Mentor Text Wednesday: BuzzFeed Poetics

Mentor Text:Which Famous Musician Who Died at the Age of 27 are you?  A BuzzFeed Quiz by Eirean Bradley

Writing Techniques:

  • Poetic form
  • Theme
  • Social commentary
  • Presenting research

Background: I decided to use popular culture as the anchor for the Lit course I’m currently teaching. It’s been going quite well. In my prep work for the course, I searched online for as much pop culture related poetry as I could find. I found this poem, which I’ve already used as the basis for a Poetry and Image Pairing, or a PIP, as we call them in class. However, it had gone into my folder for other purposes as well, a possible mentor text.

I like using mentor texts that are a bit different, and thereby may engage my writers. This piece, based around the ubiquitous BuzzFeed quiz caught my attention, as it allows us to not only play with poetry, but to mess around with something that they’ve no doubt seen online. There’s a nice bit of subversion of this inspiration in the poem that would be a wonderful thing for our writers to pick up on, and use in their writing.

How we might use this text:

Poetic Form – Does anyone else find the teaching of stanza creation challenging when working with burgeoning poets? Perhaps the standard answer that there is no standard length for stanzas in poetry isn’t enough for them. I love that much of this poem gives them a model for creating stanzas by focusing on different topics. Many stanzas are simply stating who the survey taker is not. Some give more information, and explanation, while a few simply state it. There are a couple of stanzas that go on to another stanza expanding on the idea as well. We could look at, and discuss why these choices were made, what they emphasize in the mentor text. This discussion could prove beneficial when they move to their own pieces.

There’s also a pretty clear shift, when the “survey” switches to a list of “results.” It is made clear in a shift in language, from a series of “you are not”s to lines that start with phrases like “you are” and “you will.” These statements, jammed together as they are in a stanza give a visual sense of that shift as well. All in all, this would be a decent mentor text for looking at creating a shift in a poem.

I also really like that there is a variety in the presentation of the things “you are not.” I know I mentioned it briefly already, but it would merit discussion as to why Bradley made the choices that were made. Why were some artists not given any explanation? Is it a concession to an audience who may not know the names? Is it that the poet decided that the level of fame dictates the breadth of focus? If we were writing our own pieces following this model, what material that we’re covering would be given these shorter straws?

Theme – Bradley’s poem has a couple of thematic elements within it. I’ll talk about the commentary on our society later, but the idea of something connecting the possible results in the quiz is obvious. Pulling together enough ideas and material to write one of these quizzes could be challenging – would it not remain so in writing a poem? To pull those pieces together, that connective tissue, in this case, the notion of the 27 Club, pulls things together.

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The image I paired this poem with, via betteo on DeviantArt

There is also a bit of categorization happening in this piece too, as we are told of a few glamorously dead individuals don’t make the list of the 27 club. In doing this, we can establish our theme by identifying elements that challenge the theme.

We could also look at this poetry as a rumination on the nature of celebrity. Why do we hold artists lost young, such as Joplin, Morrison and Cobain in such esteem? In fact, when we look at the iconic nature of celebrity, how many of the most glamorous stars we fetishize are dead?

Social Commentary – This is tied closely to the notion of theme. In fact, one could consider the social commentary in this piece a theme itself.

However, I feel it’s important to highlight what this poem has to say about our modern society. Without expressly saying it, Bradley wonderfully skewers our obsession with celebrity. Like many BuzzFeed quizzes, the one in the play can be used as a tool for the quiz taker to connect, and compare themselves with a celebrity, albeit a dead one. Our society does seem to add an extra bit of glamourization of those deaths though, particularly because of the fact that the artists in question died so young, often in the prime of their career. It is not explicitly stated, which is one of the things we find challenging when analyzing a poem such as this – no clear thesis statement to be found! It would be interesting to discuss how this works, how this poem comments on an aspect of society without putting it right out there. If we wanted to encourage our writers to embed this kind of commentary in a poem, this would be a strong mentor text.

An interesting piece of commentary can also be found in the longer “results” stanza. This is largely a list of first world problems that we, the living non-celebrity have to face. Collecting this list in a poem serves to present that list for consideration. Though I know that it’s problematic for some, I love that there’s an f-bomb dropped here. It gives us a chance to discuss the usage of such words, particularly as it used here, to present a simple thing, which for many is a frustrating first world problem. That word drops some anger and frustration into the description of a common task that many dislike.

Presenting research – To write this piece, you’d have to have a decent knowledge of the subject of your “quiz.” There would need to be some nuances there, some consideration of who they are, in this case, and what they represent. I know we had to do some research to identify a person in the image I paired this poem with.

Instead of writing us that essay, could a student not demonstrate their research, and learning, by presenting it in this kind of poem? Perhaps they are using it as a method to discuss the characters they’ve come across in their reading. Perhaps they’ve done our traditional research work, but instead of churning out an essay that is too often a Wikipedia entry with some bells and whistles. The critical decisions they’d make to craft this kind of poem would give us a good demonstration of their learning. They would highlight key arguments, feature counterargument, and expand upon both. though there is no clear thesis per se, a core idea is expressed.

Collecting and curating poetry for my classroom has become a focus in my work the last couple of years. I’ve been collecting pieces that are interesting to use as fodder for analysis, as well as to inspire our writers. I’ve made it a point to strengthen the connection to poetry in my classes, both as students who are looking to figure out how to read and interpret it, and as writers, who grow as poets. This piece allows for both of those things.

What challenges do you face as you try to teach the writing of poetry? How do you use poetry to express other learning in your class? Which movie teacher are you?

As always, connect with me on Twitter, @doodlinmunkyboy, or feel free to comment below to connect.

-Jay

 

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