C. Cariboni Killander

Lund University (SWEDEN)
The starting point of my paper is the challenge that poetry represents within foreign language teaching (FLT). In particular, I will focus on my experience of teaching Italian at the Lund University, Sweden, where 20th century poetry is included in the course in literature (7,5 ECTS credits), which is given as part of the basic Italian course at the undergraduate level (in total 30 ECTS credits, also covering basic grammar, culture and communicative skills).

Literature is thus a major component of the undergraduate curriculum, but the expected learning outcomes for the literature course are exposed in very general terms in the syllabus: “the students will be able to roughly account for the 20th century Italian literary history”. However, since the course is supposed to provide a general insight in the 20th century Italian literary history and since poetry plays a significant role within it, teaching poetry becomes a necessary challenge one has to face.

Scholars have continuingly debated the role of literature in FLT (see for example Gilroy M. & Parkinson B. 1997, Belcher & Hirvela, 2000, Hall, G. 2005). The general opinion, motivated by the enormous potential represented by literature when it comes to developing the students’ critical thinking, analytical skills and ability to understand other cultures, is that literature should definitely be integrated as an essential part in the FLT.

Yet for many reasons, poetry in FLT is often perceived by students and teachers as problematic:
- language, when used poetically, is often more difficult than ordinary language. This affects comprehension, which in turn becomes an obstacle for aesthetic pleasure.
- poetry expresses thoughts and ideas in an indirect and unusual way that may require another understanding mode, different from ordinary, logical speech.
- students have usually scarce prior exposure to literary works and a lacking interest for poetry. Moreover the fact that they are at the beginning of their Italian studies and therefore missing references in the Italian literary field, makes it difficult for them to feel any deeper motivation. This does not encourage deep learning.
The challenge is how to turn these problems into potentials. The solution can be sought in poetry’s major characteristics, i.e. its strong focus on language and existential dimension. I will provide a concrete example of how a lecture on Italian 20th century poetry from D’Annunzio to hermetism may be given.

Since the pleasure of poetry is affected by its linguistic and conceptual complexities, these “obstacles” have to be minimized by choosing poetry that is accessible to students, with relatively simple vocabulary and with themes which may interest them, ranging from sensual love to war in the trenches. Focusing on published poetry translations can be a good idea in order to show how professionals handle the task of translating particularly puzzling passages from Italian into Swedish. This allows me to explain words and concepts in a natural way.

When it comes to poetry, you should not so much talk about it, as read it and listen to it. I will show how poetry can become a collective live experience in the classroom with the help of Youtube. An assignment will be given which includes the use of Google-docs. In my lecture, poetry is presented as an existential discourse produced by many voices communicating with one another within the same period and the same literary field, but also through time and space.