Feature Blog by Program Director, Anna Ojascastro Guzon
The students started by listening to Metallica, turned-up on a speaker, something I’ve never done in a classroom, or in my own home. However, a couple students mentioned their appreciation of heavy metal, so I decided to learn more about the genre. For this task, I enlisted the help of Sheri Meisner Phegley, a sharp-witted, bibliophilic, rock and metal-savvy, childhood friend of my husband. She was kind enough to email me a list of songs, complete with links to lyrics and brief descriptions. After listening to every song and completing my crash course, including the works of Nine Inch Nails, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Metallica, and Hozier, I felt…a bit over-stimulated. All-nighters never worked for me, and my brain cells enjoy an alto saxophone more than an electric bass, which is why I am even more thankful to Sheri for doing the research. I can’t recognize a good head-banging song.
As I played “Unforgiven,” over the speaker, the kids quieted. The student who didn’t even want to look at me when I asked how his day was going, said, barely audibly, “I know this song.” Another student: “It’s 7 minutes long but we need to listen to the whole thing. When you listen to Metallica, you have to listen to the song all the way to the end. You should have printed out the lyrics for everyone.” I made the amateur mistake of forwarding through the instrumental prelude. I did ask the class to listen carefully to the lyrics, and write down any words that stand out to them.
We then read Rae Armantrout’s “Unbidden,” and “A Small Hot Town,” by Collier Nogues. While “Unforgiven,” is a lengthy ballad, describing the bitterness that can stem from being oppressed, the two poems are quiet and wonderfully creepy.
The ghosts swarm.
They speak as one
loves you. Each
has left something
Metallica couldn’t be more contrasting in style, yet both pieces express the universal experience of being haunted. Whether ghosts are inside one’s head or one’s attic, we all have the undead in our lives.
“A Small Hot Town” hints at a combination of hauntings.
no matter. June
in the noon air,
I can feel it
in my ears, unrelenting,
After reading both poems aloud, I asked them to shout out any words that they wrote down while listening to Metallica, and any words from the poems that stand out. I wrote the words on the board, “unforgiven, unrelenting, uncertain, unbidden, undone, palo verde, macadam, specter, geist…” Finally, they were asked to write about a haunting, using words from Metallica, Armantrout, and Collier, and with just three or four words per line. Again, every student participated and asked to read their work aloud. And every poem was met with applause.
A poem with just four-word lines, is a prompt that was given to my class, by David Lehman, around a decade ago, while I was a student at the New School. I credit my general teaching methods to my former New School teachers, and the books of the late Kenneth Koch. I was never able to meet Koch, but he was an influential teacher of my former teacher.
This time of year is a favorite of many, because we’re reminded of those who haunt. Some are unforgiven or unbidden. But in many countries, like that of my own ancestors, families travel 300 miles, in eight-hour traffic jams, to pay homage to those who have passed away, yet remain vital within our synapses.