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Quotation of the Week: Roger Rosenblatt

“Like [his student], I am but one teacher who has had a few memorable teachers. Yet I have spread their thoughts and inventions abroad like a town crier. And I have learned over the years that my students have taken those same thoughts and inventions and have done as I have done. For my Modern Poetry course, the students’ assignment is to produce an anthology of poems. I put some forty recently published books of poems by contemporary poets on reserve in the university library. Throughout the term, along with our discussions in class of established modern poets – Elizabeth Bishop, W.H. Auden, Langston Hughes, William Empson, Margaret Atwood, Marianne Moore, Robert Lowell, Wallace Stevens, Sylvia Plath, Robert Graces, and the like – I ask the students to read the forty new books, which we do not discuss in class, and select ten poems from different authors for their anthologies. Then I ask them to write a ten-page introduction explaining their choices. By the end of the course they have created a little book that speaks for their taste. It is a wonderful assignment, and not my own.”
–Roger Rosenblatt

Source: Rosenblatt, Unless It Moves the Human Heart: The Craft and Art of Writing. Rosenblatt attributes the assignment to John L. Sweeney, curator of the Woodberry Poetry Room at Harvard – a brilliant, courtly teacher who looked like the actor Edmund Gwen, and whose Modern Poetry class I lucked into when I was a first-year graduate student.”

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4 Responses »

  1. This is such a terrific excerpt, about such a worthwhile exercise. Thanks for sharing this, Erika.

    I’ve had the privilege of meeting Roger several times when I’ve attended the Southampton Writers Conference. I’m proud to have an essay in the same issue of The Southampton Review (March 2010) with Roger.

    • He must be wonderful to encounter off the page, Kathleen. And congratulations on appearing in the same journal issue with him.

  2. I’d love to know what those forty books were. That is an excellent idea, and one that allows students maximum autonomy while providing the framework for the essay. I’m quite new to
    teaching, but what I’ve learned this year is that for my students to truly progress as they “learn”
    about writing, the material and assignments must be meaningful to them. That is where I capture
    them, when the writing touches something inside them that I cannot, and ignites their passion to
    know more, to sharpen their skills and take risks as they explore what it means to be a writer.

    Great post!

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