Homework or Poetry

Transcendent Homework

Pictured above is a homework assignment that a student named Leo turned in the other day. His assignment was to take a 10 from a vocabulary list we were working on and create a short story with them. Well, needless to say he failed, miserably, probably because he decided to start working on it about 5 minutes before class started. Initially I was upset, but then I looked closer. For some reason I couldn’t help but read and re-read his work. It was magnetic. His lack of punctuation, his avant-garde use of grammar, his bold word choice, his quixotic subject matter; was this the worst homework I had ever seen, or the best? Maybe I was too quick to judge. Maybe all those perceived mistakes were really just creative style choices on par with the best poets of all time – writers like Allen Ginsburg, Maya Angelou, and Robin Williams from that one movie with all the dudes at the private school. I know a lot of English majors back at the University of Washington who would kill for this kind of grade-A material to use in their postmodern poetry portfolios. For those of you with poor vision, below is the work of a true master/slightly lazy 12 year-old ESL student:

Today is Tom’s birthday

Many People celebrate Tom.

Suddenly Tank come Tom’s home

Tom think it is God’s tank

And many people scare .

Many people run outside

Tank is continue to come.

Tom is dieing.

God is magic.

Then tom is alive.

And tom’s nickname is God bird

china is tom’s friend   .

china give present

so tom open the box

It is showercap

It is convenient

Though the text requires further study – and other scholars will most assuredly have their own interpretations – I believe the author is simultaneously expressing the apprehension that comes with aging, the growing role of China within the geopolitical arena, and also his love of shower caps, which are unquestionably convenient. So bravo Leo! Bravo I say! You, my friend have turned in the best/worst homework I have ever seen.

Related Listening: “Stroke of Genius” – Christina Aguilera vs. The Strokes

Update – A true scholar has weighed in. Please check out what fellow Korea-blogger Robosayo had to say in the comments section.


6 responses to “Homework or Poetry

  1. I think you haven’t adequately explored the Freudian implications of God’s tank coming to Tom’s home — a war machine associated with God seems to me to be both a critique of militant fundamentalism, as well as an expression of some kind of inadequacy on the part of those same militants, as well as Tom’s own anxieties — probably brought about by the onset of puberty, given that this was written by a twelve-year-old.

    Ending the story on such a trivial note — a convenient showercap — is another layer of satire, after bringing God down from a deity to a tank driver, His role in the poem (and obviously, a tank-driving God WOULD be male — the giant phallus of a cannon is too obvious a symbol to miss) is diminished to such a tiny, unimportant position, that a shower-cap can upstage Him, and steal the ending of the poem from Him. Your student is obviously expressing a disillusionment with what his parents taught him when he was small about God’s great power, first turning away from the militant God to a powerful country nearby, and then finally choosing to focus on minutiae like shower caps and conveniences, instead.


  2. Or then there’s the religious interpretation:
    we are all involved in our own world, our own entertainment (our birthday parties).
    Then disaster strikes, and we blame it on God. God, however, delivers us from the disaster.
    So what do we do in thanks? Turn back to the cheap convenient distractions we were absorbed with before the disaster.

  3. One of the most common failings of Native English speakers is to make fun of Koreans learning this language. I suggest you try to learn Korean before you make such comments. Then Koreans can laugh at your grammar . It is people like you who give us Americans such a poor reputation overseas.

  4. Fair enough Jim, but I think you’re missing the point here.

  5. Taxi drivers, shop keepers, friends, and even my girlfriend laugh at my attempts to speak Korean, Jim, and hell, I’ve even made fun of the way I speak ENGLISH on my blog. That’s beside the point. We’re not mocking the student to his face, nor saying, “Hey look! Koreans are all stupid!” or generalizing anything about anyone; we’re just enjoying a goofy composition, the same way a first-grade teacher in Canada might bring her native speaking student’s composition to the staff room and laugh about a zany story, before teaching the student how to get his sentences in the right order.

    A moment of levity is a nice break from the grind of teaching — here’s another one for you.

    I was teaching a group of small kids a book about stars, and one of the words they had in there was “constellations,” which my students couldn’t pronounce, of course. One day, during comprehension question time, I asked Jude, “What do scientists find in the stars?”
    Jude answered
    “Scientists find consolation in the stars.”

    Too perfect not to repeat.

  6. Regardless of intention, regardless of ability, this piece of “work”, (more appropriately called “art”, now), invokes diverse questions and feelings in the reader.

    My Girlfriend asked, “Who is Tom? Is Tom Christ? Is he killed through God’s tank, then resurrected for no apparent reason?”

    Tom and God have an incredibly complicated relationship of death and resurrection. This is mirrored by China’s emerging relationship with freedom of religion, which is becoming a larger issue everyday.

    From the mouths of babes, God is linked inexorably with a tank. That idea alone rocks the mind.

    Sir, take this piece of work, take all these comments, leave them, in their original English and with a translation into Korean, sealed in an envelope. Give the envelope to the parents with instructions not to open until “Leo” is 25 years old.

    What a fabulous gift that would be, when Leo would/could/should be just finishing his BA, to open, and discover what he had done so many years ago. Quite possibly a seriously mind blowing psychedelic moment…..

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