Monday, June 13, 2016

How to Teach Poetry

I recently watched Uta Koi, an anime series about early Japanese poets, & while I have more than a few criticisms of the show, the innovative scope of the program didn’t escape me.  It’s hard to imagine that Disney, Nickelodeon, or any other US cartoon maker would even consider producing a show centered around the lives of poets.  American audiences don’t want to watch hand-drawn cartoon characters that, rather than rendered with four-fingered hands, big eyes, bulbous noses & squiggly lines for ears, are realistically depicted.  Research shows (i.e., I surfed YouTube for a couple hours) that when Americans watch cartoons, they want anthropomorphized animals & what with the technological advances, preferably CGI-rendered ones.  Well, when in Rome, Ohio, as they say, try the apples, so I’ve worked up an idea to pitch to Disney--so don’t any of you smug fuckers who ripped off my Rock’em Sock’em Robots movie get ideas.

In Poetry Zoo–my working title–each episode begins with zookeeper Hilda Doolittle shutting the zoo’s front gate at closing time.  One of only a handful of poets depicted as human, H.D. possesses the Doolittle family’s ability to talk to animals, a talent she deftly demonstrates as she strolls through the natural habitat zoo, stopping to chat & recite poetry with such luminaries as T.S. Elephant, Ezra Panda, Sylvia Platypus, Walrus Stevens, Marianne Moose, Emily Dik-dik, Lambkin Hughes, Myna Angelou, E.E. Lemmings & Hart Crane, among others. Since American poetry is steeped in British poetic tradition, episodes would also highlight major British poets, such as Giraffe Chaucer, William Snakespeare, Gerard Manatee Hopkins & Matthew Aardvark.

Additionally, special episodes would feature different schools & eras of poetry.  For instance, when the jeep that Game Warden, Lord Byron, a foppish human cartoon character, is driving breaks down outside the zoo, he shows H.D., as he flirts with her in an outrageously comical manner, that he too possesses the gift of conversing with his animal friends & colleagues from the Romantic age: Samuel Taylor Moleridge, John Kats (ironically, a bobcat), Percy Bysshe Shellfish & even lowly, cantankerous William Wormsworth.  Another special episode would feature H.D. visiting the Central Park Zoo, where she meets New York School poets Frank O’Hare, Kenneth Koala, John Ashytitibery, Barbara Goose & James Skylark.   On a “Day in the Country” episode, H.D. meets W.H. Otter, Robert Frog, Ant Sexton, William Cardinal Williams, Gullway Kinnell, Louise Dück, William Wren Warren, Carl Sandpiper & Philip Larkin.  Oops! I almost forgot Rita Dove & John Crow Ransome.

I’ve often complained that one reason that many Americans don’t like poetry is that they don’t understand it & the primary reason they don’t understand it is due, in large part, to the way in which it’s taught in schools. My hope is that this series will educate & entertain, as Sir Pheasant Sidney, in a possible future episode, cites as the purpose of poetry in his rather cannibalistic cookbook, An Apology for Poultry.

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