Discussing Poetry and Short Stories

Last week I had a conversation with a colleague about discussing poetry and short stories in groups.  We talked about how these discussions differ from the so-called “regular” book discussion, and afterwards I thought about how little I’ve seen in books and articles about literary discussions that touch on preparing prospective leaders for developing poetry and/or short story discussion programs.

Here are some of the questions that spring to mind when considering a poetry discussion session.  Do you designate specific poems in a collection or anthology for participants to read, prior to the meeting?  Are these poems then also read aloud during the session?  How is information about specific forms of poetry conveyed to the group members — both before and during the meeting?  Is an effort made to compare and contrast particular poems during the discussion?  What aspects of the poems are emphasized during the discussion?  Is it preferable to focus on only one poet during a program, or is there an advantage to be gained in reviewing the work of several poets in the same session?

With short stories, some of the same questions apply.  How many stories can be effectively analyzed during one session of say, an hour and a half?  Is it best to tie together similarities in the stories under consideration, stressing their thematic content — or can the tales to be talked about be more wide ranging in terms of their subject matter?  Is it more satisfying to look at the works of several authors during one meeting — or to simply focus on a single writer?

It would be helpful if readers of Book Group Buzz who have led these types of discussions would share their experiences and their opinions.  This is an area of book discussion study and research that definitely needs more attention and development.

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About the Author:

Ted Balcom lives in Arlington Heights, IL and conducts workshops on leading book discussions, about which he has also published a book: Book Discussions for Adults: A Leader’s Guide (American Library Association, 1992).

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