Thursday, July 22, 2010

Poets on Teaching: A Sourcebook

Show all your work.

Poets on Teaching: A Sourcebook
Edited by Joshua Marie Wilkinson

I’m absolutely enthusiastic about this book. And the reason for my enthusiasm can be summed up by the first bit of the blurb by Joan Retallack:

“Here is an astonishingly generous gathering of poetic energies and imaginations aimed toward turning more and more classrooms into scenes of transformative engagement with the prime instrument of our humanity, language.”

I believe this book (in total) goes a long way to living up to that praise. The creative writing classroom has taken a LOT of hits over the last few years, and in the comments stream on this blog, lately from a famous poet who, if I write his name, will appear and say bad things about me and creative writing classes, so I’ll just call him “Anzfray Ightwray.” Creative writing classes are not above criticism, and there are any number of classes out there that do no one any good (creative writing and otherwise), but there are also possibilities in groups of people getting together to experience and talk about the art that I believe are of fundamental importance to us. Writing is between people. Isolating yourself to get at some fundamental communion with language is valuable, but so is immersing yourself in a group. And that group doesn’t need to be—in fact, it must not be—like other college classrooms, like other subjects.

It is from this perspective that I approached reading this book, and what I found in it was not just a good sourcebook for teachers and students, but a good book for all of us as writers and, most importantly, as readers. If you teach a creative writing course in either poetry or mixed genre work, or are a student in such a class or program, I think this book is necessary.

The essays are short, and few of them feel as if they exhaust their topic, which I think is good. It gives the reader a chance to continue the conversation, either in isolation or in a group.

Here is the list of contributors:

Kazim Ali, Rae Armantrout, Hadara Bar-Nadav, Dan Beachy-Quick, Bruce Beasley, Claire Becker, Jaswinder Bolina, Jenny Boully, Joel Brouwer, Lily Brown, Laynie Browne, Stephen Burt, Julie Carr, Joshua Clover, Matthew Cooperman, Oliver de la Paz, Linh Dinh, Ben Doller, Sandra Doller, Julie Doxsee, Lisa Fishman, Graham Foust, John Gallaher, Forrest Gander, C. S. Giscombe, Peter Gizzi, Lara Glenum, Kenneth Goldsmith, Johannes Göransson, Noah Eli Gordon, Arielle Greenberg, Richard Greenfield, Sarah Gridley, Anthony Hawley, Terrance Hayes, Eric Hayot, Brian Henry, Brenda Hillman, Jen Hofer, Paul Hoover, Christine Hume, Brenda Iijima, Lisa Jarnot, Kent Johnson, Bhanu Kapil, Karla Kelsey, Aaron Kunin, Quraysh Ali Lansana, Dorothea Lasky, Sueyeun Juliette Lee, Ada Limón, Timothy Liu, Sabrina Orah Mark, Dawn Lundy Martin, Kristi Maxwell, Joyelle McSweeney, Christina Mengert, Albert Mobilio, K. Silem Mohammad, Fred Moten, Jennifer Moxley, Laura Mullen, Sawako Nakayasu, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Hoa Nguyen, Jena Osman, D. A. Powell, Kristin Prevallet, Bin Ramke, Jed Rasula, Srikanth Reddy, Barbara Jane Reyes, Boyer Rickel, Elizabeth Robinson, Martha Ronk, Emily Rosko, Prageeta Sharma, Evie Shockley, Eleni Sikelianos, Richard Siken, Ron Silliman, Tracy K. Smith, Juliana Spahr, Sasha Steensen, Peter Streckfus, Cole Swensen, Michael Theune, Tony Trigilio, Spring Ulmer, Karen Volkman, Catherine Wagner, G. C. Waldrep, Mark Wallace, Tyrone Williams, Mark Yakich, Jake Adam York, Stephanie Young, Timothy Yu, Matthew Zapruder, Andrew Zawacki, and Rachel Zucker

Here are some quotes from the first section, to give you a glimpse:

Sarah Gridley:

“Teaching, the eccentric art.
Teaching the eccentric art.

