Today’s post is long, but I would go so far as to say it is also very interesting. Aida (name changed to protect her identity) is a student who was in my 9th grade English class two years ago and is in my directed studies class this year as an 11th grader. In both contexts, I asked her and her peers to experience what Sheridan Blau calls the reading process paper. I have posted about Blau’s work and the reading process paper in years past here and here. The reading process paper is a metacognitive exercise and encourages students who take it up to venture into reading an unfamiliar poem or short story and develop an interpretation of what they’ve read over several readings over time and space. The added impact of the paper is embedded in the reflective aspects of the assignment where a student will tie their interpretations to their experiences as reader in the past, in the process of reading a cold text, and after the interpretive work is done. I won’t detail how I set up the assignment here, but I will gladly share for anyone who reaches out for it. Rather, inside today’s post you’ll see Aida’s 9th grade reading process paper and her 11th grade reading process paper. I’ll add some commentary along the way. I highly recommend taking the time to read both of her papers and witness Aida’s growth as a writer, but maybe more importantly as a metacognitive thinker and the ways she explicitly and implicitly identifies herself as a reader.Let’s begin with Aida’s 9th grade paper that explored E.E. Cummings’ poem “i carry your heart with me.”:
As a student, I feel like there has always been a certain expectation placed upon us by English teachers when it comes to reading a challenging text of any sort for the first time, especially in later years. As elementary schoolers, we were used to having a text explained to us by the teacher, either right after reading it or some kind of guessing game about it; I even remember texts explained to me before I had to start reading them, so I wouldn’t be confused while I read. And then, in high school, teachers are expecting us to draw our own conclusions from short stories, poems, essays, etc. often without telling us after all what it was supposed to be about. It can be frustrating, not knowing if our own interpretations were right or wrong, and it can feel like sort of a betrayal; we spent a considerable amount of time trying to find meaning in these words only to be told that we may or may not be correct. With all that in mind, I took this assignment as a challenge of some sort; to see for myself if I’m “capable enough” of deciphering a poem that appears challenging, at least at first. I chose to analyze “I carry your heart with me” not because I thought it looked easy–on the contrary–I chose it because the moment I looked at it, I felt like this would be a hard one for me to understand (mostly because of the format, which I dwell on throughout most of my first reading) and, because of that, also more fun to spend time on. But mostly because I knew it was expected of me, as a student, to cheat and choose the poem that I would be the most familiar with and would have no trouble understanding; I wanted to make myself feel special. I admit, though, that it was also because I’ve heard interesting things about E. E. Cummings’ pretentiousness…
“I carry your heart with me” E. E. Cummings
The most striking thing about this poem upon my first read was its unconventional format and structure; parenthetical phrases are frequently used, and there seems to be a sort of disregard for spacing between punctuation (particularly noticeable in line 3). The line breaks occur in seemingly random places, cutting off sentences in an odd way. Thematically, it is pretty straightforward–at least on the first read–and, so far, it seems to be mainly directed at a special someone and meant as a confirmation or declaration of love. An interesting thing to point out is the extended metaphor running through lines 11-13 inside the parentheses, of which I assume the purpose was to build up anticipation during or leading up to the shift; along with that, I was left wondering if there was a purpose in remodelling the title within a parenthetical phrase right next to the actual title in the line “i carry your heart with me(i carry it in my heart)”. Also, why was this the first and last line of the poem? Does treating the same phrase as a shift when repeated at the end imply a different meaning of it? Lastly, is the jumbled format just a stylistic choice or is it meant to portray something?
For my second reading, I decided to turn my attention away from the format and pretend it’s normal so I can focus more on the content itself. As far as the theme goes, I stand by my initial assumption that this is a love poem, and with the figurative language–or the phrases used in general–in mind, it would make sense. And although a lot in here is notable, there is something pulling me towards the second stanza and that extended metaphor mention earlier; there is a purpose to be questioned in choosing to go from comparing a “deepest secret” to the “root of the root and the bud of the bud” (which makes sense) to extending the description of such a comparison to the point where it stops relating to what was initially the subject of the metaphor. What did Cummings intend when he chose to use the lines “and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows/ higher than soul can hope or mind can hide”? My best guess for choosing to continue one with the other would be that he wanted to inflate the importance of what he is about to say and so he started off with a pretty common idiom, then kept repeating it until it became nonsensical (what is “the sky of the sky”?), finally venturing off into a whole different description to prolong the wait for his final declaration. After all that, there are the final words to end the suspension, “and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart”, leading to the repetition of the first line, important possibly because they may be a final reassurance.
