In Australian Literature I introduced contemporary poetry by way of an exploration of two poems by young Australians: Rebecca Edwards’ “Moon Boat” and Dorothy Porter’s “Why I Love Your Body”. Allowing students to explore the way these poems communicate brought some real insights. It was extraordinary to see how gradually the meaning and feeling of the poem unfolded as members of the group brought their observations. One student was attentive to the shape of the poem on the page, another to the sound effect and the emotion that this created, another to the way images evoked a sense of someone seeing the world very closely, intensively…. and then after all these insights someone suggested that maybe “The Moonboat” was a woman’s body, maybe a body on the verge of giving birth. And then so much of what had been said fell into place. The poem was seen in its fullness, its richness. We hadn’t just extracted its meaning, we had reconstructed its emotional as well as its intellectual content… So that was a good tutorial! The class were more divided and perhaps less enthusiastic about Porter’s erotic poem. Maybe it was because we did not have enough time for this poem, or maybe it offended some people’s sense of what was appropriate in poetry…. moral judgments do inevitably influence what we like and don’t like. But there were a few who felt that this poem was a real celebration, not only of the physical aspects of sex (in this case Lesbian), but also of the way this God-given aspect of human life is something that redeems us from the “horrors” of the world around…. this would make for a very interesting further discussion.
In Twentieth Century Literature we had another conversation about GM Hopkins and Thomas Hardy. Poets of faith and doubt, respectively. Here again students managed to uncover the way that Hopkins through the power of his imagery and sound patterning celebrates the eternal presence of the creative life force in the universe…. .despite the fact that humankind so often ignores this force (…. like shining from shook foil). I shared with my students the fact that one of my post-graduate students is doing a PhD on Hopkins as an environmentalist… one of the first environmentalists…
The Thomas Hardy poem provided an interesting opposite experience, one that perhaps many of us are more familiar with, the position of being unable to share in the blind faith that others around us seem to have. And yet this poem reveals how Hardy really does suffer this condition of faithlessness (“infelicity” he calls his experience). He feels himself… as one student noted… like a bird that has lost its wings. And that metaphor, as was pointed out, suggests the wish at least to be like a bird… but this bird is somehow crippled. So we were left at the end of the discussion wondering whether Hardy was an agnostic or an atheist…. anyone found out?
But the poem provided a wonderful contrast to the scintillating expression of faith embodied in Hopkins’ words… there is of course room for all kinds of response to the fundamental questions about human life.