Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Questions for a Book Club: This Is Not Your English Class.

In a literature class, you might be asked to discuss the use of alliteration, the figurative language, the theme, even the symbolism of "The Napkin" by Cathy Smith Bowers. In fact, when I was teaching high school and college literature classes, poems like this one often opened doors for students usually reluctant to analyze poetry. While English majors thrive on these kinds of discussions, the average member of a book group is looking for a different experience altogether.

By contrast, in a book club I'd expect to discuss these kinds of questions:

How does the setting become real to you in this poem? What details remind you where this incident is set?

Do you ever eavesdrop on others when you’re in restaurants, airports, hotel lobbies? In what ways do you speculate about the people around you?

How would you feel to realize they are also paying attention to you, making guesses about you and those with you?

What does the poet reveal about the characters in this poem? What details are withheld or left to the imagination?

How does the couple being deaf enliven the conflict and the reader’s interest in the poem?  Would the effect have been the same if the speaker had merely discovered the note from the table of people who had merely been whispering?

What images of beauty does the speaker point out?

In what way is this brief incident unusual? How is it ordinary?

How does the suggestion that these two are near the end of a journey affect the poem? Why does she reveal this little detail? Are there other similar small details that pique your interest?

When have you realized you misjudged a situation?

If the speaker had the chance to explain what she had been doing to the couple, what might she say? Does she owe her husband an apology?

What other stories or books does this poem bring to mind? Could this be a vignette in a larger work of fiction? What might have happened before? What will happen next?

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