Literature 101 {An Apology to My Students}

“Mr. Shakespeare – or is it ‘Ms.’? I’m never really sure," the English professor plopped a paper onto the desk before the figure. There were no notes, just a glowing A+ in the upper corner. "If I could give higher than an A+ on this sonnet, I would. I don’t know why you waste time writing those silly plays. Your sonnets will make you famous.”

She slapped an “F” paper in front of a slender woman, and glared disapprovingly. “Mrs. Parker, pull your skirt down! And don’t think I’m unaware of that flask! Your pieces about the rose and the different ways of suicide were amusing enough, but this is ridiculous. You cannot string together two rhyming lines, add a title, and call it a poem –." The young woman looked up, frowning through her glasses and replied something. The English professor scoffed. "Fine, then, you can't call it ‘light verse’ either.”

Moving on, she stopped at the desk of a young man, full of self-importance and arrogance. “If your grammar were improved, this would be a very nice poem. I think there’s something wrong with your printer, though. The lines are all messed up.” The student responded, and the teacher sighed deeply again. “That is simply not logical, Mr. Cummings.” She put down a page with a C-, covered in the red ink of the Grammar Police.

The teacher placed a C- paper in front of a demur woman wearing a white gown. “Miss Dickinson, the em dash is not a user-friendly form of punctuation. It seems you’re capitalizing every other word. It looks ridiculous. Your poem shows merit, so I am loaning you,” now she put a grammar book in front of the woman, “and I shall find another for Mr. Cummings.”

“Mr. Frost,” she cooed, “again, your poem suited the form chosen. I think that having the having the last two lines be the same was a cop-out, though. It cost you a full letter grade.” The page she put on the desk had a red “B” on it.

“Mr. Sandberg!” She shouted abruptly at a man in the back of the room. “I saw you throw that paper airplane at Mr. Frost! Go to the principal’s office. Now!”

She stopped at the desk of a young, well-dressed, mustachioed young man. This page did not have a grade at all, merely a large question mark. The teacher sighed loudly. “These two lines are a nice beginning, but where’s the rest of it?" She waited for the student's reply, and then, even more disgustedly, flopped the page down before him. "I see. Try again, Mr. Pound.”

"Mr. Yeats," the professor approached a man slouching in a chair at the back of the class. "Your poem was absolutely disgusting. I've recommended therapy to your parents." The young man muttered something about Greek mythology. "I don't care, Mr. Yeats. Imagining that happening to a poor, defenseless swan - I shall not sleep for weeks now."

Beside him, a young lady whispered, “Psst. Don’t tell her I paid you to write it.”

Yeats nodded his agreement.

“Miss?” Lady Augusta called out. “Did you have time to read my play?”

“Yes,” the teacher responded, plopping a B+ paper in front of her student. “It was just as good as the comedy you wrote last week.” As she walked away, Yeats turned slightly his seat to give Augusta a thumbs-up.

“This is a nice piece,” she handed another young lady a paper with a B+. “But it’s not all there.”

“It was ripped, ma’am,” came the polite and quiet reply.

“I see, Sappho. Try not to let it happen again.” The teacher sniffed and walked into a cloudy haze. “What is this? Oh, hello, Rumi.” She looked at the little man next to him. “And his interpreter. Well,” she passed Rumi an A paper, “I gave him extra points because I thought it might make more sense in his home language.” The student handed back some papers. “What’s this? You’ve written three more poems since class began? OK, I’ll read them tonight.”

The End

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