In this lesson students will:
- Describe the voice of a poem
- Discuss how the perspective of a poem shapes the story it tells
- Write a poem using a voice of authority
The perspective of the narrator is frequently discussed in writing classrooms when it comes to works of fiction. Students are introduced to concepts such as first and third person, omniscience, and reliability. In poetry, we have fewer formalized methods for discussing the perspective of the speaker—perhaps because poetry is more often seen to be a writing form for personal expression and the speaker and writer are considered a closer pair than a story's narrator and its writer—but the question of perspective is no less relevant to our understanding and experience of poems.
Encountering the Poem
- Have a student read the poem aloud.
- Invite students to describe the voice of the poem, pointing to specific language choices or statements that contribute to the shaping of that voice. If students do not do so on their own, ask them to consider how the poem's speaker has a voice of authority and identify places in the poem where it exhibits that authority. Responses might include:
- The use of the royal "we"
- The way the speaker claims to know both what the boys are doing, and what they should be doing
- The way the speaker bestows blessing on the boys ("of course they do")
- Discuss the ways in which this poem creates a "lexicon."
- What population or branch of knowledge is this lexicon for?
- What examples of vocabulary are described here?
- Discuss how the poet's decision to give the speaker of this poem an authoritative voice affects the experience of reading it.
- Why might the poet have chosen this perspective to tell this particular story?
- Are there moments when the voice admits fallibility?
Have students think of a situation that they were anxious to enter for the first time. Ask them to write a poem about this first encounter from a voice of authority, referring to the things they did in the third person. Encourage them to consider these questions as they write: What would their actions look and sound like to an outside observer? What norms were they breaking or abiding by? What could someone have said to them that would have given them comfort?
Related Reading in The Collagist
- Inez Tan's Apology for Bread
- Brian Tierney's If Appeasement Had a Face, It'd Look Just like Saul
- Christian Anton Gerard's Christian Anton Gerard and Her Yet Without a Past