by Brett Vogelsinger
It is rare to find a poem for my Poem of the Day routine that barely requires any forethought about what aspect to admire, discuss, or interrogate as a class, but "The Alley Violinist" by Robert Lax is one such poem.
The poem concludes with a choice for the reader:
stand there and play?
Walk away playing your fiddle?"
This rare, multiple-choice closing chord allows us, the readers, to look inside at what we value and to wrestle with competing priorities in a situation none of us have personally faced. There is something deliciously riddle-like about this short poem.
So invite students to share which choice they would make and why. Students tend to enjoy defending their choice, and they pull textual evidence!
After years of sharing this poem with students, I have also noticed that no one usually chooses the final option. If the same happens in your classroom, pose the question: Why is this option so undesirable? What might this reveal about human nature? When is compromise valuable, and when is it unwelcome?
Brett Vogelsinger is a ninth grade English teacher and NBCT at Holicong Middle School in Doylestown, PA. He is the founding editor of Go Poems, facilitates his school's literary magazine, Sevenatenine, and contributes monthly posts at Moving Writers. You can follow him on Twitter @theVogelman.