Following up on last week’s Robert-Frost-as-punishment story (see also: the NYT, NPR, and WCAX TV in Vermont ), I asked Jay Parini a few questions about his role as teacher of wayward youth.
His answers shed some light on the proceedings, though letting Kent Johnson or Aaron Fagan have at him might have been more revelatory (see their comments on my last post ).
TN: How are your goals in these sessions different from your goals in other classroom settings?
JP: In these sessions, I was trying to make the poetry relevant to their unique situation, and to make them see that poetry is about serious matters. I would do more or less the same in my Middlebury classroom; but this situation was, as I say, unique; these kids were both guilty of a crime and trying to make amends....
TN: Do you think Frost's poetry is particularly suited to providing lessons in civics and justice?

JP: I think Frost is very much an especially useful case here. His poems deal with Vermont people of a certain class -- and the students could connect, I think, to these people, such as the boy who loses his hand in "'Out, Out--'"
TN: How are the students responding so far?
JP: The students seemed very attentive, quite riveted by the material.
TN: Did the prosecutors contact you in particular for this job, or did you seek them out?
JP: I was asked by the prosecutors to do these classes. It was never my idea. I was actually quite skeptical at first....
Generally, I would say I was quite moved by the situation, and was very impressed by the results. The students had a direct encounter with Frost's poetry, and I was able to facilitate that contact. That was all I could do. The rest is of course up to them.
For further study on Frost-As-Teaching-Tool (as well as the ever-changing level of commenter discourse on this site), see Karen Glenn's piece from last year.

Originally Published: June 9th, 2008

Travis Nichols is the author of two books of poetry: Iowa (2010, Letter Machine Editions) and See Me Improving (2010); and he is the author of two novels: Off We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder (2012) and The More You Ignore Me (2013). He has contributed to The Believer, Paste, The...

  1. June 10, 2008
     Emily Warn

    Thanks for pointing out the "ever changing level of discourse" on our articles. On the Frost article, intended for teachers, the comments are part of a trend on our site; a teacher assigns an article to read in class, and then the students "instant message" one another using our comments box. Maybe their conversation is what Mark Nowak meant by "pre-poetics" in his recent post