Upon reconsidering the format anyways, I now begin to look at it in a different light; the parenthetical phrases may be there to represent what is going on in the speaker’s mind and, as thought usually flows unhesitantly in our minds, clustering the punctuation with the words may have been a strategy to make it seem more as a concealed thought–something that was chosen not to be said, but still existed for a short while. The reason the opening parentheses are right next to the word preceding them is because there isn’t really a space between our thoughts and what we say, and sometimes the thoughts in between what we said are a continuation of what we were thinking while we were talking; but they were never noted because they were just background noise.
The beginning of the poem starts with the title, which means there isn’t much to dig at when it comes to the meaning of it (as it is just a small chunk of the poem which happens to effectively describe the theme and some intention behind it). Keeping in mind the previously explained parenthetical clause theory, I tried to focus on what the lines 2-4 mean; since the speaker already states that he carries his beloved’s heart with him–”heart” most likely meaning love or the memory of the person–I assumed that the lines “(anywhere/ i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done/ by only me is your doing,my darling)” are supposed to express the idea that a memory of a loved one always stays; as well as that, in a good relationship, decisions are made by both partners. The last part of the lines quoted could also express the idea of “soulmates”–that is, that everyone has an “other half”, and when we find it (or, more appropriately, them) we are together one complete person–and uses it to remind the lover the poem is directed at that, since they together are “one”, his decisions are, or are affected by, her decisions.
After looking through E. E. Cummings’ Wikipedia page, I found out that, interestingly enough, he actually preferred his name properly capitalized; this sort of surprised me since I’ve only ever seen his name spelled in all lowercase in the allusions to him I encountered. Another thing I found out about his writing style (I didn’t try to find too many hints, though) is that he intentionally wrote poetry the way he did in an attempt to abstract it to the point of it having more resemblance to tangible art than to poetry. Even with this knowledge I’ve gained, I’d like to think that there was still some reason behind all the format abstraction; however, it does explain why he did it the way he did.
Nevertheless, I now continue with the regularly scheduled analysis, this time of the rest of the first stanza–which does seem a bit more confusing than the first part. The first thing that pops out to me is “and it’s you are whatever a moon has always/ meant/ and whatever a sun will always sing is you”. Does “whatever a moon has always meant” refer to the moon’s intentions or whatever the moon is said to symbolize? The wording of this part was confusing to me; however, the personification of the sun in the next line would justify the “moon’s intentions” interpretation. I also found myself questioning the intentions behind the moon/sun imagery; remembering the idea of “soulmates” I mentioned in my last reading, I would say that the moon/sun mention in the next lines could have the same idea behind it, given that they’re both overused metaphors. In fact, isn’t most of this poem made up of cliches? It certainly wasn’t a new concept to say that you “carried someone’s heart” with you, and the lines I haven’t yet discussed (“i fear/ no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want/ no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)”) also contain pretty cliche love phrases (“you are my fate/my world” is a pretty common expression of love). It could be argued that the whole poem was intentionally written to sound cliche, which could be meant as an expression of the “love is universal” idea up until the extended metaphor I analyzed in the beginning which seems to be taking well-known phrases (“root of the root”) and then extending them into something that isn’t so well-known but more confusing; then continuing it with the final introduction to the ending, which is the same typical phrase from the beginning–repeated.
