W.B. Yeats’ “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” & Bernadette Mayer’s “Sonnet (You Jerk)”
When I teach intro poetry classes, I have found that playing these recordings next to one another provoked a lively discussion of diction, tone, etc. Obviously, the contrast between these two poets and poems is fairly stark, but we also look at any formal similarities between the poems. We talk about the ways these two recordings might distort one another. For example, students often pick up on Yeats’ elevated diction and contrast than to Mayer’s generally conversational word choice, but there are often several words and references in Mayer’s poem that students are not familiar with, and we talk about that too. The idea is not to come out with an aesthetic winner, but to talk about both content and context in a more organic, experiential way than listing and defining terms on the board. I like this kind of discussion because students build an understanding of terms and techniques out of their own concrete perceptual experiences.
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