I'm always stealing ideas from other poets to bring to my classes. This summer I read a very interesting poem by Anna McDonald originally published in The Paris Review. The poem, called "Possible Titles for His Plaque" is a clever riff on the Homeric convention of using tags for characters. Just as Homer calls the Trojans "breakers of horses," McDonald's speaker talks in mock heroic phrases such as "eater of pork rinds" and "pisser off of porches." It's funny and a little disturbing.

For my purposes as a classroom teacher, though, the poem is perfect: it's a tight form that all students can duplicate and it has great use as a model for students writing autobiography (what are possible titles for their own plaques?), for understanding a novel they are studying (think of Holden: wearer of a red cap, mourner of a younger brother, savior of imaginary children, cleanser of the word "fuck", etc.) or a historical or literary character outside of class.

Here is what a student named Alison did with a character from a graphic novel:

DC Comics: Harley Quinn’s Rap Sheet

Guilt-filled felon

Abandoner of her PhD

Rider of pogo sticks

Operator of deadly weapons

Speaker in a Queens accent

Singer of rusty songs

Recipient of second chances

Failure at redemption

Loud chewer of bubble gum

Juggler of dynamite

Baker of cream pies

Receiver of get-well roses

Mistress of obnoxious laughter

Schemer of punchlines

Resident of a fun house

Patient in a mad house

Occasional wearer of pink dresses and rollerskates

Masquerader behind a bubbly innocence

Poster girl for Gotham City psychopaths


And here's Marie's poem about a friend of hers:

Former Taco Bell Employee

former champion eater of cheesy gordita crunches

former all-time most disgruntled Taco Bell employee

faker of vegetarianism and dire heart conditions

owner of an extensive dream catcher collection

stealer of debate team trophies,

snatcher of children's scooters from neighboring front lawns

possessor of biggest glasses, curliest hair

burner down of junior high bathrooms

photographer of roadkill

heckler of pre-teens and other defenseless schmucks

putter of trash in mailboxes

flip offer of the school principal

do-er of all things people despise.

Originally Published: October 19th, 2009

John S. O'Connor's poems have appeared in places such as Poetry East and RHINO. He has written two books on teaching: This Time It's Personal: Teaching Academic Writing through Creative Nonfiction (2011) and Wordplaygrounds: Reading, Writing, and Performing Poetry in the English Classroom (2004). He earned his BA and MAT from the University of Chicago and his PhD from...

  1. October 19, 2009
     edward mycue

    i wouldnt mind (so much) returning as a hs student (help!)\r
    if i could be in classes with your kind of teachers/pipers. i'd be pie-eyed. cross my heart. edward mycue

  2. October 19, 2009
     Barbara Jane Reyes

    Nice. I may have to borrow this assignment. Also, I am a fan of Harley Quinn.

  3. October 19, 2009
     Edwin Torres

    dig this...very cool populist subversion...also a great way to explore what links a list...

  4. October 20, 2009
     Brian Spears

    No kidding. I'm stealing the hell out of this assignment for the next time I teach a workshop.

  5. October 20, 2009
     John Oliver Simon

    Me too.

  6. October 23, 2009
     Mary Drout

    I enjoy reading your blog, and have to tell you how impressed I am by Alison's poetry!