Today is Friday, and Lisa-Jo Baker has a prompt on her blog, and I made an effort to combine it with this week’s Word-Wonder theme (poetry) in some way, and it took more than the requisite Five Minutes. But here it is, nonetheless: Together.
I usually do poetry on my own — certainly write it alone, generally read it alone. Now that I teach, I get to do poetry with a group more often, reading it aloud, and I like to think of that as a ‘together’ activity, but the truth is they’re asleep on the front row, and connected to a whole other world via tiny touch screens they’re not even trying to hide on their desks, and they aren’t with me or the poetry, most of the time.
The poem which has seemed to me most successful as a “together” activity is T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” I think this is partially because I have had a lot of experience reading it aloud — and hearing it read aloud before that — and I enter into Prufrock’s personality, and can quote much of it by memory, and it becomes a dramatic thing, which keeps people more engaged.
It begins with a summons to togetherness: “Let us go then, you and I,” but Prufrock does not achieve any sort of real togetherness. He wants to ask, wants to not be alone, but he never does it. His summons to togetherness is a summons into a doomy, catatonic evening in the unwholesome parts of town, and by the end of the poem he’s walking on a beach, quite alone, opining that the mermaids which sing to one another will not sing to him.
And I wonder if the reason we can rally round this poem so easily, enter its world together, is that, often and often, we also have felt the desertion Prufrock expresses.
As I read my students’ writings, get glimpses into their worlds, I see lonely people, not made less lonely by the screens which allow them to live in perpetual togetherness, trying hard to define themselves and be recognized as themselves.
And when I get the chance to look at them and tell them that I see them, that I’m on their team, that this project of college English is a project in which we are together, I believe it makes them glad. And I know it gladdens me.