If you haven’t already, please try to incorporate Cornelius Eady’s work in your classes. Even just reading and discussing a poem or two with your students will enrich the experience of then seeing the author read at the Literary Arts Festival next week. Also, the English Department sent out some activities and assignments; if you misplaced these or would like to ask any questions about them, please don’t hesitate to email me (rostrom AT citytech.cuny.edu). My students really enjoyed doing the negative image assignment– it’s low-stakes and without even realizing it, the students end up doing a close reading of the poem. I also had one of my classes choose their favorite lines and create a cento poem. This is quick and fun to see how they connect the different poems.
From Prof. Robert Ostrom in the English Department, here are a series of assignments instructors might use with students to bring Cornelius Eady’s work into the classroom. Students might use these to interact with Eady’s writing outside of class. Some of these assignments involve critical writing, and others involve creative writing. Refer to this earlier post linking out to some of Eady’s writing to have poems to work with. If you have further suggestions, want to offer feedback, or want to share how a particular assignment worked for you, please feel free to reply to this post with a comment.
I. Poetry Explication Assignment
Read and respond to one of Cornelius Eady’s poems. How does the poem make you feel? Does it remind you of a personal experience you’ve had or a story you’ve heard?
2. Answer the following questions.
- Who is speaking?
- How would you characterize the speaker?
- To whom is he or she speaking?
- For what purpose is he or she speaking?
- How would you describe the speaker’s tone?
- Is the poem a lyric or a narrative or other?
B. Form and Word Choice
- How many stanzas is the poem?
- How many lines are in each stanza?
- Does the poem contain an obvious meter or rhythm?
- Is there a rhyme scheme?
- Are there any internal or end rhymes? Give examples.
- Can you find any examples of slant rhymes, alliteration, assonance or onomatopoeia?
- Choose one line and explain why you think Eady chooses to break the line where he does?
- How does the poet’s word choice and/or word order affect the meaning and tone of the poem?
- List any literary devices you notice in the poem (simile, metaphor, personification, hyperbole, allusion).
- Choose two of these literary devices and briefly explore the implications.
- What images do you notice in the poem?
- Do you see any descriptive moments in the poem?
- Which of the senses does Eady appeal to in this poem?
- What is the relationship of the descriptive images to the speaker’s state of mind?
- Do the images create a sense of time of day? Season of year? Atmosphere? Mood?
- What do you think is the point of the poem?
- What ideas are being communicated by the speaker?
- How are the ideas being reinforced by the formal elements of the poem?
Revisit your initial response to this poem. Write a paragraph explaining how your understanding and feelings about the poem have changed.
II. Narration Description Assignment
Write a short personal narrative using one of Cornelius Eady’s lines as a title or epigraph. Be sure to incorporate narrative elements such as setting, plot, point of view and pacing. In addition, use descriptive (sensory) details to paint a vivid picture for your reader.
III. Compare and Contrast Assignment
Write an essay comparing and contrasting Cornelius Eady’s “The Gardenia” and Langston Hughes’ “Song for Billie Holiday.” Be sure to include a discussion of form and content. You may also include your own response to these poems.
Song for Billie Holiday
by Langston Hughes
What can purge my heart
Of the song
And the sadness?
What can purge my heart
But the song
Of the sadness?
What can purge my heart
Of the sadness
Of the song?
Do not speak of sorrow
With dust in her hair,
Or bits of dust in eyes
A chance wind blows there.
The sorrow that I speak of
Is dusted with despair.
Voice of muted trumpet,
Cold brass in warm air.
Bitter television blurred
By sound that shimmers–
IV. Negative Image Poetry Activity
- Choose one of the attached poems by Cornelius Eady.
- Create a Negative Image of that poem, which is to say, write a new poem that negates or otherwise alters the original—word by word, line by line, idea by idea. (This idea is based on experiments devised by the Oulipo: School of French Experimental Writers.)
How can you “negate” or otherwise alter a poem?
Quite literally, you may take the opposite or antonym of each word you come across, keeping in mind that some words, which seem to have no opposite, have dozens of opposites. For example, the opposite of potato is clearly …pineapple, or kudzu, or sweetheart…
- When you have finished negating the poem, go back and revise, rearrange, change words, whatever you need to do to polish it and connect lines and ideas. Your final poem should maintain (more or less) the structure of the original.
- Pay close attention to sonic elements of words that may plant a seed for words that follow in subsequent lines and stanzas. Allow slant rhymes, consonance, assonance, alliteration, internal rhymes, etc. to guide you as you bring the poem together.
- Create a title that helps direct the reader.
V. Scaffolding Poetry Activity
After reading Cornelius Eady’s “Crows in a Strong Wind,” go through the poem and cross out all nouns, adjectives and main verbs. You may leave the pronouns and helping verbs. Next, rewrite the poem using your own nouns, adjectives and verbs.