I figured out that it would be a lot more time-saving if I just tried to google an interpretation, but I tried to give this poem to a few friends nevertheless, just to see how they would interpret it after one read. Not surprisingly, it struck them as a love poem as well, although I didn’t hear them remark the unusual format–either because they were already familiar with the poet or because they were just focusing on the words. I got a more elaborate take on the format when I googled “i carry your heart with me interpretation” and clicked on the first result–which actually gave me a line-by-line analysis, which wasn’t necessary, but still helpful. After reading through it all, I would say that the interpretation (or explanation, since I imagine this one was done by much more experienced readers) is very similar to mine; the one thing I especially took note of was the mention of the use of romantic cliches. What I found was different, though, was the interpretation of the parenthetical clauses and the metaphors in the second stanza; they were described more as an attempt to theoreticize love, which makes sense looking at the specifics of this interpretation (for example, the reason speculated there for the punctuation clustered with the words had to do with the idea of unity and showing how love brings us together and makes us stay like that, just like those punctuation marks glued to their adjacent letters). The extended metaphor was definitely interpreted differently, although I would have expected that, as it was said to describe how love is the “root” of all of us and our actions, and thanks to it anything can grow high, away from the unaccepting “souls” and “minds”. There was also something that I haven’t realized I’ve missed in the poem until I read the interpretation–the exclusion of the “with me” in the last line. I felt sort of sick when I realized that I never mentioned it or noticed it in my previous readings because it does open up many new questions and definitely changes my interpretation–and I could’ve added that to the essay! But, there’s no use crying over spilt milk and so I decided not to edit any of the writing I already typed up, partly because I was too lazy and partly to illustrate my unfortunate ability to pay too much attention to the wrong thing.
As I have observed minutes before beginning to type up this sentence, as a reader I tend to miss a lot of important things–and I have learned it over and over again throughout my entire school career. It sounds like I’m being melodramatic because of this one incident of skimming over the same line several times but still managing to leave out two words from my final interpretation, but this is just a sad reminder for me that it happened before; and I still didn’t find a way to avoid it. On one hand, I have the anxiety-fueled urge to pick through all the ways this flaw will mess with and ruin the rest of my life or my future career (or maybe it will prevent me from having a career at all!); but, on the other hand, I want to examine why I even have this flaw. What’s preventing me from paying attention to all the details instead of automatically cherry-picking the ones I want to see? Does this happen to me more than I have noticed or want to admit? Is this actually just a normal human thing or is it really something I have a good reason to obsess about?
The easy answer I like to turn to is the pretentious nature of my personality. I feel like my brain is wired so it takes a simplified idea that’s perfectly good on its own and auto-emphasizes it. It has always done this–I have always done this. There was a time (elementary and part of middle school, actually) when every single essay I turned in was pure purple prose (mostly due to the fact that all the essays I had to write back then had to do with describing nature, but…). I still think that writing about serious topics in terms of vague and nonsensical metaphors in all lowercase will make me sound more deep (it does, doesn’t it?) and, in fact, I am mostly not really critical of vague nonsensical metaphors today unless I am required to analyze them to make good use of my time. To be honest, if someone gave me a list of metaphors they thought didn’t make sense, I would try my best to find sense in them, even if they were intentionally written so they don’t actually mean anything. One exception is the cigarette metaphor from “The Fault in Our Stars”. That just… is not what a metaphor is.
Now, I don’t necessarily think that being this pretentious is really that harmful when I read critically; it just sort of helps out the process that’s already in action. That process is fueled my another one of my major flaws–my inability to admit that I’m wrong. So, what happens is that I come up with a theory right away and convince myself that this is the only possible theory that makes sense (but still try to act humble when explaining it) and so when I try to continue on with the text, I’m trying to prove to myself that my theory was right, and I begin unwillingly avoiding small details that may prove me wrong. Most of the time, I end up coming up with a pretentious way to view a metaphor and try connecting that to all the other metaphors in a way that only makes sense to me. Then, when I read or hear other people’s interpretations, I realize that I have made a monster out of a simple concept.
It’s interesting when I think about it; much of my reading process is affected by my flaws. Isn’t it supposed to be, though? Isn’t the base of all our reading processes the same, just shaped into a unique one by our character flaws? Or is our reading process just random and not related to the nature of our characters at all? I would like to think so. I do think that, to some extent, the person I present myself as through writing is different from the person I am in real life. Maybe my literary self is fake and my material self is real. Maybe my literary self is real and my material self is fake. Will I ever know? Probably not. Do I need to know? Maybe. Did I turn an essay about examining myself as a reader into a pretentious existential theory? Yes, I did.
