Picturesque Lesson Plans
Eliot and Hayden Images Assignment
Using the following poem by Stevens as a model, write a poem titled “Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Waste Land.” Incorporate distinctive images from Eliot and Hayden in each of your stanzas. Try to mimic these poets’ choice of language and the emotions that their poems evoke. Make certain that you are specific in your choice of images taken from both “The Waste Land” and “Middle Passage.”
Wallace Stevens, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”
Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.
I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.
The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.
A man and a woman
A man and a woman and a blackbird
I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.
Icicles filled the long window
With barbaric glass.
The shadow of the blackbird
Crossed it, to and fro.
Traced in the shadow
An indecipherable cause.
O thin men of Haddam,
Why do you imagine golden birds?
Do you not see how the blackbird
Walks around the feet
Of the women about you?
I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.
When the blackbird flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.
At the sight of blackbirds
Flying in a green light,
Even the bawds of euphony
Would cry out sharply.
He rode over Connecticut
In a glass coach.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of his equipage
The river is moving.
The blackbird must be flying.
It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar-limbs.
Cannery Row Notebook
Students from American Literature classes offered their ideas on projects for a unit on Cannery Row by John Steinbeck. Proposals for connecting community and place in this project can be divided into four categories: (1) writing that connects a student’s communities to the communities featured in the book; (2) art that symbolizes the student’s groups; (3) pictures or a musical playlist that capture the essential traits of these communities; and (4) stories – anecdotes or interviews – that focus on the members of these communities. So, the Cannery Row Notebook will feature one aspect of each of these.
Writing. Each student must write at least one page that mimics Steinbeck’s “prologue” to Cannery Row, that begins, “Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream.” Use the same kind of language and sentence structures, similar concrete details, to set the scene that connects your communities and the places where they can be found. This is a creative nonfiction essay about your communities.
Art. The art that becomes part of the notebook can be a map of the sacred places that distinguish the student’s communities – an article on “Mapping the Sacred Places” by Jan DeBlieu appeared in Orion, Spring 1994. It can be a fashion statement that captures a student’s associations. It can be a painting or a sculpture that symbolizes the communities that the student has chosen to explore. This is a figurative piece.
Pictures or Musical Playlist. These can be photos, a collage, illustrations, sketches that realistically depict the communities, their members, their locales, the food in restaurants, the physical places that the communities inhabit; or a playlist of the music that echoes from these places or defines them. Combine the two to make a music video. Think businesses, restaurants, cultural centers that define the community. Street flyers could also define this community. This is a literal component of the notebook.
Stories. These can be creative, descriptive stories about the community and its members, or anecdotes, or one-act scenes that show the language of the members, or interviews with the members of the various communities. This is the narrative piece.
- The “write-like” or essay should be one page.
- The art can be a one-page map; or a sketch of a fashion ensemble with call-offs detailing the community connections; or write a song; or create any art object that represents the communities.
- Three pictures (illustrations, photos, or a digital presentation) of places in the community – a scrapbook; or three songs shared in a playlist in Spotify, with lyrics printed and a short paragraph connecting these songs to the community placed in the notebook; or a music video submitted on a flash drive.
- A short story, or two anecdotes, or three interviews begin to tell the story of the communities; a series of street poems also works.
All of these parts of the notebook could actually be contained within a notebook or scrapbook; three-dimensional art may go beyond the parameters of a notebook; a digital presentation of the pictures or video must be contained on a flash drive or shared on Google Drive.
Denver Photography Assignment
We started reading Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” in class. Students should have read all of this poem from the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass – there is a link to the Whitman archives posted on the class website; “Song of Myself” is the first poem that follows a long prose introduction by Whitman. Students also read “Chapter 6, The Present”, of Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. We are discussing the themes and techniques that each author uses in their works. As part of a unit devoted to nature writing, Whitman and Dillard describe their lives within the American tradition of Transcendentalist writing, often using religious ideas to make their points.
We also talked about photography in its depiction of character and place, and how it has changed the way we picture ourselves. To visually connect Whitman and the American psyche, we looked briefly at Ken Burn’s first film about the Brooklyn Bridge, after having read Whitman’s poem “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”.
Tell a story that celebrates Denver, imagining your self as the poet’s representative for all the residents of the metropolitan region. Write this in the free verse style of Whitman, or like the prose of Dillard. Use their specific themes and techniques to testify to the people, jobs, gardens, stadiums, parks, neighbors and neighborhoods, roads, bridges, cars, bikes, skating haunts, malls, carnicerias, coffeeshops, diners, museums, theatres, rivers and creeks, mountain tundra and hot pavements. Imagine a conversation with yourself that accelerates through the mix of sensual experiences that makes up your city vision, your current American dream.
- If you write in Whitman’s style, 30 to 50 lines of verse, with an average of 10 words per line, are required.
- If you write prose ala Dillard, 300-500 words are required.
- Include 5-10 photographs inserted into your paper, at the appropriate spots, to illustrate the Denver scenes you are describing.
- If you haven’t mastered this publishing technique, then include the photos at the end of the poem or essay; however, if you do this the photos must be captioned, describing their relevance to your story of Denver.
You must include concrete language and physical imagery in your writing. Tie these words and pictures to transcendentalist and theological questions that Whitman and Dillard entertain. Your notes from our discussions will help in this. Both writers are known for their close observation of their physical surroundings, and their questions regarding the human condition. Your writing should narrate your positive vibrations about life in the Rocky Mountain West, and your relationship to the variety of people who populate the region.
Whitman uses specific poetic techniques in his poetry. Your verse should reflect these techniques. Dillard tells her story in a series of exploratory vignettes focused on the Tinker Creek landscape that she inhabited, like Thoreau, for a few years. She sprinkles in philosophical musings akin to the Transcendentalists. Your writing should strive for a similar mix of environmental observation and metaphysics. Your notes from our class discussions will fuel your writing.