Louise Glück: Making the Ancient New Again

This is the fourth installment in a series at #TeachLivingPoets. The Poet Laureate Project features a different U.S. Poet Laureate each month during the 2019-2020 school year. Guest author Ann Cox highlights one or two of their poems, suggests activities to use these pieces in the classroom, and touches upon their contributions to the promotion of poetry in logoAmerica. Ann Cox has over 20 years of experience teaching high school English, including AP Lit, Creative Writing, and Speech. She also spent several years as a teacher consultant for the Illinois State Writing Project.

This month’s featured Poet Laureate is Louise Glück, who served as Poet Laureate from 2003-2004. Some of her many honors include a National Book Award, a Pulitzer Prize, and a Gold Medal for Poetry from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. 

Glück is well-known for her reworking of Roman and Greek myths, so I’ve chosen to spotlight her poem “A Myth of Devotion.” The poem is part of her collection entitled Averno, a series of eighteen poems about the myth of Persephone. 

Ways to Introduce the Poem

Before reading this poem, students need to be familiar with the myth of Persephone and Hades. You can find various versions of the story online, such as this one.

You might begin the lesson by showing the painting below, which depicts the abduction of Persephone by Hades. Ask students to consider the following questions:

  • Examine any connotative meanings of the words in the painting’s title.
  • Analyze the following elements of indirect characterization for each figure in the painting: appearance, action/movement, and effect on others.
  • Is the painting dominated by cool or warm colors? What symbolic meanings can be derived from the colors that the artist uses? 

Reflect upon your responses to questions 1-3 and describe the artist’s attitude towards the subject of this painting. Explain how two details from the work establish this tone.

Working with the Poem

I always like to read poems aloud–and read them multiple times–whenever possible. I’d suggest having various students read aloud a stanza the first time through; then you can read the poem aloud the second time as students focus further on the meaning of the poem. 

Once you’ve read through the poem, students are ready to annotate. Ask them to consider the following as they take notes:

  • Examine any connotative meanings of the words in the poem’s title.
  • Characterize Hades by analyzing the following elements: his thoughts, actions, and effect on others.
  • Mark examples of imagery. What mood do these images create?
  • Reflect upon your responses to questions 1-3 and describe the speaker’s attitude towards Hades. Explain how two details from the poem establish this tone.

You might also use Jen Flisinger’s lesson Considering Diction in Poetry Using Concentric Circles as an alternative way to work through this poem. Either of these methods would produce some great class discussions.

Note: Discussion of this poem may bring up the issue of sexual consent. For more information on how to address this sensitive issue in your classroom, check out this article from School Library Journal.

Extensions

There are several interesting pairings you could do with this poem:

  • Obviously, you could study “A Myth of Devotion” within a Greek mythology unit.
  • Pair with another of Glück’s poems “A Myth of Innocence,” which focuses on the same myth, this time from the point of view of Persephone. This could be extended into a writing opportunity: Choose another myth (or any story, really) and ask students to write from the point of two of the characters.
  • You could also pair “A Myth of Devotion” with other modern mythology poems that focus on point of view. Consider Margaret Atwood’s “Siren Song,” “Medusa” by Frieda Hughes, or even Suzanne Vega’s song “Calypso.”
  • Here’s an idea I’m excited about experimenting with: Put together a mini unit on point of view. In addition to Glück’s poem, include pieces that have intriguing viewpoints for characters students are already familiar with. Two great examples spring to mind: Neil Gaiman’s “Smoke and Mirrors” (which presents a whole new way of looking at Santa Claus) and Five for Fighting’s song “Superman (It’s Not Easy).” Students could then use those works as mentor texts for their own point of view pieces.

I hope you found some inspiring ideas for introducing Louise Glück’s poetry to your students. Join us again next month, when the featured Poet Laureate will be Juan Felipe Herrera.

Thank you for reading! Do you have a story, lesson, activity, or something else to share with TeachLivingPoets.com? Be a guest author! Email me at msmith@lncharter.org. 

If you want to order a #TeachLivingPoets shirt, check out my awesome sister-in-law’s Facebook store Megan’s Makes. Shirt options are: white/black/gray/blue unisex crew-neck S-XXXL, black/white women’s v-neck S-XL. All shirts are $20, PayPal accepted.

You can follow me on Twitter at @MelAlterSmith and please tweet all the awesome things you are doing in your class with the #TeachLivingPoets hashtag! 

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