High School Students Find Poetry in David Foster Wallace’s “The Pale King”

 By Ryan Blanck, English instructor at Albert Einstein Academy in Santa Clarita, CA

One of the things I enjoy most about the writings of David Foster Wallace is its appeal to both literary scholars and laity alike. There is enough depth and substance for academics to debate and discuss over brandy and cigars, but there is also something there for the rest of us to ponder and enjoy over beers and pretzels. It is for this reason that I – a high school English teacher – am always looking for ways to bring his works into my classes. I want my students to appreciate and enjoy the wonderful language art of his works.

I came across the DFW / The Pale King tribute found poetry prompt on a Saturday morning not too long ago, and quickly threw out my regular lesson plans for the week and rewrote them to include this project. In my senior English classes we will be reading The Pale King later in the year, so I thought this could be an excellent introduction to the work. I chose a few statements from the text to serve as titles or thematic guidance for my students. Then I photocopied a number of passages from the book, and turned my students loose with very few creative restrictions.

I had no idea what I’d end up with. I’ve seen these things go horribly wrong, and being in a brand new school with students I still don’t know too well, I feared this was a recipe for disaster.

Now, there have been very few instances in my teaching career when I have been truly impressed with students’ work. This project turned into one of those instances.  These students infused Wallace’s words with perception and creativity that gave them new life.

I am so proud to present to you the found poetry of students from Albert Einstein Academy in Santa Clarita, CA.

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