Dreams! adorations! illuminations! religions! the whole boatload of sensitive bullshit!

If you are an English teacher, and you bring your personal poetry books to school as grist for Exploring Contemporary Verse, here’s a tip: Check for things written on the inside flaps. Because maybe you got some of these books as gifts, but you’ve forgotten, and your students will ask for the story behind “Baby ~ You were the one. You were the only one. And you were amazing ~ Love, S.” in spidery handwriting at the bottom of the title page of The Work of a Common Woman. You’ll have to say that you got the book used, and you’ll feel bad, like you’re letting both S. and Judy Grahn down even though S. proved a disappointment and Judy has never heard of you and never will.


In related news, I’m teaching an expurgated version of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl. The language proved…problematic. Alcohol and cock and endless balls!! (not to mention sweetened snatches). Sometimes, though, the Benevolent Gods of Teaching and Timing smile upon us: Wikipedia blacked out at just the right time — that, combined with our classroom content restrictions, has sparked meaty teen debate about censorship,  free speech, and art vs. obscenity. I had a good time blacking out all the profanity with a Sharpie so it’d look censored before I made copies of the poem, but I missed one instance of the word “c***sucker”* and had to fix it manually in EVERY SINGLE COPY: Find the c***suckers! Neutralize them! It wasn’t like I could ask my student aide for help.

Anyway. I look forward to hearing their thoughts about 1. My executive Sharpie decisions; 2. Whether or not the blackouts affect their perception of/desire to read “Howl”; and 3. What is destroying the best minds of their generation. (My vote: quick-cut video editing and food additives).

For now, I bade farewell! I jump off the roof! to solitude! waving! carrying flowers! Down to the river! into the street!


*Now I’m expurgating for sensitive lesbians. This thing is fraught, I tell you. Fraught.


2 thoughts on “Dreams! adorations! illuminations! religions! the whole boatload of sensitive bullshit!

  1. You’re my shero teacher of the year! I think all of this could be powerful inspiration for the kids, and to add drama to poetry! They are so lucky to have you!!!

  2. I read (probably the same expurgated version of) “Howl” in high school, too; I actually really loved it. The power of the words … (the parts I read were the first stanza or so, with the “I have seen the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness …”, and the Moloch invocation. I’d never seen such raw emotion in a poem before, and it stayed with me. I got the whole poem a couple years ago, and read it in full; the parts that had impressed me then still held up for me now, approximately one zillion other poems later … though the rest of it kind of dragged.)

    Also, you are incredibly clever for bundling it together with the whole censorship debate. That sounds like it must’ve been a fun class period. (When I read “Howl,” it was part of a larger unit on Beat poets that also featured Lawrence Ferlinghetti and a few others and ended with us writing and performing our own poems in an imitative Beat style. That was lots of fun, too.)

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