When students only have read a few poems, in exclusively academic contexts, they often approach poetry with what the linguist Geoffrey Pullum (in a different context) has called “nervous cluelessness.” According to Pullum, educated native speakers of English are often so intimidated by misunderstood rules of prescriptive grammar in books like The Elements of Style that they longer trusts their own intuitions about their native language, ending up with “a vague unease instead of a sense of mastery” (Pullum). We hear of students uncertain about their ability to scan a line of poetry because they don’t know which syllables are accented—even though they can speak their native language with infallible accentuation (Ferris). Students who know they are not expert readers read tentatively—unsure, even, of their own basic ability to understand the literal sense of words on the page. They have learned in High School that the denotations of words will be misleading, that the real meaning of the poem is concealed behind a largely irrelevant façade of literal meaning. As a consequence they will sometimes ignore the plain sense completely, even if it is the shortest path to understanding the poem. Since poetry will form a very small part of their education, many students will suffer through a few weeks of poetry analysis before moving on to the more familiar terrain of the novel. Even some English and foreign language professors, with minimal training in poetry themselves, bequeath attitudes of nervous cluelessness to subsquent generations of students.