What makes my heart happy?
When students say things like:
"I don't enjoy writing poetry, and I certainly don't enjoy reading said poetry to a class full of people I barely know... but the poem I concocted ended up being one of my favorite pieces in my writing career thus far."
"Poetry was like rowing a boat upstream with no paddle to me before our workshop. The angst I felt towards reading, analyzing, and especially writing poetry was beyond what you could even imagine. That being said, I thought that the workshop changed my mind significantly and, for lack of better words, was very fun."
"I loved this entire assignment. From the beginning when we had to write about something uncomfortable to actually sharing it with the class and not knowing whose was whose... I honestly didn't think I could write something like this considering I am not too familiar with poetry and this is an uncomfortable subject and something so personal."
"I really enjoyed the way we did this assignment. It made me appreciate a genre of writing that I would have never thoughts I could enjoy. It was really nice and refreshing to see the vulnerability and creativity from everyone in class."
Changing minds about poetry, one student at a time. :)
For anyone who is curious, here is the assignment my students are referring to. This was for an upperclassmen writing course that stresses awareness of rhetorical decisions. Students submitted their poems anonymously, and we spent two and a half weeks in class reading each poem out loud and discussing them, including: what we liked about the poem, what we found confusing about the poem, and suggestions for the poet. At the end of each discussion, the poet would own up to the piece and had a chance to clarify for us if they wished. We then gave the copies back with written commentary, and students revised the poem to turn in for a grade with a short reflection on the experience and on the revision. This is the second time I've used the assignment, and to great success.
If you are an instructor and wish to use this assignment, feel free, but please credit me.
After a much needed 6-ish week break, I'm stepping back into the classroom tomorrow to meet a group of incoming freshman and to attempt in 5 weeks to prepare them for the rigors of college-level reading and writing. This week's Huffington Post article on teaching is so clear a reminder of the struggles of this occupation. Because the bottom line is, you can only do so much in the short time you're given. And it's not a 9-5 job; it's an every-spare-moment job. And some students just aren't ready for the material you need to throw at them.
Just a snippet of Peter Greene's brilliant metaphor:
Teaching is like painting a huge Victorian mansion. And you don't actually have enough paint. And when you get to some sections of the house it turns out the wood is a little rotten or not ready for the paint. And about every hour some supervisor comes around and asks you to get down off the ladder and explain why you aren't making faster progress. And some days the weather is terrible. So it takes all your art and skill and experience to do a job where the house still ends up looking good.
Teaching is rewarding, don't get me wrong, or I wouldn't keep going back to it. But oh, this break has been so very necessary to relax, regroup, and now it's time to regain a little energy to jump back into that crazy space where I attempt to be enough for my students (while still maintaining a social life and a professional dance career).
Read the full article: "The Hard Part" by Peter Greene on Huffington Post
Yes! I'm thrilled to see this article in The Atlantic about Why Teaching Poetry Is So Important. On a whim a few weeks ago, I threw some complex poems at my Writer's Mind class, a course for upperclassmen majoring in writing. The focus of the course isn't necessarily literature, but on how the mind of a writer functions, the rhetorical choices a writers makes and the elements and tools available to him or her. The class focuses on the process of writing, on being aware of and overcoming writer's block, and learning to articulate why certain decisions have been made in writing and revising. The kind of writing we practice is really up to the instructor, which makes this an exciting class to teach.
I wanted my students to practice writing about themselves, in particular, writing about the darker parts of themselves they generally don't share. The theory behind this is that if they can write about those dark, secret things, they can write about anything without fear or hesitation. At the last minute, I realized there could be no better way to approach this than through poetry. So in the 30 minutes before class, I threw out my initial plan and printed out copies of Sylvia Plath, Charles Bukowski, Billy Collins, and Sharon Olds, and hoped my students would be open to poetry. The results have exceeded my expectations.
After two class periods thoughtfully discussing not only the meaning and emotion behind these poems, but also the imagery, sounds, structure, and symbolism, my students wrote their own "shadow poems". They are blowing me away. We are workshopping them anonymously as a whole class, and while it is taking far longer than I planned, the conversations are insightful and exciting. Several students have asked if we can just keep doing this for the rest of the semester. The poems are intense, the feedback is constructive, and the revisions are promising. I am getting to know my students more deeply through this community building activity, and the techniques we are practicing will spill over into their other writing as well. While only a handful of the students in the class consider themselves creative writers, and even less poets (there are several education majors in the group) they are opening up and growing as writers and as people in new ways because of poetry.
