How to Teach Poetry Badly

Dexter Booth

I tell a kid he shouldn’t open his poem with “rock, rock/ sweet cherry pie” or close with “rock ‘n’ roll/how sweet the sound/that save we wretches/and gave us soul,” and what he really wants is a universal comparison between rock ‘n’ roll and love. A girl says to me, but I know that feeling, riding in the car with the music blasting. You look over at your boyfriend and you think, yeah, this is good. Later she says this poem is great because it captures the way men think. They’re listening to music, look over at over your breasts, and then they’re back in the music again. The class nods. After fifteen minutes I ask if anyone has heard of Jack Gilbert. We talk about picking hair from sink drains and why the word tangled was specifically chosen, and how the avocado and the other Japanese women are like ornaments in a tree. Another kid says, not everything has to be beautiful. He could have just said that he was sad.

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