might have chosen to put those two words in his poem, and we suggested as answers that they are opposites that capture the two different ways the poem offers you to think about the actions described in this poem: one ("waltz") the act of a loving, graceful and celebratory moment of family togetherness, the other ("beat") a frightening kind of punishment or other sort of inflicting of pain.

So: to restate the assignment: for each of these two different poems, notice two different "Whats" and give for each a "Why."

REMEMBER! Don't let this assignment seem scary. This is not an "English paper." It is a short response to having read an assignment. You don't have to be right here--not at all. I'm just asking you to focus on the reading and to think a little about the two poems in terms of the way we talked today in class. We will thus all be ready for a good time talking about the poems next week!