Friday, September 30, 2011

Reginald Dwayne Betts's 'Big Word' Love Poem & the Poetry Podcast

At some point after the mid-term, I'll introduce my students in the "black nerds" African American literature course to "For you: anthophilous, lover of flowers" by Reginald Dwayne Betts. The poem appeared in the September issue of Poetry.

If all goes well, a few of the students will become frustrated by the use of "big words" in the poem. Hopefully, someone will complain that they had to use a dictionary to comprehend much of what he was trying to say. Ideally, someone else will mention the frustrating process of needing to read the poem multiple times to understand the piece.

So often, when the folks in my crews mention struggling to grasp concepts and poems, their processes of talking through the difficulties end up directly and sometimes inadvertently providing us with a narrative about intellectual growth. There's also some enjoyment and benefit hearing folks talk about their reactions to a poem in public. 

Speaking of which, I've already benefited listening in on one conversation about Dwayne Betts's poem. Editor Christian Wiman and associate editor Don Share of Poetry produce a podcast for each issue, and listening to their lively discussion of "For you: anthophilous, lover of flowers" gave me more to consider. Share, for instance, points out that the poem "solves the problem" of how one writes a love poem that is not boring and hasn't been done many times before. The editors observe that the poem presents words that might send readers to the dictionary but also provides definitions of the words within the poem.

Here's the September Poetry podcast. Wiman and Share's discussion of Betts's poem, which includes Betts reading, begins at the 17:53 mark.

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