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Poetry Friday: Bored

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KNAU/Gillian Ferris
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John Berryman’s poem “Dream Song 14” is about being bored. And that’s something a lot of teenagers – and their teachers – know something about. In this week’s installment of Poetry Friday, Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy teacher Alison Gruber, and student Ziv Fox, deconstruct the idea of boredom and offer us a duet of Berryman’s 1977 poem.

ZF: Hi, my name is Ziv Bodhi Fox. I am a senior at FALA.

AG: My name is Alison Gruber. I’m an English teacher at FALA. Today, we’re going to be reading Dream Song 14, by John Berryman. As an English teacher, I have quite a bit of autonomy at FALA, so I get to choose what we’re going to read for the year. And, usually I try to choose things that I think are interesting and important, but invariably students will say, ‘This is boring. This is not engaging’. So, think about The Odyssey, which we recently read. And Ziv, you were one of those people who were super excited about The Odyssey whereas I’d say 75% of your classmates thought it was terribly boring.

ZF: Yup.

AG: Why is that do you think?

ZF: I really see boredom as kind of a really subjective thing. Each person has their own set of preferences. And so, I think Call of the Wild is super boring! I can barely read, like, a page of it! But then The Odyssey I’ve read 3 or 4 times now. And so I think it’s definitely…each person has their preferences and what we see as time-wasting and engaging.

AG: Absolutely. Well, and I know yesterday when we were talking about the idea of boredom as a class, one of the things I said to all of you, and I saw the looks on your faces, I said, ‘Well, part of this – part of high school – is learning what to do with being bored at times. Because, as an adult – even if you have your dream job – there are going to be moments where, as Berryman says, ‘heavy bored’. And how do you deal with that? How do you move through that? Hopefully, that’s not the majority of your high school experience, I don’t think it is.

ZF: I mean, for the longest time I was a terrible student. I was the worst student. I would get D’s and F’s, and this is one of the very first years I have A’s and B’s. And that was because I was bored, and I didn’t know how to handle it. So, I would choose not to do homework. I would choose not to write all these essays about things that I found as boring because for me, personally, I was like, ‘Oh, this wastes my time! Why am I even doing this? Why am I doing what I thought was busy work?’

AG: Yeah.

ZF: And so, I think definitely that’s right: high school is learning to work through boredom.

AG: But then there’s the other side of that, and that’s what I like about Berryman’s poem is that we have moments of boredom where we’re thinking, ‘Why do I have to do this? It’s so excruciatingly boring’. But also, there are times when we are bored and we’re looking around at other people. So, for example, with The Odyssey, I bet there were students in class looking at you, saying, ‘Why is Ziv so into this boring, boring poem? What am I not getting?’ And Berryman in this poem, talks to that sense of feeling left behind because you’re bored. Um…so, we’re going to read Dream Song 14, by John Berryman:

Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.  

After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,  

we ourselves flash and yearn,

and moreover my mother told me as a boy  

(repeatingly) ‘Ever to confess you’re bored  

means you have no

Inner Resources.’ I conclude now I have no  

inner resources, because I am heavy bored.

Peoples bore me,

literature bores me, especially great literature,  

Henry bores me, with his plights & gripes  

as bad as achilles,

who loves people and valiant art, which bores me.  

And the tranquil hills, & gin, look like a drag  

and somehow a dog

has taken itself & its tail considerably away

into mountains or sea or sky, leaving           

behind: me, wag.

Poetry Friday is produced by KNAU's Gillian Ferris. If you have an idea for a segment, drop her an email at gillian.ferris@nau.edu. 

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