Background Info

No! I was considering using “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner” by Randall Jarrell for my teaching presentation; however, Blau uses it in one of the workshops in Chapter 4. The point of using this poem is an example of how sometimes background knowledge is essential for interpreting a poem. Students might have more confusion of this particular poem if no one is familiar with the role of a ball turret gunner and the structure of fighter planes in World War II.

Blau even admits that he’s never conducted that workshop without at least one participant knowing about WWII bombers and ball turrets on page 84. I wonder what would happen, especially with newer generations moving farther away from that era, if no one knew. Blau mentions that he draws a picture of the WWII bomber, which is one method of introducing the background information to students.

However, in class we’ve also discussed New Criticism and how perhaps, background information can get in the way of a reading as well. A good example of how background information got in the way of interpretation is my group’s “think aloud” exercise, where we had such focus on the poet William Carlos Williams in our interpretation. However, background information would have also been useful had my group recognized the date of the poem 1934, we might’ve considered The Great Depression in our reading (especially with the broken green bottle).

I feel conflicted on whether a teacher should provide background information before a reading. In some ways, this would be very helpful. As a reader, if I’m at home, I tend to research information I am not familiar with in relation to a text. On the opposite side, I think that giving background information might lead readers to one type of interpretation, which brings up what Blau points out in Chapter 3 about one of the misperceptions of reading literature being that there is only one “correct” response/interperation.