Monday, January 31, 2011

Walrus vs. Eggman

Working with my Creative Writing 1 class on a couple of things -- what Richard Hugo calls "writing off the subject" and I call "writing away from the subject," and learning how to talk about literature. One of my frequent first assignments is to write a poem that doesn't mean anything, and I often follow that up by assigning peer critiques, in which they have to find meaning in each other's meaningless poems.

Being able to do peer critiques of each other's work doesn't come naturally -- the language of criticism has to be learned, as does the confidence that ond can find something to say. So I spent today splitting the class up into small discussion groups, and asking each group to come up with an interpretation of this:

Now, John Lennon wrote "I Am the Walrus" in response to a letter he'd gotten from an old teacher, telling John that he was having his students analyze Beatles songs. John's response was essentially "Oh yeah? Analyze this!" He wrote "I Am the Walrus" quite deliberately to have no meaning, and therefore to be analysis-proof. But that's never stopped anyone from analyzing it, and I got some really nice results.

A couple of groups noticed that Lennon puts himself together with everyone else (he's the eggman, but so is everyone else) and apart at the same time (he's the only walrus). One group suggested that the eggmen referred to the larval state of human spiritual development -- none of us have advanced past being eggmen -- except, or course, the walrus.

Another group focused on "sitting in an English garden waiting for the sun to shine" -- the sun is enlightenment, and perhaps they're waiting on an enightenment that never comes. Or maybe it does -- the waiting itself is the enlightenment -- you get a tan from sitting in the English rain.

Another group pointed out the sterility of official answers -- the expert textperts, the answers of organized religion like Hare Krishna -- and maybe Catholicism, if the penguins are nuns -- and suggested Lennon was saying the real spiritual answers come from babies -- goo goo goo joob.

One group said -- and this was really stretching, but I wanted them to stretch, to think outside the box -- that if you take on O out of "joob" it becomes "job" -- jobs are nonsense, like the guys in the corporation T shirts.

So I was pleased -- I got what I was hoping for -- imaginative, inventive thinking.

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