Thursday, April 30, 2015

Poetry Unit, Day 4: Ekphrasis

Day 4 of the Poetry Unit went . . . okay. Students did not enjoy discussing ekphrasis nearly as much as they enjoyed Beautiful Corpse Poetry, but the discussions we had were good.

To begin, we discussed a very brief history of ekphrasis and ekphrastic poetry, using this information as a guide.

I used the discussion of ekphrastic poetry as a platform for discussing literal vs. figurative language, which was a topic students caught onto fairly well. I would say to them things like:

"If you don't stop talking, my head is going to explode."


"It is almost lunch, and you hear someone say 'The bell needs to ring; I am starving to death!'"

Students then had to shout out if I was being literal or figurative. The short activity was a fun one, because students could quickly and easily pick up on the differences between figurative and literal expressions.

Once we had reviewed the "ancient" and "modern" ways of writing ekphrastic poetry, we had an activity where students had to try their hand at writing their own ekphrastic poem over John William Waterhouse's The Lady of Shallot.

The Lady of Shallot by John William Waterhouse.

I gave them a little background information on the Lady of Shallot to help them understand who the subject of the painting is and what she was going to do.

Before setting students loose on the painting, we took some time and discussed ways they could write about what they saw in the poem, both literally and figuratively. The discussion on literal elements was uneventful, but the discussion on figurative elements was entertaining. It was almost comical to see how students extrapolated on the various symbols and images they saw in the painting, e.g. "Her white dress means she is pure and virginal," "The three candles represent her life, and the last candle is about to go out, meaning she is about to die," "She is holding a chain because she wants to make Lancelot her husband, and like, chain him to her."

Students were given about 5-8 minutes to write their poems (we spent so much time talking about the imagery in the painting!), but despite the time crunch, students produced some strong, interesting ekphrastic poems that we workshopped after state testing a few days later.

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