Daily Archives: June 13, 2008

Safety at last? (BLITEOTW 2008)

I’m glad I thought of moving the Eleventh Stack team up to the Special Collections Room. It’s cool, quiet, and so out of the way that not even the non-zombie public can find it. We’ve raided the vending machines and Crazy Mocha, brought up the mini-fridges from the staff offices, and we have plenty to read. And heck, this building used to be a public fallout shelter so a few zombies shouldn’t be a problem.

The few who made it into the building were easily driven out by our new policy signs: no food, no cell phones, and no zombies. The rest are waiting patiently outside for us to reopen (our “closed” sign is keeping them at bay), which is very polite of them, I must admit. It’s nice to see that the undead still respect their library.

Now we’re just waiting for our Delivery Services crew to arrive – normally they haul books and DVDs around the county, but this time we’ve got something special planned….


(Totally confused? Check here.)

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Dr. Betts’ Legacy




True ease in writing comes from art, not chance,
As those move easiest who have learned to dance.
‘Tis not enough no harshness gives offense,
The sound must seem an echo to the sense.
                     –Alexander Pope
                     from An Essay on Criticism

While moving some books around my house to clear a room slated for renovation, I came across a copy of Perrine’s Sound and Sense: An Introduction to Poetry. My tattered old copy is the seventh edition of the “little book”, as it was first introduced to me years ago.

My favorite English professor in my undergraduate years was Dr. Bill Betts, a man who hid a wry wit and great kindness behind the severe exterior of an educational authoritarian.  Once you penetrated Dr. Betts’ rough exterior (usually by proving to him you were willing to work hard in his classes), the seeming severity of his intense gaze changed to the watchful eye of a concerned mentor. Dr. Betts taught a class called Understanding Poetry, and after having experienced his teaching in English 101, I leaped at the opportunity to take him again for poetry, a subject I believed I was quite deficient in.

Dr. Betts confirmed my fears when our class had its first meeting. He quizzed us a bit on rhyme, meter, and poetic devices, and found most of us lacking in general knowledge of these basic structures. And then he passed out the syllabus. We talked some more that class, and then went to the book store to acquire the only text we would be needing for the course.  The seventh edition of Perrine’s book is a lovely shade of blue (the current version features beige livery), and back then it seemed so small that to my untrained eyes I wondered how it could possibly provide everything we would need to really understand poetry.

But the “little book” as Dr. Betts fondly referred to it did not disappoint. Using it and the guidance of Dr. Betts we navigated our way through some of the greatest poetry of Western civilization. Sound and Sense contains a wonderful selection of poems from a diverse mix of writers, and it offers questions for reflection after each poem that help to illustrate some key aspect or literary device used in the verse.  I could never have understood the depth of John Donne’s passion for his faith that lay hidden in the density of his verse without the help of the “little book”.

With each new editon of the the “little book” the line-up of poems and poets has changed here and there, growing a little more diversifed and a little less centered on the “dead white guys” of classical literature. However, the basic structure remains the same: present a poem that uses a particular literary device then follow it with insightful questions about the poem and what it means. It’s a formula that would work just as well for a local book discussion group as it did for a class of bewildered college students.

Dr. Betts is retired now and lives part of the year in Florida with his wife of many years. He has written six books, and by any measure has had a tremendous career. When I read Sound and Sense I can still hear his voice. If I recite Tennyson’s Eagle or Robert Grave’s The Naked and the Nude it’s with his cadence. Sound and Sense helped me to understand poetry, but Dr. Betts taught me to love it.

 Here are some other titles that might prove useful in understanding the basics of poetry:

 How does a poem mean? / John Ciardi

 An introduction to poetry / X.J. Kennedy



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