talking about poetry…

February 21, 2015


Peter Messinger is on the faculty of the University of Washington English Language Program and has been teaching English as a Second Language for 35 years. Also a poet, he was one of the readers at SpeakEasy 15: Poems and Prayers for the New Year. In an email, he shared this “experience I had with my pronunciation class today” (presented here with his permission):

To establish pausing and rhythm, I’ve been having them prepare and read “Occupation,” which you’ll remember I read at SpeakEasy a few weeks back. I didn’t tell them who wrote it and they really did it justice (we recorded them).

After they read it, I had them tell me what they thought it meant; 7 people had 7 different interpretations, all of which showed me they were really listening to themselves. One Saudi man got it dead on and connected it to what’s happening to his generation in the Middle East, and a Chinese man connected it to Hitler. A Thai woman was convinced it was about parents talking to their children. Korean students said it had to do with cultural imperialism (they told me a story about how their generation is the one I was describing as the victims of “propaganda” — their term).

Then they said I had to read it, which I did. Finally someone asked who had written it and I confessed. They were blown away and spontaneously started applauding. Anyway, on the way out they thanked me for letting them read my poem aloud. I thanked them for being an audience and holding up the mirror for me.

It was just one of those unexpected successes we get surprised by. A teaching moment, is what we call it in the business.

Thank you, Peter. A poem speaks in many languages.


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