But, I digress. It can be said that the way I have approached reading texts of various levels of difficulty throughout the years has improved, but always kept sort of the same form, or base; it has always been a coping mechanism of a sort. I tend to approach reading the way many English teachers assume I would–defensively. Maybe not so much with my leisure reading, although I do sometimes find it hard to ease into entertainment by overcoming the difficulty and awkwardness or reading at first. I have a sort of love-hate relationship with reading, actually. On one hand, I love words; I love how they can be utilized in so many different ways and provide various outcomes for the reader–laughter, melancholy, anger, disgust, joy. But then again, words can be difficult; exhausting, even. Expecting someone to glide through a long piece of text in a limited amount of time and come out understanding every single part of it is absurd, even with “lighter” reads. I often tend to focus too much or wander off and come back just in time to pay attention to a whole different part; and when I do manage to pay full attention I manage to misinterpret at least some of the text.
Is misinterpretation really a thing, though? Were the English teachers who tell us that there is not wrong way to interpret a piece of writing making a good point, or were they lying to us? Because there definitely is at least one wrong way to interpret a piece of writing. Maybe the writer had a specific way they did not want the readers to think of the writing as. Doesn’t it happen with any other kind of media? Music gets misinterpreted all the time. TV shows get misinterpreted all the time. Everything can get misinterpreted (I’ve typed up the word “misinterpreted” so many times now that I’m not even sure if I know what it means or if used it the right way). Then again… does the interpretation really matter? In its essence, it’s just an individual’s way of understanding something. There may be interpretations that are more popular, and some that are less popular, there may even be some that are offensive–but they all are still valid. By valid, I don’t necessarily mean good or excusable; it’s just the mere fact they they were created. Someone saw or read something and made a conscious opinion about it. It can definitely be rejected or refuted by the author of the work, but it still existed and has a basis in the work, which makes it valid enough. The way we may interpret something is also just plain personal; and as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone, there’s no reason for an interpretation to be wrong if at least one person believes it is the right one. And I guess this is something I have always needed to know. Despite my lack of attention to some parts, despite my personal biases, despite the flaws that always find a way to mess up everything I do, I have slowly realized that, despite all of the above mentioned which may affect my reader ability, my interpretations aren’t wrong and can be proved right in some way–and just because there is one that is more agreed-upon, doesn’t mean I completely missed the point of whatever I was reading; it just means that I experienced it in a different way, shaped through my own experiences and views and personality traits–flaws and all.
And the fact that there are so many unique lenses to view stories through is pretty cool if you ask me.
Admittedly, Aida was an accomplished writer as a 14 year old in my freshman English class. She clearly had a strong command of the English language already compared to some of her peers, but in sharing her work, I am not attempting to compare her writing with the issues we face in English classrooms filled with struggling readers and writers. The purpose is provide insight into the purpose of metacognitive work and it’s potential value when we ask students to write reflexively rather than just in reactionary terms.
Here are a few quick takeaways from this piece:
1. In Aida’s introduction she writes, “As elementary schoolers, we were used to having a text explained to us by the teacher… I even remember texts explained to me before I had to start reading them, so I wouldn’t be confused while I read. And then, in high school, teachers are expecting us to draw our own conclusions from short stories, poems, essays, etc. often without telling us after all what it was supposed to be about. It can be frustrating.” Aida’s history with reading shows frustration at not feeling prepared to cognitively take on the task asked of her when reading as a younger student and as an older student. Somewhere for Aida, there was a disconnect between how she was taught to interpret and work through new reading throughout her schooling.
