A Lesson on Apostrophe with "What I Needed to Say to Texas"



In this lesson students will:

  • Analyze the text and subtext of a poem
  • Analyze the effect of apostrophe in a poem
  • Write a poem that uses apostrophe



From a Greek root meaning "turning away" we get both the word for a punctuation mark that "turns away" a letter or two to form a contraction and a figure of speech in which the writer "turns away" from the reader to address a third party. The speaker of the poem calls out to this third party knowing that it cannot respond—either because it is a person who is not present or because it is an object or abstraction. You can often spot an apostrophe in literary works by the presence of an "O": "O captain," "O death," "O happy dagger." Even in this very issue of The Collagist, Hazem Fahmy exclaims "O dawn" and Nkosi Nkululeko calls "o silent night." But an exclamatory address doesn't have to make an appearance for an apostrophe to occur. In Andrew Koch's poem, we can almost hear "O Texas" underneath the lines, even though the poet never addresses the state so directly.


Encountering the Poem

  1. Have a student read "What I Needed to Say to Texas" aloud.
  2. Ask students what requests they hear the speaker of this poem making—whether directly or indirectly stated. Why might the speaker direct these requests to Texas, rather than to his wife, his daughter, or himself?
  3. Are there moments in the poem when the speaker seems to turn back toward the reader?
  4. Break the class into three small groups and give each group a copy of the poem. Have one group consider how the poem would change if it were addressed to the reader, another group consider how it would change if it were addressed to the speaker's wife, and the final group consider how it would change if it were addressed to the speaker's child. Have students mark up the poem to indicate where the perspective would change. For instance, all groups should indicate that the poem now begins "Texas is dying a million times." In addition to noting where textual changes (pronouns, etc.) occur, ask students to describe what effects the different perspectives have on the tone, music, or message of the poem.


Writing Prompt

Think of a situation about which you are or have recently been anxious or afraid. Choose a person, place, or physical object that represents this situation. If you had to ask this person, place, or object a favor, what would it be? Write a poem addressing this entity, in which you tell it what you want it to know about itself, what you want it know about you, and what you need from it. Use concrete details.


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