By Valerie Horres

Our whole lives are about making connections: connecting to other people, connecting one thought to another. We gather up information like strands of silk and weave them into a spider web—every idea and image connects so that when one fiber is plucked the entire web vibrates. All of the data collected in our brains informs and deepens our understanding of the thought or concept presently on our minds.

So when we read a story like Beowulf and hear the one sword that can defeat Grendel’s mother is so large and heavy that only Beowulf can wield it, we automatically think of King Arthur and Excalibur legend. We remember how important it is that only one person can draw Excalibur from the stone, and as a result we understand the magnitude of Beowulf being the only person able to wield the giants’ blade. Likewise, when we read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, reading another story from the time period will help in understanding how England society functioned in those days, and help us comprehend the motivations and actions of Jane Austen’s characters.

No matter what, stories and poems can used to deepen the understanding of another story or poem. It could be using contemporary pieces to help explain the time period in which a story is set, or it could be contrasting a historical text with a modern tale in order to exemplify how the culture or landscape of a place has changed. It could be juxtaposing two texts with the same themes—all of these methods will assist readers in understanding the texts they are studying.

So why not make use of this phenomenon in the classroom? Why not widen the lens students use to comprehend literature?

The literary magazine is the perfect avenue for this very widening. For instance, the poem “When Pappaw Watches the News” by Kate Buckley (Vol. 6.1) speaks to the pain of watching a father with Alzheimer’s lose himself in the illness. It could be paired with any story where a child must watch a parent suffer through a disease, and it would deepen the effect of that story. “Infernal,” by Ken Turner, paints an image of Costa Rica that a textbook could not. The stories and poems within the current volume of Silk Road, and in the past and future issues, all extend the understanding of other pieces of literature, and other aspects of our lives. They are all threads that connect the pieces of the spider web.

Of course, the pieces from Silk Road and other literary magazines can also be studied individually. For example, when studying pieces of writing, readers are often intimidated by the big names: Sophocles, William Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, Maya Angelou, and so on—these all seem larger than life and dated to the modern reader. Stories and poems in literary magazines, on the other hand, are more tangible. They are written in today’s language, and the fears and concerns of this era come through in the text. However, these stories and poems can help bridge the gap between the great writers, readers, and those big names.

Students also see that “real” people are able to publish work in literary magazines, and are thus encouraged to produce and submit their own. Bringing a literary magazine into the classroom also opens  up for a discussion about how pieces of writings get published, both past and present. Knowing how words get printed on a page, not just knowing what the words say, is key to understanding the weight and value of a text.

Works Cited

Cook, Willard. “The Literary Magazine in the Language Arts Curriculum.” http://www.phschool.com/eteach/language_arts/2003_04/essay.html#Why (accessed February 26, 2011).

Advertisements