General Information

“A Story About the Body” is a poem by Robert Hass that briefly explores the relationship between a middle-aged Japanese female painter and her male suitor. After watching her paint and falling in love with her work, the man decides that he would like to have her body as well. The painter senses his longing and says to him, “I think you would like to have me” and reveals that she too would like sexual relationship with him. At this time, she reveals that she has had a double mastectomy. To this revelation, the man responds that he doesn’t think that he can be intimate with her for that reason. They part ways, and in the morning he opens the door of his place to find what looked like a bowl filled with flowers – but the flowers were on top. The rest of the bowl was full of dead bees. [Stephanie Norris]

Instructors’ Teaching Experience

Teaching this poem was an absolute success in my classroom! The students engage the text wholeheartedly and with a sense of respect, especially when it is revealed in the poem that one of the characters has had a double mastectomy. I find that “A Story About the Body” is a great poem to teach along with another poem whose theme is envokes ruminations about the human body. [Stephanie Norris]

Classroom Strategies

I taught “A Story About the Body” along with “Homage to My Hips”, encouraging my students to think about the similarities and differences between the two poems. This strategy opens the door to a discussion that can be shaped around theme, structure, language, tone, and any other element that can be teased out. This comparison makes for a particularly lively discussion about how the structure of the poems on the page solicit interpretation (“Homage to My Hips” has a traditional appearance with stanzas and line breaks and “A Story About the Body” is a block of text on the page), and, given that both poems share the body as a theme, these poems lend themselves heartily to discussions about tone.

One exciting way to get students to compare and contrast “A Story About the Body” and “Homage to My Hips” is to bring in color pencils and drawing paper, and ask the students to think about illustrating the two poems. Ask them to fold the paper in half, like a book. Suggest that they imagine that each poem exists alone within the pages of a book. Then ask, “What would the cover of the book look like?”. Inherently, each drawing will be different – which leads into a discussion of the various interpretations that emerged and how the students reached those interpretations. Ultimately, this activity encourages discussion while lightening the mood of the classroom simultaneously. [Stephanie Norris]

I had success teaching this poem alongside other prose poems, then assigning the following exercise, which incorporates a creative as well as analytical response:

“Choose a memory of a seemingly insignificant event that happened to stick in your head for some reason. Maybe it was the time you glimpsed a famous actor walking down the street – until he turned around and it wasn’t him. Or maybe it was the time you learned how to head-butt a soccer ball. Or the time you finally mastered that tricky part of the piano duet. Or the time you saw a lap dog wearing red suspenders.

Whatever memory you choose, write a half-page to a full-page prose description of the incident. Then, write a half-page to a full-page analysis of your description. How did you choose to construct your depiction of the event? Why did you choose certain words, syntax, rhythms, etc.? Did you choose to portray the memory exactly as you experienced it, or did you choose to include some details over others to influence the reader’s understanding of this memory? Would you classify your description as a prose poem or a very short story? Why?” [Adrienne Raphel]