2. In Aida’s conclusion she reflects, “Despite my lack of attention to some parts, despite my personal biases, despite the flaws that always find a way to mess up everything I do, I have slowly realized that, despite all of the above mentioned which may affect my reader ability, my interpretations aren’t wrong and can be proved right in some way–and just because there is one that is more agreed-upon, doesn’t mean I completely missed the point of whatever I was reading; it just means that I experienced it in a different way, shaped through my own experiences and views and personality traits–flaws and all.” This is the metacognitive work that is exciting to see a student explore as an English teacher. Earlier in the conclusions the wrestles with questions of what is good interpretation versus poor interpretation, and concludes the above about her own interpretations of what she reads. While I am careful to make a generalized claim, I would say this supports Aida’s construction of an identity as a reader who has greater flexibility with how she takes up and internalizes (or doesn’t) what she has read. The rigid expectation of a singular interpretation has softened, and potentially more of Aida’s voice is foregrounded by the end of her paper.
Alright, onto reading process paper number two. Aida took on the poem “Persimmons” by Li-Young Lee:
“Persimmons” by Li-Young Lee Analysis
When I was about eleven years old, I discovered two old classic storybooks in a part of the living room shelf I previously avoided. They were quite large in size but not so much in thickness, and interspersed throughout were beautiful illustrations (though some, I admit, may have been drawn in a slightly creepier style than others which is one of the reasons why to this day I do not enjoy walking around the house alone after 8 pm). As I read, I figured out that most of what was in these books were regular fairytales I was familiar with–Little Mermaid, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella–but not as I remembered them. I learned much later that this was actually my premature introduction to the “dark” versions of fairytales, as they were originally told. In hindsight, I’m not sure why my mother thought it would be a good idea to leave a book including stories about rape and murder and cutting up feet in order to fit them into a shoe lying around in accessible spots around the house. On the other hand, did I really understand some of these things enough to truly be scarred by them? Not really. The deliberate vagueness with which these terrible things were described intrigued me more than anything else, as edgy as it sounds. There was something that I came to like about the unresolved, bittersweet endings that were so common in these stories as well; maybe it was my inner cynic pointing them out as realistic, or maybe it was my inner romantic who saw the appeal in trying to empathize with these tragic, fallen heroes and heroines. Either way, it drew me away more and more from what I perceived as “happy” and “innocent” books and towards texts that left me with an impending sense of doom, or at least some sort of uneasy feeling in my gut. (That, as well as satire and humor, because that’s more or less how we dealt with “terrible things” in the Balkans.)
While “Persimmons” is far from the types of literature described, at first read it appealed to me similarly in the sense that didn’t seem to offer a definite happy ending; it does offer hope in the end, but the reader is undoubtedly left to wrestle with whatever questions and knots were woven throughout the poem. Poetry is often referred to as the most raw, human method of expression, and while I always agreed with this idea, every so often a poem like “Persimmons” comes along my way to remind me of just how true it is, and why despite my occasional struggles with sifting through the unavoidable layers of abstraction I still enjoy poetry; simply put, it is one of the rare things with the power to truly shake me up.
Something about this poem leaves a dull ache in my chest after I’m first done reading it; maybe it’s the soft, summery imagery or the way Li-Young Lee recalls his memories. The poem alternates between describing words Lee had trouble telling apart as a child (and speculating as to why he might have mixed them up) and seemingly random vignettes from his life. Seemingly, because the choice of scenes at first was nonsensical to me but, as I got through the poem bit by bit, I could see better how they somehow connected back to persimmons imagery-wise; the only one that still seems slightly out of place to me is the first vignette, beginning in line 18 involving Donna. The poem concludes with an extended quote from his father, the memory presumably more recent than his others. By the end I can assume from the sheer number of times “persimmons” is repeated that they are a bit more to the author than a simple fruit.
After the second read, I rest on the lines “Some things never leave a person: scent of the hair of one you love, the texture of persimmons, in your palm, the ripe weight.” Throughout the poem I previously had trouble finding some theme that connected all of these stories of persimmons together. The lines quoted look like they hold the poem’s theme, and reading over it afterwards with the idea of “some things never leave a person” it puts a lot into perspective. Much attention in the poem is given to those with which Lee shares an intimate relationship–his parents and Donna (who is probably his wife or girlfriend). The outlier, Mrs. Walker, is cast in a negative light–she punishes Lee for mixing up words he had a good reason to mix up and, in the fifth stanza, it’s shown she doesn’t know how to pick out a ripe persimmon. It’s also pointed out that she refers to it as a “Chinese apple”; the author’s decision to include the exact way she called it, along with other mentions of his heritage throughout the poem, could represent an aspect of the theme as well.
