Mentor Text: Song of My Speech Impediment by Dawn Macdonald
- Multimedia Text
- Exploring Metaphor
Background -It’s the last week of poetry month for 2021.
Like many of us, I read a fair amount of poetry. I subscribe to two different daily poem a day newsletters, so I often wind up reading a poem first thing in the morning.
And that’s where this month’s mentor text comes from. The League of Canadian Poets sends out a daily “Poetry Pause,” highlighting the work of Canadian poets. I’ve found numerous gems that have found their way in to the classroom, and though the one I’m sharing here hasn’t made it there yet, I’m confident it will.
Though, as I’ll get into later, this poem has mentor text potential for reasons of craft, my initial excitement was inspired by this being the first poem I’ve ever seen with embedded hyperlinks. That excitement increased when I realized that these were links to viral YouTube videos.
How We Might Use This Text:
Multimedia Text – My initial inclination about the first sentence was to make a statement about how our students live in a world of viral videos and meme culture. That’s wrong, though, we all do.
I think that’s why I was drawn to this poem initially. Macdonald’s embedding hyperlinks to viral material in a poem makes it feel like a text that reflects the era in which it was written, this era in which we enjo, curate and share so much material digitally. This is by no means the first poem that I’ve seen that references this reality, but the choice to embed links to this digital content is unique. It’s commonplace online, in articles, but until this, I feel like I haven’t seen poetry really move past the conventions that would exist on an analog page.
Poetry, I often tell burgeoning poets, is about saying as much as you can using the fewest words you can. It’s often an act of brevity, which is why it leans so heavily on devices, as an act of shorthand. Is this same effect not achieved through hyperlinking the videos referenced in this poem as opposed to explaining them in the poem, or hoping that the reader saw them? We’ve seen this happen in a lot of prose writing, where a link has replaced asides and sidebars.
As well, this is a language we use now, as much as it pains us to admit it. I think that allowing hyperlinks to the things that they’re referencing may actually work in our favor in ways, as I can see my students focusing on crafting stronger poems around these links. Often, our young poets get a little lost in describing the things they’re referencing, such as a viral video, and though they may come up with some good writing in doing that, they may focus more on that description than the larger statements they’re putting that reference into.
I really like the idea of having them craft pieces around viral material, creating hyperlinked multimedia texts that embed the digital aspects of our world, making them a part of it as opposed to perhaps only serving as a commentary on that world.
Exploring Metaphor and Simile – As often happens with a mentor text, I see one application instantly, and as I spend time with the text, working out how we’ll realize that application in class, I find other things. I always share this process with students, the things I notice, because I want them to clearly see that texts work on many levels, and that they can work towards that. (It’s also the reason I love writing this for all of you, because it gives me a very public place to work these things out. I’ve discovered new applications for texts as I write these posts.)
Macdonald’s poem is a lovely mentor text for playing with metaphor and simile. She begins with a question about the nature of poetry, and quickly moves into using a viral video to express her thoughts about her poem, that it is something that sounds different than what it looks like, than what is expected. I really like how she expands this exploration after the initial comparison:
An ancient tongue mired in peanut butter trying
the task of the clean-limbed Greeks;
orators in practice: rocks.
I always enjoy the piling on of a couple different metaphors, and I encourage in students, throwing a couple of things up to see what sticks. Also, when we explore metaphor (as well as simile and analogy) we do discuss that it only works if the reader understands it. That makes this pairing so strong, it’s a reference to a viral video and a reference to ancient Greece… new school and old school.
I love how with the reference to the second viral video, the metaphor seems to switch to explore the idea that a poem that may be something that works on a higher level. Coming after a more “highbrow” metaphor, this lands so wonderfully for me. She’s saying, I feel, that like the cat, a poem operates at a level beyond our understanding. What we “get” may just be the simplest version of it, the “baby talk.” The poem explores, through figurative language, the challenge of crafting and analyzing poetry. It’s such a great model for using metaphor and simile to analyze, and make a statement.
“…To speak/to each other we imitate/each other’s imitation” continues this figurative rumination on poetry. Actually, as we’re discussing mentor texts, this is a pretty meta line. I offer this as a parting thought this month. Mentor texts are about inspiration, and that’s often cyclical. We hope to inspire our writers through the work of other writers, and those writers, in turn, were inspired by writers before them.
Have your writers done any work where they embedded links in their text? Have you had them write about viral videos and other similar media texts? Did you use mentor texts for that? What video would you be writing about?
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