As Andrew Simmons describes in his article:
"Poetry enables teachers to teach their students how to write, read, and understand any text. Poetry can give students a healthy outlet for surging emotions. Reading original poetry aloud in class can foster trust and empathy in the classroom community, while also emphasizing speaking and listening skills that are often neglected... Teachers should produce literature lovers as well as keen critics, striking a balance between teaching writing, grammar, and analytical strategies and then also helping students to see that literature should be mystifying. It should resist easy interpretation and beg for return visits. Poetry serves this purpose perfectly."
The proof is right in front of me in this group of students. I couldn't agree more.
Check out the full article here: Why Teaching Poetry Is So Important
The ever-so-brilliant Margaret Atwood presented her 10 rules of writing in The Guardian almost two years ago. I just stumbled upon them reposted on Brain Pickings and couldn't resist the urge to repost them as well.
My favorite rules of Atwood's are:
What are your rules for writing?
Read Margaret Atwood's full list of rules on Brain Pickings here:
And read the original article from The Guardian featuring rules from other writers, such as Jonathan Franzen, Neil Gaiman, and Joyce Carol Oates, here:
This article, and this quote in particular, perfectly sums up why I believe what I teach, writing and literature, provides students some of the most important skills they will gain in college.
"If you really think about learning, there are some master disciplines which unlock all the others. They are philosophy, history, mathematics, language (reading/writing), and science (mainly mastery of the scientific method). These disciplines form the core of learning and comprise the engine of its expression. The student who gains proficiency in these areas will maintain, for virtually the rest of his/her life, the capacity to learn new things and to organize those new things within the context of the older things. The learning that takes place in these areas does not really expire. It does not become dated. It is a fund that maintains its value. The same is not necessarily true of knowledge gained in professional programs."
read the full article here: "This College Professor has a Message for Liberal Arts Majors," The Federlist
Best commercial ever? Definitely one of the best speeches ever. Thank you Dead Poets Society.
"We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race and the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, 'O me! O life!... of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless--of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?' Answer. That you are here, that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.
That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.
That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.
What will your verse be?"
During graduate school, I was fortunate enough to attend the Prague Summer Program run by Western Michigan University. The program offers courses in creative writing, literature, and photography, and also includes several lectures and readings by a remarkable collection of faculty. The theme when I attended was "Faith and Art," and my assumption based on this was that the lectures would all come from a religious angle. Some did, but the brilliant writers and artists I encountered interpreted this theme in a much bigger way.
One panel in particular has stuck with me for years.
Rather than focusing on faith AND art, the panelist explored the idea of faith IN art.
The arts are something I have always believed in. Be it literature, dance, music, visual art, or otherwise, art has the power to affect people in profound ways. I truly believe art has the power to change the world.
“I’ve never comprehended this idea of spoilers, the folks who line up to get the last Harry Potter, and turn right to the last page of the book as soon as it’s in their hands. My favorite time as a kid was not Christmas morning. It was the night before Christmas, and the sense of expectation. Nothing is ever as good as your imagination. That’s how it works."
-Vince Gilligan, creator of Breaking Bad-
What is sometimes called a
tongue of flame
or an arm extended burning
is only the long
red and orange branch of
a green maple
in early September reaching
into the greenest field
out of the green woods at the
edge of which the birch trees
appear a little tattered tired
of sustaining delicacy
all through the hot summer re-
minding everyone (in
our family) of a Russian
song a story by
Chekhov or my father on
his own lawn standing
beside his own wood in
the United States of
America saying (in Russian)
this birch is a lovely
tree but among the others
Grace Paley, “Autumn” from Long Walks and Intimate Talks by Grace Paley and Vera B. Williams. Copyright © 1991 by Grace Paley. Reprinted with the permission of The Feminist Press at the City University of New York, www.feministpress.org.
Source: Begin Again: The Collected Poems of Grace Paley (1999)
"I know I am august
I do not trouble my spirit to vindicate itself or be understood
I see that the elementary laws never apologize,
(I reckon I behave no prouder than the level I plant my house by, after all)
I exist as I am, that is enough."
BA in English