The Waste Land at 100: Seeing it Freshly, Making it Ours

Few great poems are as hard to teach as T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, not only because the text itself is so elusive (and allusive), but also because it comes to us encrusted by a hundred years of commentary. With explanations of the poem no more than a click away, what reading strategies can we use to help our students encounter the poem freshly? How can we put their puzzlement to use, honoring their frustration—their desire to know “what it all means”—without substituting pre-fab analyses for the active inquiry and personal journey that the poem can offer? (To paraphrase another Eliot poem, how do we keep them from “having the meaning but missing the experience”?) What do we most need to know, as teachers, in order to teach this poem—and what might we need to forget in order to see it freshly ourselves? This seminar will explore ways to teach The Waste Land both quickly and slowly, with and without its historical and biographical contexts, while giving teachers the opportunity to share their own favorite approaches, resources, and classroom practices.