There is sometimes a misconception that teenagers will struggle to read and understand poetry that may use abstract imagery, complex language and that may reference events, people and ideas that are not familiar to the majority of young readers. As an English teacher, I have witnessed teenagers grappling with complex poetry and ideas, and feeling empowered when they are able to come up with a reading that is valid and that may be different from the teacher’s.
In the foreword to Michaels’ books Maxine Greene states, “Judith Michaels… chooses herself as a friend of her students’ minds” (Greene 1999, pX). This idea of developing a relationship with students’ minds, by encouraging them to embrace challenging texts and not be afraid of ‘intense’ reading and writing experiences, reflects my teaching pedagogy.
Earlier this year I studied the poem ‘Epilogue‘ by Ania Walwicz. This poem was complex as it critiqued the different ways that femininity has been constructed by people such as Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and Jacques Lacan. Not all of my students were familiar with these individuals or their theories, so we had to do some research. The structure of this poem was also confronting to my students at first, as was the length of the text. However, the students enjoyed the pace of the poem. As with most of Walwicz’s poetry, it is written for performance.
We read this poem as part of a ‘Representation of Resistant Voices’ module for Advanced Preliminary English.
The students felt empowered after reading this text, which was very different from the kinds of poetry that they are usually exposed to. They were able to read this text and discuss the features and themes of the text in a sophisticated way. They were proud of themselves for managing to take on the challenge of this poem.
Many of my students, particularly the girls, were also felt empowered by the final message of the poem:
… I take what I want.
What I want. I select. I differentiate. I choose and pick me. I accept my
story. I can live. I am in charge. I am the writer, actor and director now.
I am the supervisor. I am the doctor.
They enjoyed the idea that a woman can determine what femininity means for her.
Disclaimer: I explored this text with a gifted class of year 11 students. It does explore ideas of gender and sex that are most suitable for a senior class.
Here is a word document that provides a rubric and some ideas that I and my colleagues generated in response to this module, as well as a PowerPoint that I created to introduce some of the individuals and ideas that Walwicz references in her poem.