You choose the poem, and I annotate!
This is the first in a series of posts I'm planning in which fans of the site send me a poem that they'd like to see visually annotated. This first one is Longfellow's "The Cross of Snow," a suggestion made by @CarrieSnowRice, and strangely enough a poem I was unfamiliar with. The reason that's a bit strange is that one of my favourite books in the Graphic Poetry series is of Longfellow's wonderful poem, Paul Revere, illustrated by the incomparable, Mike Rooth.
Despite being unfamiliar with the poem, the brainstorming yielded some very cool results. I think the beauty of the poem has to do with a single letter and that's the liquid "l" sounds that are strong throughout the first part of the poem. They just soften everything, it seems. Compare this to the rise of the "s" sounds later in the poem, where you almost can feel the scars that Longfellow endured in attempting to save his wife from the accidental fire that consumed her (her dress came into contact with an ember and she caught on fire, dying later from her injuries). The sonnet form is crucial as well: it's Miltonic, but the sestet doesn't seem to resolve what is raised in the octave, except if Longfellow is seeing his suffering as akin to Christ's. Then he must realize, of course, that bearing the scars and enduring the loss, and keeping vigil over his wife's memory are all that he has.
Next up, I think we're going to lighten the mood with some Sylvia Plath. Look for "Morning Song" in an upcoming post!
Yet Another Great Comic Book Shop that Is So Much More...
In one of my first posts on this blog, I talked at length about Strange Adventures, The Beguiling, and The Dragon--three of the best comic book stores in Canada. From that post, you probably gathered that I like few things better than losing myself in a good shop for the better part of an afternoon.
Another gem in this regard is Happy Harbor Comics, an Eisner-nominated store in Edmonton whose reputation as both a comic book store and a community builder is second to none. Happy Harbor is a great store in its own right, but it does considerable work in the community not only to raise the profile of comics but support local schools and libraries. A recent example of this was the appearance of owner Jay Bardala and two professional artists at a school in rural Alberta. Here, they shared with students the complex process of how a comic book goes from the mind of a writer to the store where you purchase it through a whole team of talented people that help bring the story to life.
But Happy Harbor does so much more. They help to support Alberta Literacy through their 24 hour Comics Day in October and work with Edmonton Big Brothers and Big Sisters through their 12 hour Comic Challenge each March. They're an annual donor to the Edmonton Public School Foundation and fund raise for the Edmonton Food Bank through a variety of activities, like movie nights and a Free Comic Book day. They've even recently started a Cover Artists for Charity program.
So, if you live in the greater Edmonton area or happen to be visiting, you'd do well to pay Happy Harbor Comics a visit. After all, there's nothing better than spending an afternoon in a comic book shop...
...Especially when you know it's one that really cares about its community.
The Graphic Canon is a Godsend for Teachers
Edited by Russ Kick, the three volumes of The Graphic Canon contain a wealth of wonderful curriculum support materials for teachers. Although there may be colleagues of yours who balk at your desire to use visual narrative in the classroom, they'd be hard-pressed to object to the stunning series of graphic poems, stories, and novel excerpts that constitute these three volumes. Your fellow department members only want to teach "The Canon?" That's fine. With The Graphic Canon they can do just that!
I could talk at great length about this series of books, and no doubt in future postings I'll be looking at how to use them in the classroom, but for now your best resource on the series is their WordPress site.
I can tell you that each volume in the series covers a distinct period of time and the literature that goes with it. The first volume's selections range from the Epic of Gilgamesh to Shakespeare to Dangerous Liaisons. Volume 2 takes readers from Coleridge's "Kubla Khan" to the works of the Bronte Sisters and finally to Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. Finally, the third text goes from Conrad's Heart of Darkness to Hemmingway to Infinite Jest.
From my perspective, the series is of most use to high school educators who either want to...
Of course, there is nothing preventing the teacher from constructing an entire unit around these selections. With younger students, however, you might not have enough selections that are geared towards a junior or middle school audience, so that a series like Graphic Poetry from Rubicon/Scholastic would be a better option. Scott Robins @Scout101 also mentioned in a Tweet the Visions in Poetry series from @KidsCanPress.
Students read, examine, and create graphic poems, and consider both the implications of using the visual in connection with poetry, and whether an artist or poet/artist can visually represent the intricacies of literal and figurative language. The hope is that students will recognize the beauty of graphic poetry and thereby develop a greater fondness for and appreciation of poetry proper.
Self Awareness, Metacognition, Critical Thinking, Navigation Skills, Making Connections
By the end of the activity, students should see that there is something to be gained and something to be lost in marrying a poem with its graphic illustration. What is gained is a visual context that the reader can use to help him or her understand what is actually happening in a poem. What is also gained is the recognition of what art can and cannot do with pictures in order to mimic or represent the figurative. What is lost, perhaps, is precisely what is lost when the curtain rises for the presentation of play and we see the gradual unfolding of the directorial decisions that will define how the performance in front of us will interpret the stage directions and dialogue of the playwright.
Critical Thinking Questions
Self-Awareness and Metacognition Questions
Navigation Skills and Making Connections Questions
How Can Visual Narrative Foster Inquiry in This Activity
Reading graphic poetry can help students to make sense of some of the complexities of the poems they examine, even if those complexities are what is literally “happening” in a given work. In my experience, though, a student is far more likely to want to bring their critical thinking and inquiry skills to bear on a poem that they believe they understand than one they don’t. As students move through the process of reading, analyzing, and creating graphic poetry, it is essential that teachers encourage students to develop an ongoing dialogue with the work they are studying.
We want students in a junior or middle school classroom to begin to develop an understanding of what they read, how language works to make meaning, and how they can figure such things out. Graphic novels can therefore pose an additional level of challenge, because the visual and its impact on meaning must be worked out at the same time that the language is being examined. Even something as simple as this prototype I designed for the Graphic Poetry series is instructive (don't worry...I didn't illustrate any of the titles, and the series has won two awards). A student might be comfortable reading a short story and analyzing its setting—the time, place, and prevailing circumstances of the story—but how do they analyze the setting of the poem presented here as a visual narrative? They would have to talk about the colour of the half-page panel at the top, and how it seems to suggest that the events of the poem will take place in the early evening or at twilight. They would also need to talk about how the title of the poem, juxtaposed with the tree, implies that the reader is looking at the poison tree in the opening panel. And what is to be made of the fact that the tree is entirely black and blends in with the gutter between each of the panels and the page borders as well? Is the author/illustrator making a comment about how quickly and dangerously poison can spread? What are we to make of the close up of the male figure in the bottom left-hand panel and the eerie red background colour? He looks angry and the black words on the red background reinforce that, but his fixed gaze almost seems to peer right through the gutter and at the “friend” who is shot in a medium-long to long shot, presumably looking back at him, albeit tentatively. All of this is happening and we’ve only reached the end of the poem’s first line, at which point—if we were simply looking at the text of the poem—we wouldn’t normally have begun debating its meaning. It is crucial, then, when teaching graphica that we don’t just acquaint students with the terminology they might use to talk about how a shot is composed, but look carefully with them at the various features of the verbal and visual canvas before them.
If you're looking for some of this terminology by the way, you can find it under Terms and Terminology on the Introduction tab.
Dr. Glen Downey is an award-winning children's author, educator, and academic from Oakville, Ontario. He works as a children's writer for Rubicon Publishing, a reviewer for PW Comics World, an editor for the Sequart Organization, and serves as the Chair of English and Drama at The York School in Toronto.
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