Saturday
Apr012017

A Lesson on Dinggedicht with "Mechanics of the Negro"


 

Objectives

In this lesson students will:

  • Identify the components of a dinggedicht
  • Apply the definition of dinggedicht in a novel context
  • Write a "thing poem"

 

Background

While the German term lends this poetic form some gravitas, dinggedicht translates simply to "thing poem." Thing poems are typified by a singular focus on an object, which the poet usually describes dispassionately. Despite a tone of objectivity, the mere selection and careful description of the "thing" inevitably suggests that the object has a symbolic importance. Perhaps the most familiar example of dinggedicht in the modern canon would be William Carlos Williams's "The Red Wheelbarrow"—and for a less spare example, consider Robert Pinsky's "Shirt."

 

Encountering the Poem

  1. Either as part of this lesson or at some point in advance of this discussion, introduce the concept of dinggedicht and have students read a few examples of poems in this form.
  2. Have a student read "Mechanics of the Negro" aloud.
  3. Invite students to consider this poem through the lens of dinggedicht: To what extent does this poem meet the qualifications of a "thing poem"? How does the poet take black personhood and make it into a "thing"?
  4. Have students point out specific phrases in the poem where the language objectifies the speaker of the poem or other figures that appear in it. Then, note moments where the humanity of the speaker breaks through.
  5. Why is the speaker questioning his humanity? Ask students to ground their answers in information available in the poem.

 

Writing Prompt

Select an inanimate object that holds significance for you. It could be something in your possession or something you hold in your mind's eye. Describe this object—first in specific, realistic, and exacting detail; then using surreal imagery like that seen in the two poems by Nkosi Nkululeko in The Collagist.

 

Related Reading in THE COLLAGIST: