Spring SAVY 2017, Day 4- Writing and Reflection
We had a very productive fourth day of Writing and Reflection, in which we talked about ekphrastic poetry, scenery, and pathetic fallacy! We reviewed key concepts from past courses (notably “imagery,” “ekphrastic poetry,” and “synesthesia”) and kicked off a longer discussion about why a poet might choose to write an ekphrastic poem. After analyzing Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s painting, “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus,” which portrays the mythic fall of Icarus as an insignificant event, students contemplated William Carlos William’s ekphrastic poem of the same name. We discussed how Williams’s poem transforms our assumptions about Bruegel’s painting and urges us to find an alternative meaning in the myth. Student-writers then had the chance to craft their own ekphrastic poem, drawing inspiration from Pablo Picasso’s painting, “Jeune fille endormie.” But this task was made even more challenging when students were told to include two instances of synesthetic imagery to encourage the reader to look at the painting in a new way. Some courageous students even read their work aloud to the class, sharing the exciting imagery they created. Their poems were wonderfully strange and beautiful, and include highlights such as: “Her hair flows around/ like the Mississippi River on and/ on. Her hair grows, her feelings grow, her mind grows” and “she slept,/ as silent as a young sheep/ until morning light.”
We moved onto a discussion about scenery and landscape, using the following John Keats quotation as a focal point: “Scenery is fine – but human nature is finer.” Each student then wrote a fascinating, original answer to the open-ended question, “Can a writer portray human emotion in a scene that has no humans in it?” Students formed several intriguing arguments. They argued that synthetic objects could carry human emotion into a particular scene, that the writer can use personification to imbue an object or animal with human thoughts and feelings, and that the author’s portrayal of a particular scene is automatically colored by his/her own perspective. A particularly exciting moment occurred when multiple students noted that the seminar-style discussion made them rethink their original answers, helping them to form more complex opinions about literature.
This conversation led us to examine the literary term, “pathetic fallacy,” a type of personification in which the author assigns human characteristics to a natural setting. Before resuming our reading of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, we brainstormed how we might describe a scene differently depending on our mood, since our emotions can drastically change how we think about a person, place, or thing. Reading L’Engle provided us with a plethora of examples of pathetic fallacy, as the main character’s attic, kitchen, and yard are transformed according to how she is feeling. After completing and discussing the first chapter, student-writers learned how to generate emotionally-charged landscapes similar to L’Engle’s. They enthusiastically went to work describing “the raindrops drooping the huge leaves,” “the rain, thunder, lightning soften[ing] after their triumph,” and “a gentle drizzle, calmly coming down in smooth silky sheets.”
It is exciting to see how, as students learn more and more writing and reading techniques, they develop their remarkable creative talent! I look forward to our next class, in which we will be learning about white space, diction, and line breaks, as we read the captivating poetry of Gertrude Stein and E.E. Cummings.