I often rouse students in my poetry classes through hypothetical exams. Sometimes the subject of the exam is quite narrow: Is this image of something "falling light as a thistlebloom" effective in Heather's gritty Manhattan poem? Or the question is vast, universal: What is the purpose of poetry? Why are we sitting here doing this? Shouldn't we cease our literary indulgences right this instant and find some hungry kids to feed?

The purpose of the exam that I don't give and don't grade is just a way to generate discussion, of course, but the fact that it is imaginary could not be more important.


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