Summer SAVY 2014 Session 4, Day 9 – Writing and Reflections (Rising 6th/7th)
I’m so saddened to see SAVY session 4 drawing to a close! The students of Writing and Reflections have proven themselves to be very promising future scholars of poetry and prose, and it has been such a pleasure to work with them throughout the last two weeks and to watch their writing skills grow!
For our penultimate class, we concentrated on the intersection of visual art (painting, drawing, sculpture, and architecture) with writing. We began with a short exercise designed around the concept of “synesthesia” (when the stimulation of one sense leads to experiences in a second sense). Students worked to complete sentences that described one of the five senses in terms of another sense. Everyone composed several wonderful examples of synesthesia, from “My favorite meal tastes like a winter morning” to “The cat was soft as a pale pink tulip.” We then talked about the difficulties of this assignment, which forces us to think of everyday objects in new and unfamiliar ways, and suggested reasons why an artist might choose to write an image that is so startling and surreal.
From our discussion on synesthesia, we began to talk about “ekphrastic poetry” (poetry written about visual art). First, we analyzed Pieter Brueghel’s painting, “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus,” paying particular attention to how Brueghel intentionally portrays the fall of Icarus as unimportant by painting the young man in a shadowy corner in the background, while a peasant plowing a field is in the foreground. Why would Brueghel use such an odd perspective, especially to illustrate such an important myth? To answer this question, we read two ekphrastic poems written in response to this painting, “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus,” by William Carlos Williams, and “Musée des Beaux Arts,” by W.H. Auden. Students soon noticed that Williams’s poem is written in short, plain-spoken lines that refuse to provide an analysis of the painting, while Auden’s poem is much more conversational, using long lines that allow the speaker to contemplate the meaning of Brueghel’s work within a larger context. We contrasted the two styles of the modernist poets and learned two important words for describing the way lines “break” in their poems – “enjambed lines” (when a verse line ends without a grammatical pause) and “end-stopped lines” (when a verse line ends with a grammatical pause). Students were excited to learn that Williams’s frequent use of enjambment allows him to paint a starker, more disturbing image than Auden does, whereas Auden’s use of end-stopping and alternating line lengths allows for a more accessible and detailed approach.
We continued looking at ekphrastic poetry and line breaks by reading the poem, “Bassoon,” by Wassily Kandinksy. Kandinsky was a visual artist as well as a writer, and created woodblock prints to accompany his poem. In addition to talking about the dialogue between his writing and his prints, we learned yet another new vocabulary word, “prose-poem,” to describe the prose-like form of his poem. But why does Kandinsky use such long lines to illustrate his ideas? Students tackled this question head-on by notating where they would have put the line breaks if they had written “Bassoon.” They were careful to place line breaks in areas of the text that would emphasize a particular word, create new rhythms, or alter the reader’s understanding of the poem.
For the rest of the class, we reviewed the vocabulary and techniques covered throughout the last two weeks, and then set to work writing a poem that used at least three of the literary techniques! Tomorrow, in addition to talking about linguistic experimentation in E.E. Cummings and Gertrude Stein, students will have the opportunity to show off what they learned by exhibiting these poems at the Open House! We hope to see you there!