Better English Pronunciation with Poetry: Stanley Kunitz
For a few months now I’ve been working with one of our favorite students. His English grammar is nearly perfect, but he has great difficulty with pronunciation. Most of our lessons have therefore focused on reading very elementary texts that focus on sounds and syllables, but don’t offer much in the way of intellectual stimulation.
Finally last night, it hit me that poetry might be the way to go. It offers intense training on the sounds of English, along with something intellectual. For some reason I started him off on Walt Whitman, who is no doubt a great American poet, but who often uses vocabulary and constructions that are outdated by about 100 years. After the class I searched my book shelf and came across a collection of poems by Stanley Kuntiz, the 10th Poet Laureate of the United States.
So… Then I started thinking that a really great way to practice would be for students to not only be able to read great poetry, but also hear it read by a native English speaker. I got Teauna to read the poem, because everyone says she’s got the clearest voice.
Our resources are admittedly limited at this point, so the sound and quality of the below video of Teauna reading the poem may not be the best. Anyway, we hope that this, combined with the original text of Halley’s Comet provided below will help you work on your English pronunciation. Expect more of these in the future!
by Stanley Kunitz
Miss Murphy in first grade
wrote its name in chalk
across the board and told us
it was roaring down the stormtracks
of the Milky Way at frightful speed
and if it wandered off its course
and smashed into the earth
there’d be no school tomorrow.
A red-bearded preacher from the hills
with a wild look in his eyes
stood in the public square
at the playground’s edge
proclaiming he was sent by God
to save every one of us,
even the little children.
“Repent, ye sinners!” he shouted,
waving his hand-lettered sign.
At supper I felt sad to think
that it was probably
the last meal I’d share
with my mother and my sisters;
but I felt excited too
and scarcely touched my plate.
So mother scolded me
and sent me early to my room.
The whole family’s asleep
except for me. They never heard me steal
into the stairwell hall and climb
the ladder to the fresh night air.
Look for me, Father, on the roof
of the red brick building
at the foot of Green Street—
that’s where we live, you know, on the top floor.
I’m the boy in the white flannel gown
sprawled on this coarse gravel bed
searching the starry sky,
waiting for the world to end.