What I notice on the third read is how Lee finds a way to tie details of his upbringing somewhere into every stanza, making the poem more personal. In truth, each part of the poem describes a fairly common type of memory–punishment by one’s middle school teacher, an intimate moment with a significant other, a visit to one’s parents as an adult–but the details of these memories as the author experienced them add something more for the reader to consider. In the first and second stanza, Lee takes the two words that Mrs. Walker punished him for mixing up and rather than showing why he shouldn’t have made that mistake, he rationalizes it by relating them to each other: “How to choose persimmons. This is precision.” This is, in a way, an act of rebellion and could be read as refusal to assimilate as he brings to light how his upbringing and heritage shaped him into someone different from the “average” American. The accompanying explanation of how to properly choose and eat persimmons paired with the fifth stanza’s “Mrs. Walker brought a persimmon to class” and “knowing it wasn’t ripe or sweet, I didn’t eat but watched the other faces” shows his relationship with the world beyond his private one. Lee points out that she calls the persimmon a “Chinese apple”, implying that it was in an ignorant manner. On the other hand, he makes an effort to share his culture with Donna and attempts to teach her some of the Chinese he remembers, as described in the third stanza. The third side to this is shown when Lee introduces his mother into the poem, the one who played a big part in shaping his understanding of his heritage. She is what first comes to mind when the author thinks about wrens and yarn (“My mother made birds out of yarn”) and the one responsible for how personal persimmons are to him (“My mother said every persimmon has a sun inside, something golden, glowing, warm as my face”).
In my last journaled read, I focus more on the second half of the poem, in which Lee introduces his father. Unlike other memories or subjects in this poem around which are centered at most two stanzas, there are five that focus on the father, and his introduction breaks the time-hopping pattern in the poem as the author decides to finally rest on one moment, with one person, until the end. I am now also noticing a lot more symbolism in how persimmons are presented throughout the poem; in particular, the seventh and eighth stanzas stand out to me. Lee finds two unripe persimmons and places them on his windowsill, and when they are ripened, he gives them to his slowly blinding father. Fast forward, he is completely blind but still paints, and Lee discovers some of his more recent paintings–one of which is of “two persimmons, so full they want to drop from the cloth”. These could be the two that were given to him years ago, that he painted “hundreds of times”. In the same stanza, the lines speculated in a previous journal to be representative of the theme are paired with this fact. “Persimmons”, the poem, is essentially about love, and love is what the persimmons symbolize for Lee.
I was excited to look up outside interpretations of “Persimmons”, and found three very different ones–one paper which examines the poem through the lens of postcolonial theory, one which focuses on the role that language (and its ambiguity) plays throughout the poem, and one generic student resource which is probably closest to what could be considered a commonly accepted interpretation. As noted in my journals, what I had determined when it came to the theme of the poem was that is explored love–symbolized by the persimmons and shown through Lee’s memorable episodes with a different important person in his life. For a brief time, I speculated about the point Lee could have been trying to get across with mentions of his Chinese heritage.
The latter is why the premise of the first analysis intrigued me, and I was surprised to find that most of what this person managed to put into words was almost exactly what ran through my mind at one point or another. Even the persimmons were interpreted the same way–as a symbol of love and tenderness–and the concept of cultural appropriation was discussed in regards to the scene in which Mrs. Walker shares a persimmon with the class. What was pointed out in this essay that really gave me a new perspective was another aspect of Lee’s conversation with his father at the end; Lee does seem to use oversimplified sentences when talking to his father (“This is persimmons”) while the other uses much more eloquent diction. Because of this and the conversation being italicized, their inference was that the last part of the poem was translated Chinese, which Lee makes clear that he is not fluent in when he talks about teaching it to Donna. On the other hand, Lee could have also attempted to flip stereotypes, showing that the old Chinese immigrant speaks with more sophistication than the native English speaker. I can’t imagine ever figuring out this connection by myself, but reading it made something click in my mind, and I was able to look at the same words in a much different light.