[ . . . ]

. . . as opposed to lost

let us be bewildered.”

Lisa Fishman:

“The intersections between deconstruction and poetry gave us another angle for approaching the notion that a poem must constantly, recurringly transmit the activeness, the unknowingness, the discovery-of-itself, even as a “finished” poems being read—or it was never innately written. In other words, made more articulable with Derrida, if the poem was not an experience while it was being written (instead of a “project” or goal or directed body of words), then it has no experience (of coming into being) to be read. To be read should be to happen again—as if being made again—for a poem.”

Ron Silliman, in “Unlearning to Write”:

There are, I think, two very different dynamics involved in the making of a poet. One is learning that you already know everything you need about writing before you even begin. The other is an extended reading of the literature, to understand what has been done, why, and what its implications might be.

The first sounds easy, but it is fact the harder of the two tasks.”

Lily Brown:

“Redirecting the discussion away from ‘This doesn’t make any sense’ and toward ‘How is the language here working?’ can go a long way toward modeling the validity of poetic logic.”

Richard Greenfield:

“I am interested in the premise that the image is ultimately the extension, or redoubling, of the self (also a multivalent complex of the mind and the heart). I want the image to be much more that representation. I believe the image can ‘set forth’ selfness—activating self and engaging self by encouraging empathy with the object under scrutiny.”

Mark Wallace:

“The difficulty: people who don’t know what poetry is usually think they know.”

Bin Ramke:

“The teacher of poetry writing must help the new writer learn to make various distinctions about the self and the world beyond the self through language. The new writer must learn that thinking for the poet occurs on the page, in the language, in the voice and the body which contains and enables the voice.

The process of teaching writing is a process of introducing the student to him or herself, to her own concerns and intentions, and then of challenging the student to confront what these concerns and intentions might mean in a larger (social, cultural, aesthetic) context, and how those concerns and intentions fit into some sort of artistic continuum—a tradition, if you wish.”

Dan Beachy-Quick:

“The teacher of poetry knows what sings must also wound.

Then vision thinks and the poem is the record of that thinking through the eye. It is not a painless process. The eye is also a wound.

In the classroom, the teacher is one who finds no difference between the wise-one and the fool. The teacher is both. Poetry, too, relates to wonder. Wonder is where poetry returns us to.”


At 7/22/2010 2:47 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...


Good poets learn everything they can.

Great poets forget everything they learned.


At 7/22/2010 2:50 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

True enough, but only when one unpacks what it means to "forget" something one has learned.

At 7/23/2010 6:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I’ll just call him “Anzfray Ightwray.”

That made me laugh.

At 7/23/2010 9:33 AM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

I have read the list of contributors to this book. It should have been subtitled '101 Dalmations'.

Lots of spots, but not a leopard in the bunch!

At 7/23/2010 2:23 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

You need to clean your glasses then! Those are snow leopards you're looking at.


At 7/23/2010 5:52 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

'LOL' just doesn't cut it this time. I literally 'laughed out loud'.

Good one, JJG!

But.... really,

poets...or professors?

Flowers or Botanists? Can a Botanist tell a flower how to grow, what color to be?

At 7/24/2010 8:35 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

There's no rule that says one can't be both.

And we have botanists to thank for the seedless watermelon . . . !

At 7/24/2010 1:57 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

Technically, John, I think that would be horticulture, not Botany. But what a perfect analogy. Horticulturalists manipulate the genes and hybridize, produce those perfect Valentine’s Day roses and delicious disease-resistant tomatoes.

But genuine evolution occurs naturally, pure and simple and un-manipulated.

If I were a Botanist and wanted to discover something truly rare and unique, I wouldn’t go to the local nursery….I’d go into the forest.

At 7/27/2010 12:07 PM, Blogger Eli said...

Gary, you don't need to go into the forest. You need to let the forest go into you.


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