Today in Class: School’s Out Edition
School’s out, and now it’s grading time. The students in my Deeper Poetics class turned in final portfolios last week, which include 5-7 page prefaces outlining their poetics in terms of what we studied (poetry and prose about poetry) throughout the semester. In true procrastinator form, I’ve only read five of the portfolios, but what I’m struck by is how each student took something distinct, and distinctly her/his own, from the class.
Against the backdrop of essays by James Tate and Heather McHugh, one student, Kejt, writes about her Quaker roots, and how during Sunday service, “I sit in the pews with everyone else in stillness, and we wait.” She goes on:
In poetry, the silence is just as important as the words chosen. To wrestle with and engage poetry fully we have to come to grips with our terror of silence, of emptiness, of lack. There are a lot of reasons for this societal fear of not speaking, and my Quaker beliefs compel me sometimes to spend time considering why we’ve built a culture without much room or gratitude for silence. Poetry has to contend with wordlessness, though, has to touch it, caress it, and circumnavigate it.
Wow. Beautiful, huh?
And on revision, Andrew writes:
Much of my stylistic growth, I feel, is attained through increasing the volume of my output, that is to say, by writing more poems. I’ve adapted the revision process to suit my needs according to that acquired knowledge. Thus, revision has become to me not the process of modifying an existing draft of a poem to more clearly articulate its project, but reemploying the elements of a single image or idea in order to produce as many variations of one concept as a I possibly can. The result is a method of revision that reproduces a poem so many different ways they hardly resemble a single source.
Thankfully, Andrew goes on to say that he makes use of other methods of revision, too, but his idea is a sound one–particularly for a young writer. Write your way into your voice; don’t stop to worry about the commas just yet.
Invoking Charles Olson, Zach wrote a manifesto with this in his introduction: “THE THING AS IT HAPPENS IS THE METHOD–the thing being, in this case, the fragment itself, the depiction of it upon the page, and the mood (here I mean “mood” as the source of passion, less as a notion of emotion) from which the author speaks.”
Of her first workshop experience, Sophia writes, “Workshop has helped unveil my writing process for me because, as time has passed, I’ve noticed that my classmates repeatedly make the same comments about my poetry. The most consistent is, ‘It sounds great but I’m not sure what it’s trying to say.’ I have become painfully aware that I work predominantly with sound and not much else.” Funny thing is, Sophia is doing exactly what she should be. If she starts with a message, she’s going to be screwed. The meaning will find its way into the poetry if she keeps exploring the language of it.
Finally, Analeah wrote a section about making poetry more public. Analeah got into reading haiku about midway through the semester when she was assigned haiku for our forms section. She writes,
In Japan, haiku is practiced by everyone, and is mostly read to family members or friends. However, you do not see the same flooding effect (described by Gioia as too many institutional poets/not enough readers) that occurs in the U.S. At the same time, respect and value is given to those poets who are talented. I believe because the culture at large takes the time to practice the art, the difficulties with the medium endow them with the ability to recognize true talent.
I won’t be teaching at this institution again for a while. The politics of crossing over too blatantly from staff member to adjunct faculty finally bit me in the ass. It’s too bad because I love teaching. I love the students–they are way more interesting/interested, smart, talented, and ballsy than most of the grownups around here.