Friday, May 23, 2008

Moving Rocks

Lay down these words
Before your mind like rocks.

—Gary Snyder, "Riprap"

These lines are from a classic Gary Snyder poem that I thought of as I was making a rock pathway today outside the cottage I rent in Davis. Some of Snyder's more recent works are really effective for teaching basic poetics in introductory literature classes. For example, "Day's Driving Done" (from his 2004 collection Danger on Peaks) is a simple ten-line poem about floating in a motel pool at the end of a long day of driving, and listening to the highway sounds. Many college students can relate to the content (if they can't relate immediately, at UC Davis you can always walk out of the classroom building and hear the white noise of Highway 80). The form of the poem plays with space and acoustics in very teachable ways. Sonic tricks such as alliteration, consonance, onomatopoeia, assonance, and internal rhymes are just a few of the devices used in this poem. Line breaks and irregular internal line spacing call attention to specific sounds and silences. I have spent easily over an hour on this one poem in a single class, and the students seem to genuinely enjoy it--and learn from it. Teaching this poem is a good way to practice slow reading.