About Writing, rumination, teaching

Peer Review as an Expression of Hope

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I started out this semester with some big plans for my teaching (and my learning around my teaching), but like so many plans, they have been disrupted by the global pandemic and the physical isolation it has necessitated. (In February, my teaching/plans were also disrupted by a definitely unplanned two-week hospital stay. So it’s been….less than ideal in terms of a semester to be launching into this new/revised pedagogy I’d been into.)

But. And.

While I do NOT believe the remnants of this semester are going to wind up manifesting some kind of “triumph-over-adversity teaching epiphany” narrative, I do think that much of this experience has me not just scrambling/triaging, but actually re-thinking long-standing assumptions and practices (embedded in assignment language and syllabus language, for instance) in ways that will certainly continue post-pandemic.

(What is “post-pandemic?” I have no idea. Maybe there will be no easily discernible “post.” No after. Only next? I’ll say it again — I have no idea. And yes, that makes me anxious.)

I think my hospital stay “disruption” is also informing my thinking about teaching, learning, and the systems that seek to enable those things but which often do just the opposite.

All of this is to say: I just (re)wrote some language around this week’s assignment for my Creative Writing students at Plymouth State University. And I have been glum around not keeping up with the thinking/posting/sharing I had just barely gotten started with around my teaching earlier this semester.

So I thought I’d share my new iteration of this assignment, which I will send out to my students when I send them their peer’s story drafts. Some of this language already existed, but feels different; some of this language is new/emergent. It would likely benefit from some compassionate and inquisitive feedback. Because like writing, and good writerly feedback, teaching is (or can be) a profoundly optimistic,  hopeful, enabling and always-evolving.

Creative Writing, Spring 2020:
Short Story Peer Review Assignment

You have been sent (attached to this email) the short story draft of one of your classmates.

Your task: to offer your thoughts/questions/ideas about what they are working on, and what they might do next.

Another way of thinking about your task: we are all pretty isolated from one another right now. If we were in class, you’d be in small groups sharing this work face to face, and then we’d be talking together as a larger group about questions/struggles/ideas around writing/revising short fiction. Alas, we don’t have those conditions for our work any more.

I believe that our attentive and generous attention to each other’s work at this particular time may be extra important.

Not because creative writing class and short story draft assignments are especially important right now – but because compassion, connection, and creativity are especially important right now. Your reading and thoughtful, hopeful responding to your peer’s story draft can be an enactment of all these things. I say hopeful because good feedback, I think, often gives the writer a sense of possibility, of next. Good constructive feedback, even if the draft under considerations is a gorgeous, difficult, wandering mess, assumes an optimistic posture.

Remember – as always – your job as a draft-reader is to describe what you notice, wonder (ask questions, speculate) about what you see (and don’t see?), and to help the writer keep going. You aren’t “correcting” or “editing,” though editing/pointing out typos or unclear parts can certainly be helpful. But this draft is too new for you to encounter it as something that needs “fixing.” These drafts are still emerging, so keep that exciting and hopeful newness in mind as you read and respond.

You are a human reader; someone who knows what a story is because you have been telling and hearing them all your life. You are a fellow story-teller, a fellow human practicing ways of telling stories. Be with one another in that. Help each other keep going.

Please write up your feedback in at least 250 words and email it back to the author, cc-ing me (eahl at plymouth dot edu), so you can get credit for the assignment. If you have a way to mark up the draft itself and return the marked-up draft along with the 250 words, I’m sure it would be appreciated, but just do the best you can! If you can’t do the markup, don’t sweat it. (I will, of course, also be responding to all drafts!)

It would be ideal for you to submit at the beginning of next week (April 13), so that writers can get it in time to make good use of it, but as with all deadlines before the end of the semester, there is FLEXIBILITY. Just let me know if you need more time, or tech support, or help getting started, or if there are any other obstacles hanging you up on this work. We’ll find a way.

Poetry, rumination, teaching, Uncategorized

Teaching/Learning in Progress: Getting Started in Creative Writing

It is my habit to start each semester’s (UG sophomore-level) Creative Writing class with a writing exercise/assignment using objects — some common, some strange — distributed at random among students. There’s a multi-step, in-class generative phase, and then at home, students are to draft a piece somehow connected to/inspired by the object. Here are some photos documenting my own brainstorming and drafting — my object was a “T” token.

