Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Proposal For Proposal To My Class For A Class Anthology (Designed, At Each Choice, To Cause Talk)

Let's imagine that the focus of everyone's essay is "bad behaviour". (Needless to say, each person has his/her own way of doing "focus" (which I hope is the last of the quoted bits here).)

Make the bad behaviour happen in your choices of word, tone, form, voice, language--that's one way of putting the task.

Write the behaviour in sections, five or six sentences per section. Make them work.

Is every notion of bad behaviour a moral judgement? Does the speaker matter?

And so on. We can learn from "Brown Loafers" how to dodge focus--swing around it, turn away, come right at it for a spell, veer off. 

If we all do that, I think we'll have a really exciting anthology. Next task: title!

Monday, 24 October 2016

A Trip Around Lake Wascana

Wind was gulping from the southeast.

I didn't say much.

The stage was not mine.

Or the victims of genocide in the Ukraine.

Or the bleachers at the Douglas Park track.

I left the lake about here.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

On Dylan Getting the Nobel Prize

We all know that words like literature and poetry are inadequate. They’re either too vague or too prescriptive. Either anything can be called literature, or only those works that fit the bounds of some narrow definition can be called literature.

Great art doesn’t just happen. It isn’t just laid down. It doesn’t just appear when or because an artist claims to have produced it. Whatever the inadequacies of the word literature, it has to keep faith with craft, it seems to me. As in, years and years of practice and study within an ever-changing but ever-present set of disciplinary constraints we label with generic terms such as poetry, literature, music, folk music and others.

As shifty as these constraints may be, and as rich the blending of artistic forms throughout media these days, if we abandon them, and the imperatives of craft they imply, we’ve dumbed ourselves down considerably. The problem for me with the Swedish Academy’s decision to award the Nobel Prize for Literature to Bob Dylan is that it participates in—and will no doubt propel—a retreat from these disciplinary imperatives of art.

What are we afraid of—reading a poem? Engaging with a work of literature? Paying the price to develop and recognize the craft at the base of any great art?

On Thursday night in Regina I heard an English Studies academic present a series of monologues written in the voice of a painter and his subjects. On Friday I heard an MFA visual artist’s statement about his own work that consisted of a slide show of pop-cultural images and a streetwise voice-over. Both of these presentations seemed lazy, self-satisfied. Unwilling to go deeper.  

Same with the Swedish Academy. 

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

If I Had To Do What I’ve Assigned My Students, Due Tomorrow, It Might Look Like This (With Comments)


        [Comment: so far so good]

Warm, after all, for the 16 of us seated in late morning sun. I saw shadows of hairs on my hand—it was that bright. To the dome of the Legislature, a prize for shine.

[Comment: could cut it was that bright]

The first thing I saw, as I remember it now, was the stillness, a lake showing its quiet side. We all saw. From our swarm of sorrows—wifi frustrations, a fender-bender, a 15-minute wait for coffee—we found our listening, that blank page that let us alone, us and geese, Trans-Canada highway, flightpath to YQR.

          [Comment: past tense helps here, if I set up remembering]

The longer we sat, the more refined our sensing became—a shiver in the grass stem, peep-end of birdsongs, light let onto a shadow by tiny holes. As if, senses open, we’d revealed our finer workings.

          [Comment: someone’s going to ask what workings?]

It would seem odd to early humans observing—our backs to a stone or treetrunk, or folded into a patch of grass, scratching marks onto a surface we carry around. They would wonder if life itself isn’t a blank page on which we scribble our lifeforms.

[Comment: Now we seem a long way from the moment. And where are we again? Some re-location required?]

But that sounds a bit grand. Let me start again with this: we’re here because it pleases me and offers possibilities for writing and/or a moment of peace.

        [Comment: that's it? seems a bit let down?]

[Grade: After removing the name from this essay and forgetting it was mine, I give it an 82.]

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Update Re Class

A friend told me the worst thing about being alone is that you start to think your own ideas are good. That's why in class this morning I proposed otter as "exotic creature I'd like to domesticate as a pet."
A grim topic, to be sure. I'd seen the question in NY Times magazine and repeated it as a journal prompt. This resulted in two dolphins, a clouded leopard, a white tiger, jellyfish, a wolf ("not wild dog, wolf"), a pig ("I don't know, I've just always wanted one"), and two lions (which I mention last only because if I didn't, the last word would be my otter). 
I love sitting down ten minutes before class with most of the students already there. 
Today I flashed my file of anthologies produced by past versions of this class--my fav, as I said this morning, being a collection of short essays on favourite songs. On final exam day that year, one guy burned a class set of cds with all the songs, which we included in a pocket fixed inside the back cover of each anthology. 
What I'd like to talk about with the present group is the notion that the language study we are undertaking--in the (open) form of expository essay writing--goes well with conversation. We can talk with our audience across the table. We can trust who they are.  
What always comes up in this class is frustration about "what I want in this essay". My theory, picked up decades ago as a B.Ed. student, is that when it comes to frustration, anything this side of paralysis is good. It signals the new.
And on it goes. After much pausing, three students agreed to offer a page of writing to class for workshop next Tuesday--a big step on the trust front.
By the way, I picked otter because I saw one eyeing me down below the bluffs in Scarborough a year ago (somewhere in this photograph). I tell you, in that gaze you behave.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

First Class

I found out where "bae" comes from and claimed that alone was why I'm glad to be in class today. They laughed. This happened a few times. A question or answer would pop up, and we heard chuckles, the sound of doorways approached.

I had no idea, specifically, where this all was going but I'd ask "Why the chuckle?"  (I'd ask with a smile, by the way. Not my usual semi-scowl (my bad luck with the downturns in my face).) If they couldn't answer, good enough. Every bit of reflection on language helps us use it, I've always claimed. 

Maybe that's just hope minus doubt.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Meeting My Students Tomorrow

Can't wait but have to. I just gave Birkerts' "The Walk," last essay in his book (our text) The Other Walk, another read.

[I'll insert here later a photo of the cover]

It's loaded with ways in to talk writing. And I've tacked a few provocations into my remarks to the class chat room and my course outline. What I'm going for, of course, is that we examine how we use language and how else we might use it. Birkerts' writing is full of useful choices.

I've got a few surprises in store for when we first meet, tomorrow morning at 10:00, these 15 students and me. They can write without fear--being pre-Journalism, English major, or Secondary English teacher types--or they wouldn't be taking the class. But, as they'll soon find out, that doesn't mean they can cruise on what they can already do in writing. 

I see frustration on the horizon--as long as it's not paralyzing, it can be managed--that leads to learning. A few laughs too, I expect. As I'll say tomorrow, if we're not laughing, we're not going far enough.