A Changing Mindset: Teaching “A Mown Lawn” by Lydia Davis

By Sabrina Völz

Thurs­day, Jan. 23, 2020 (10:47 a.m.)
Lydia Davis (1947- ) is a lover of lan­guage and an Amer­i­can writer, prob­a­bly in that order. She’s best known for her min­i­mal­ist writ­ing style and works of brevi­ty (short sto­ries, flash fic­tion, and nar­ra­tives made up of only a cou­ple of lines). One of my favorite prose poems is “A Mown Lawn.” It is lit­er­al­ly one-of‑a kind. Well, almost. I think Davis wrote two polit­i­cal pieces, of which “A Mown Lawn” is one. If you aren’t famil­iar with it, please read it, oth­er­wise this blog might not make sense (see image below).
As some of our loy­al read­ers might recall, my col­league Maria Moss has writ­ten sev­er­al blogs on how to teach poet­ry, includ­ing “Stop­ping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost and Haikus. But I’m not like her. To be hon­est, I’m some­what leery of the long faces stu­dents often make when they hear the word ‘poet­ry.’ Deter­mined to give it a try, I pre­pared a les­son that would hope­ful­ly help my stu­dents appre­ci­ate Davis’s poem, engage with the top­ics, and think about lan­guage – the pow­er of lan­guage, or should I say, the lack there­of? Any­way, here are my notes:

12:10 p.m.
Off to class. Let’s see how it goes.

2:00 p.m.
I must say my stu­dents did quite well. All but one enjoyed the poem, and there were actu­al­ly no long sighs. With­out giv­ing any guid­ing ques­tions, I asked them to deci­pher the poem in groups. After about 25 min­utes, the class was able to con­nect almost all their pre-read­ing asso­ci­a­tions in some way to the poem. Not bad. Not bad at all.
Per­haps the next time I teach the poem, I would ask my stu­dents to see if they could find their own metaphor for some aspect of soci­ety that they would like to crit­i­cize. So yes, I guess there will be a next time. Maybe Maria is rub­bing off on me, and the chang­ing mind­set my stu­dents referred to (see the pic­ture on the right) also applies to my view on teach­ing poet­ry. And maybe, just maybe, you might give poet­ry a try, too?

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