Step one — the in-class brainstorming part. I keep veering back and forth between just “talking” students through the steps and giving them a handout, which is good for encouraging students to move at their own pace.

I took my “worksheet” home and pounded out this really long, probably needlessly-wordy poem draft (essay draft?). Then, next class, we did a round of feedback, with multiple folks commenting on drafts. My readers were really helpful, and good at describing to me what they noticed and appreciated. And this is only the second day of class!

I’ve already started very minimally tinkering/editing…I’ll probably revisit this draft when we spend a class focusing on “radical” editing and revision skills. We’ll do exercises meant to really “mess up” our drafts, in order to “see them anew.” Until then, I might keep tinkering here and there:

teaching, Uncategorized

List Poems

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This week in the Poetry Workshop, it’s reading and writing list poems.  As you can see, my students did a stellar job of coming up with a huge variety of types of list — so many more than I had thought up on my own.

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I wonder about the list as a structure and a form. A list is certainly a kind of repetition, in the way that rhyme is a repetition, or refrain. As a form a list may set up a clear/particular premise or expectation. Included under the umbrella of “list poem” for me are the techniques of anaphora and epistrophe. One student introduced us to a third — epanalepsis.

It seems to me that writing and reading list poems (or “litanies”) brings to the fore particular poetic concerns, at least for me. List poems make me think more about order and arrangement — does a list escalate? Fork out into tangents? How might juxtaposition of dissimilar items work as a kind of energy in a list poem?

If the list is numbered, what do the numbers bring to the table? When to number, when not?

Also: how do you find a way to END a list poem?

Also: titles seem especially important for list poems, or for certain types of list poems.

Also: how does the nature of a list (different types of lists) affect thinking about lines and stanzas? Line = item on list? Stanza = item on list?

Also: what happens to syntax (verbs, especially) with a list? Some kinds of lists are very noun-y.

Also, how might “listing” and narrative/linearity interplay?

POEM PACKET of examples we read in class:

Christopher Smartt: from Jubilate Agno
Stephanie Lenox, “Rejoice in the Petty Thievery of Office Supplies”
Joy Harjo, “She Had Some Horses”
danez smith, “alternate names for black boys”
Savannah Sipple, “A List of Times I Thought I Was Gay”
“4 Ways of Throwing Something into the Boston Public Gardens Swan Pond,” “the bullshit,” and “non-hierarchial list of love poem ideas,” all by jamie mortara
“Things I Have Failed At” by Baruch Porras-Hernandez
“Things That Appear Ugly Or Troubling But Upon Closer Inspection Are Beautiful” by Gretchen Legler

In different days, those two lists I just wrote — a list of things I’m thinking about with list poems and a list of list poems — would perhaps be combined and expanded into more of a little essay. Alas, these days are filled with so many other lists, which even now are glowering at me as I take time away from to share even these scantest, barely-conceived thoughts.

I’ll end with a VERY OLD list poem I wrote when I was living in Lincoln, Nebraska. It took me a while to remember I had written such a poem — but — here it is.

The Neighbors

The ones you never see.
The ones you always see.

The drunk one who stumbles
up onto your porch
to triangulate his walkie-talkie.

The nosy ones.

The slovenly ones.

The ones who are beautiful.

The muzzled dog that barks
anyway, each time you park
or open your door or sneeze loudly.

The ones who speak no English.
The ones who speak only English.
The ones who don’t speak.

The ones who listen.

The kid, the one who steals
lawn ornaments you never liked anyhow.

The shady one, or the one
with shady friends.

The quiet one.

The hooligan.

The one whose window is always blue
and flickering with TV light.

The ones whose windows
are never open.

The dead ones.

The ones who play guitar.

The yelling guy.

The dancing girls.

The naked one.

The ones who go to church
in the windowless white building
on the corner.

The one who hates you.

The one on public access.

The ones who have
two testy Siamese cats.

The mean one.
The scary ones.

The sweet one.

The one who dreamt
last night of you
but who will never say.

The one you dreamt about.

Those who smoke summer evenings
on porches facing yours.

Those who ride bikes.
Those who fly flags.
Those who do Halloween,
candy, decorations, all of it.

The ones you wonder about.

The ones who know your name
and the ones who don’t,
who have barbecues.

The ones who wonder about you.

 

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