Yvor Winters

Twelve poets each teach a poem to high-school students in 20 minutes

In 2009 and again in 2010, I invited six poets — each year, so twelve total — to teach one poem each to high-school juniors and seniors. Each session lasted twenty minutes. And we preserved all twelve sessions as video and audio recordings. Go here to watch or listen to them. The poems were:

1. John Ashbery, "This Room"
2. Erin Moure, "The Frame of the Book"
3. Harryette Mullen, "Trimmings"
4. John Keats, "[This living hand]"
5. Yvor Winters, "At the San Francisco Airport"
6. William Carlos Williams, "The Last Words of My English Grandmother"
7. Lorine Niedecker, "[I married...]"
8. Robert Creeley, "The Sentence"
9. Helen Chasin, "The Word Plum"
10. Frank Sherlock, "Wounds in an Imaginary Nature Show"
11. Harryette Mullen, "Zombie Hat"
12. Basho, selected haiku; John Ashbery, "37 Haiku"

Yvor the counter-revolutionist

By all accounts, the Stanford-based critic-poet Yvor Winters was prickly. His views on good and bad versions of modernism: usually, the earlier and the more “precise”/imagistic the better. His view on Stevens (the early modernist, detached, comic ironic short stuff of Harmonium was good, the later rhetorically blown-up long-lined essayistic poems, poems made of philosophical propositions, were bad) had a huge effect on a generation of teachers who thought that to teach Stevens one had to teach only “Sunday Morning” or “Ploughing on Sunday.” His view on William Carlos Williams: early short stuff good, late stuff sloppy and imprecise.

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