Poetry Recitations – Why Do We Do That?

We get asked quite often why the children are made to do poetry recitations every Monday morning. I suppose from the outside, it might seem conventional and rote. So here is a story about one of the recitations we heard this morning that may help to explain a bit about why we do it and how it provides a basis for enquiry. One of our students in Upper Elementary recited The Man with the Blue Guitar by Wallace Stevens. It’s a challenging poem. At first, she didn’t understand the content or the context. We spoke as a group for over an hour about contemporaries of Stevens, such as William Carlos Williams and Ezra Pound, and looked at examples of poets and visual artists who were literally trying to reframe the structure of experience through art. I explained that the inspiration for the poem may have come from Pablo Picasso’s Old Man With Guitar which was exhibited near Wallace’s home in Connecticut in 1934 (two years before the poem was written) and immediately, the children began to talk excitedly about how they could see the poem in the words as I read it through again. The student to whom the poem was assigned is writing her critical reflection now and a small group have asked to do some studies of Picasso at the AGO later this week. So it seems a lot more can come from recitations than simply memorizing if you dig below the surface and that is in fact, the experience we are trying to provide for our students of all ages.

The Man with the Blue Guitar by Wallace Stevens (Verses One and Two)

I

The man bent over his guitar,
A shearsman of sorts. The day was green.

They said, "You have a blue guitar,
You do not play things as they are."

The man replied, "Things as they are 
Are changed upon the blue guitar."

And they said then, "But play, you must,
A tune beyond us, yet ourselves,

A tune upon the blue guitar
Of things exactly as they are."

II

I cannot bring a world quite round,
Although I patch it as I can.

I sing a hero's head, large eye
And bearded bronze, but not a man,

Although I patch him as I can
And reach through him almost to man.

If to serenade almost to man
Is to miss, by that, things as they are,

Say it is the serenade 
Of a man that plays a blue guitar.
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