Thursday, 24 November 2011

Further Idea

Seems a bit sappy the way I wrote it, that first one. (No need to comment to this post, confirming what I just said.) I think we all benefit from an opening of expectation maybe challenge. One student--it's becoming a running gag--will comment frankly on what she thinks of the assignment. Everyone will laugh, knowing what she means, but find themselves--this is my dream for you, I'll say, another running gag--embracing the task. Fun for me, at least, to see how deeply they commit to it.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011


56 minutes ago, during a trip to the men's can, I got an idea for the class I was heading to. In the classroom, I asked about half the class to step outside. Be with you in a minute, I said. I asked those remaining to respond in writing to What have you done that's risky? while, I explained, their classmates would be watching them write.

I left the room to speak to the others. Instructions: observe the writers without interfering in what they're doing. What are they doing? What body language, what expression, what other behaviours, perhaps symptomatic of what internal processes? Then we all went inside and stood around the room, watching . After 5 minutes or so we switched, the former writers leaving the room while I told the former observors to address this question: What do men/women/boys/ girls/males/females [pick one] want? The new observors came in. This time, after 3 minutes or so, I signalled for them to move around among the writers (who, in this classroom, sit at one of 7 clusters of chairs and tables).

During discussion afterwards, someone asked why I had wanted to do this. To help you think about your last essay, I said. (The last assignment asks them to compose an informal essay reflecting on their own reading and writing practices.)

I don't know if it was a help or not, but I did like the discussion of how we create mini caves with our writing posture, curled over the page. And how we're voyeurs when we watch someone write. (I've always said watching a room of students writing is a beautiful thing. Tender, even. Like watching someone sleep.)

As for the reading side, we've already gone through the "difficult poem" notion and how it forces us to confront how we read. (See Charles Bernstein, for one, on this.)

Anyway, it's fun. Keeps the students guessing.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Business in Vancouver

Not with Jane, my old team-mate, who wouldn't come down from her 22nd-floor apartment until she spotted me arriving at the U of A diamond with the bats and balls; or Bill, who drove his Suzuki bike off the road near Rabaul, Papua New Guinea, with me on the back; or Fred or Daphne, my teachers; or Miranda, who felt my broken foot at Emma Lake; or Natalie, a double for Christina Hendricks of Mad Men; or Donna and Al, bridge partners in Port Moresby long ago; or Calvin, co-leader of Hawaiian Howard and the Indoor Plants, Nelson, B.C., 1981-82; not CP locomotive 3009 in the Gastown yard, November 19, 2011, 9:11 a.m.--my business is with my son Tom. Birthday business, he's 25. Last night was the pub crawl through Gastown, today the shopping.

First I had to get down to the water.

Monday, 14 November 2011


Trying to think of topics for my students to write with. Don't care for the word, though, preferring to-pick, as in let's generate things to pick from. A new CBC Writes prompt, for instance. I know the topic is obvious but for my purposes that's the challenge: to write it fresh.

I've long wanted to do something with luck, what happened to me a while ago, rolling a pair of 6s to get out of a jam on the backgammon table. It brings out the worst in people, either that or the best. Humility's good for us, right? I had my first-year class writing on luck a month or so ago. I forget why, but one guy put up his hand to remind us of his name, Chance.

In another class, 16 of us (including me) will each contribute a photograph, and a page or two of prose to go with it, to a class anthology called (Catching a) Glimpse. Also obvious but, again, a useful challenge to get at in fresh ways. I'm thinking of the photo of two sisters and me on the back step in Herbert taken, no doubt, by the third sister, the oldest, who was often cursed with the privilege, as she tells it, of babysitting the rest of us. (The anthology title comes from the common insistence around the writing table that you can't glimpse without catching one, usually out of the corner of you-know-what.)

As for the third class, while I'm at it here--they're in the middle, I hope, of an essay that begins here/now, when and wherever that might be, and wanders off.

These ideas, so simple written down, aren't easy for some students.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Billy Collins' Paradelle

Coming across Collins' "Paradelle for Susan" in the Penguin anthology I'm using in my first-year class, I grouped it with other poems in a love poem batch. It turned out to be a hilarious poem to read aloud. I insisted on sharing the pleasure; eventually five or six students read the poem after I did, and we laughed every time. In the love poem context, what we came up with was that the swings between logic and illogic in the poem were, I guess, like love itself. But personally I'm more interested in the laughs.

Just now I was looking for a recording of the poem. I couldn't find one. I did find surprise, however: the poem is a hoax Collins is playing, which doesn't surprise me, now that I've found out about it.

You can read about all this for yourself, and enjoy it I hope. Whatever you do, make sure you read it aloud, preferably in an intimate moment.

And I stand by what my class and I came up with.