In particular, the scene with Donna gained more meaning for me. As Donna is Li-Young Lee’s wife, I had considered the stanza significant because it contrasted with the stories of Mrs. Walker; both are part of the white, American world Lee is trying to adjust to, but, while Mrs. Walker punished him for making understandable English-learner mistakes and bastardized a fruit sacred to him, Donna is one that Lee feels comfortable sharing his culture with, though his attempt is weak.
This circles back to the earlier-implied theme of Lee trying to find ways to connect with his roots; he has by now forgotten most of the language and already assimilated into American culture, but there is one thing that he still has to himself and helps him feel closer to his parents–the persimmon. Of course, there are cases in which the persimmon is portrayed more as part of the reason why he feels so isolated and separate from others despite practically growing up in America, like the moment in which he watches the rest of his class unknowingly eat an unripe persimmon. The way in which the process of picking out and eating a persimmon is described also hints at its significance in Chinese culture–”peel the skin tenderly, not to tear the meat”. Overall, “Persimmons” is a poem about love, but also identity and the struggle to find your place in a world that you are, at the same time, a part of and different from.
To be completely honest, going through this process required a lot of force on my part even though I’ve been through it before; in fact, that might have actually been the reason why I had more trouble dragging myself through it again. I knew exactly what this process entailed and how it went, and the predictability made it all the more dreadful. I found, however, that once I sat down and got to quietly reading and journaling, it was quite an enjoyable and rewarding process–much like I would suddenly remember it being back in ninth grade too. I normally don’t find the point in rereading, since I have already experienced it and doing so again would be a waste of time when there are so many more different texts to experience; and this may still hold true for me in some cases, but going through this process convinced me of how essential it is to experience poetry again and again and again, to force yourself to experience it in different circumstances, and at different points in time.
Reading through my journals for this paper chronologically, I can recall the exact ways I felt after each reading, and at which points certain parts of the poem seemed to click for me; I feel as though I could have done four more readings in various environments and made even more discoveries about “Persimmons”, then more and more readings until I’ve nearly (but not quite) squeezed out every drop of juice I could from this poem. I may just consider doing so (though maybe less extremely) with every poem I read in the future.
Personally, what I enjoy most about reading her two pieces is much more direct and sucicnt her writing has become. Stylistically, I appreciate her movement toward a writer who is more confident using less words to say just as much about her experiences.
Here are a few of my takeaways:
1. Aida uses a narrative form to open her analysis, which is not entirely unlike her first introduction. However, this attempt is far more visual and shows the construction of her identity as a reader rather than simply telling it to her reader. She writes, “When I was about eleven years old, I discovered two old classic storybooks in a part of the living room shelf I previously avoided. They were quite large in size but not so much in thickness, and interspersed throughout were beautiful illustrations… As I read, I figured out that most of what was in these books were regular fairytales I was familiar with–Little Mermaid, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella–but not as I remembered them.” I can see the shelf and picture the illustrations and feel the foreshadowing she is building.
2. Aida is comfortable enough in her identity as a student/writer/reader (whatever label you might choose) to be honest with her audience, which she knows is primarily me, stating, “To be completely honest, going through this process required a lot of force on my part even though I’ve been through it before; in fact, that might have actually been the reason why I had more trouble dragging myself through it again… I found, however, that once I sat down and got to quietly reading and journaling, it was quite an enjoyable and rewarding process–much like I would suddenly remember it being back in ninth grade too.” Aida drew her own connection back to her 9th grade experience and recognizes value–to her–for taking on this task for a second time. Still, she’s honest that the intellectual work felt repetative and did not excite her.
3. I may be overly confident, but after talking to Aida about her work and wanting to post it to the blog, I think it fair to say Aida developed her metacognitive skills over the last few years, and puts them on disply in this second writing. She simply appears more confident as a writer and reader.
Thanks for going down this long journey today. I hope the Aida’s writing and my bit of commentary was helpful in some way when you think of identity, metacognition, and literacy in your own classroom. Next week I’ll share another student’s work who is a senior and had not done this sort of reading/writing before.