I promised an update on kitschy greeting cards with rhymed, metrical verse. And lo! I wanted an amusing icebreaker exercise for my two intro to lit analysis courses, but one that would have some connection to the courses' actual purpose. To begin, we talked a bit about the difference between reading for entertainment and reading in an academic setting. In the course, I suggested, they'd be developing a "toolkit" that would make literature and its effects strange--by which I meant not "weird," but "unfamiliar." Making literary effects that seem like a given (that a horror novel should scare us, that a sentimental ending should elicit tears) unfamiliar is the first step down the road to realizing that, after all, these effects emerge from an author's craft. How does the poem, novel, play, or film work? Why does this poet play games with the rhyme scheme, and why does that novelist suddenly shift into passive voice at particular moments in the plot? By the same token, what "commonsense" assumptions do we hold about narrative, or figurative language, or about what literature "should" do?
The greeting card exercise was a goofy way to get the students to begin pondering some of these issues. After showing them the card and reading the poem out loud, I asked them to think up questions that would make this greeting card seem...unfamiliar. After all, they all took greeting cards for granted, no? This quickly got them into issues of intended audience, symbolism, context, the medium, syllable counts, rhyme schemes, word choice, and the like. Both classes thought the poem was silly (true), and so we talked about why that might be the case; in fact, both classes concluded (correctly, I think) that the romantic connotations of giving someone a poem were more important than the poem itself. Which led to a brief discussion of how pop culture regarded poetry, and even to the question of how reading for a course--including the choice of reading material--was differently structured than reading for pleasure. The point being, of course, that if it's possible for them to ask such questions about a simple (and really rather bad) bit of greeting-card verse, then what will they be able to ask about...oh...Shakespeare?