Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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3. Utopian Promise   

9. Social

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Activities: Author Activities

Sarah Morgan Bryan Piatt - Teaching Tips

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  • Many students will find "The Palace-Burner" difficult to penetrate because the context for the speaker's musings may not be readily apparent to them and because the poem includes the voices of both its primary speaker and her son. Be sure to explain that the speaker is reflecting on a picture she and her son are looking at in a newspaper. The two of them discuss the pictured woman, who was a radical and a "palace-burner" during the political struggles in France in the 1870s. Have your students read the poem out loud and then work through it slowly as a class. Who is speaking? Which questions are asked by the primary speaker's son? Which does she ask herself? Why does Piatt include these different voices in her poem without always clarifying who is speaking? In order to explain the "dramatic" quality of the poem, you might bring in one of Robert Browning's dramatic monologues ("My Last Duchess," "Porphyria's Lover," or "The Laboratory" would be good choices). Ask students to think about the effect of these dramatic monologues in which the voice of the speaker is not always that of the poet. What kind of challenges does the distance among the poet, the speaker, and the speaker's interlocutors pose for the reader? How do Piatt's dramatic poems compare to Browning's?

  • After reading and discussing "The Palace-Burner," ask your students to choose a picture that they find particularly moving in a magazine or newspaper and then write a poem or reflection in which they explain the effect the picture has on them. Have volunteers share their poems with the class and discuss the challenges they experienced in writing this kind of piece.

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