Tuesday, January 18, 2005


Spring semester began today. I had two classes: Teaching English & Speech and Teaching Literature in Secondary School. I'm excited to be back in school and thinking about education and planning for teaching; I think the routine of work-vegging at home was getting to me.

In the second class, taught by Rick Beach, we did a little discussion on the poem "Mushrooms" by Sylvia Plath and we discussed the various ways in which we read. I think it's important to look at the process--reading and re-reading, note taking in the margins, small group discussion, large group comments. What kinds of things are important? I talked about rhythm and rhyme scheme and how I began to pluck out the literary devices--personification, symbol, etc. On a later reading, I physically worte questions that I had--these were things I initially didn't understand and that might foster discussion. (Ex: "Why compare mushrooms to furniture?" and "How can you betray a mushroom?")

Someone mentioned taking away the title. After all, the title has purpose and intent. What would a reading be like without the title? Some found it a disservice to omit the title, though I think it might emphasize the importance of a title (especially for those in a creative writing class that don't think having a working title is important, etc.). With a poem that is less of a mystery without a title, one could have the students retitle the poem.

Other ways to read this poem--look at the historical significance. Some discussed the 1950s Cold War and how mushroom means something different then. (And what mushrooms might mean to a high school student today.) And what about biographical information--how does Plath's relationship to feminism and to her father relate to this poem?

Symbolism. What do mushrooms represent? What kinds of information do we already know about mushrooms (what can we bring to the text)? Sarah mentioned how she discovered mushrooms in her backyard and kicked them over; they grew back overnight. Being the curious and intelligent person that she is, she checked out some information on the web and learned that the mushrooms will continue to return while whatever it is they are feeding on (a rotted root, etc.) remains. Another great way to emphasize symbolism would be to look at colors in a poem--what could whiteness mean? Another student (Terry?) talked about how you could consider race.

In poems--what are verbs doing, what kinds of adjectives and adverbs... everything is purposeful. Joe talked about when he feels bored with the text--the details that don't feel important--how if the writer and editor are good, every detail counts. Professor Beach mentioned the short story "A&P" by John Updike--the protagonist describes the setting in great detail and often students don't understand why... but the character works at an A&P and is bored.

Dialectical journals seem to be a good way to have students respond to a piece of literature that might be difficult initially. Predictions--what will happen to the characters and writing in the margins (Dover has very cheap versions of many classics; my mother bought a set of Frankenstein and suggested students buy their copy so they could write notes in the margins). Journal responses that emphasize freewriting, conversational tone, and informal tone.

Anyway, I just wanted to jot down some of my thoughts from today's class. There was a powerpoint as well, but I am going to write about that later. For now, I nap!

"Mushrooms" by Sylvia Plath

Overnight, very

Whitely, discreetly,

Very quietly

Our toes, our noses

Take hold on the loam,

Acquire the air.

Nobody sees us,

Stops us, betrays us;

The small grains make room.

Soft fists insist on

Heaving the needles,

The leafy bedding,

Even the paving.

Our hammers, our rams,

Earless and eyeless,

Perfectly voiceless,

Widen the crannies,

Shoulder through holes. We

Diet on water,

On crumbs of shadow,

Bland-mannered, asking

Little or nothing.

So many of us!

So many of us!

We are shelves, we are

Tables, we are meek,

We are edible,

Nudgers and shovers

In spite of ourselves.

Our kind multiplies:

We shall by morning

Inherit the earth.

Our foot's in the door.

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