The mysterious blog of a mysterious instructor of creative writing.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Holy Shit--I'm Actually Teaching Creative Writing.

Today I ran my very first workshop ever.

It seems like I've been waiting for this forever. I'm one of those people who would take a workshop class every single day for the rest of her life if it were possible. Workshop is great. So it's no big shocker that I've been eagerly waiting to get in there and get control over twenty some students and their first attempts at poetry. Their fumbles. Their triumphs.

This day was a beautiful day. It may have started out with a big, giant flop when I had them do a practice workshop of one of my poems, but they quickly redeemed themselves when it came time to workshop their peer's work. I'm sure it's hard and maybe a little intimidating to try and say "this is good" or "this is bad" to the girl who has control over your grade in a class. I'd probably be hesitant, too. It's just that this kind of activity has worked so well in the past. In Comp, we would always do a practice peer review on something I'd written--an old essay or an old memoir-type piece--and my students were always more than willing to say what they felt. I wonder if it has something to do with poetry vs. prose. Maybe?

Anyway, we had good participation. Even from students I thought would remain pretty silent throughout the whole thing. But, no. Everyone was on great behavior, and they surprised me with their savvy comments. We got into a few disagreements along the way where half the class was trying to convince the other they were wrong (brilliant), but it was all excellent conversation and debate.

I'm excited to head back into the classroom on Monday and do a full day of workshopping. We'll be doing three different poems per day from now on, so it's going to be a wham-bam-thank you-ma'am type of process, but oh so much fun.

Thursday, September 22, 2005


Today I had my annual teaching observation.

All went fine.

The students had a prompt to work from--a poem where they could only use words from a predetermined word grid--and I had three or four volunteers.

Those poems--seriously--were the best sounding and sassiest poems I've seen from them yet. Because they were forced to stop making sense, stop trying to write a story, they wrote poems that popped with language. That sounded more real than anything they've ever done.

It's so encouraging. Like maybe those lessons will really stick. Like maybe they learned something. Here's hoping.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Your Teacher (The Ass)

Thank goodness I ran into one of my students this morning when I was walking across the street to our usual class meeting place in the basement of the performing arts building.

"Uh, Jess," he said. "Aren't we in the other room today?"

It's so completely bizarre to have class for three days in one location, then a completely random and new location on the fourth day. Last week we didn't even have class on Monday, so we've only ever been in this room once.

Today we started the imagery unit. We discussed how we, as poets, must rely on all five of our senses to create meaningful and engaging poetry. We discussed figurative vs. literal images. We read a poem and dug deeper, talked about each image and what it meant or represented to one student vs. the other.

Then my students practiced using literal metaphors in a very guideline-specific poem, prompted by some small action they'd done over the past 48 hours.

Now that we're getting farther and farther away from those tender first few weeks, I'm starting put more expectations down on our assignment sheets. I'm asking them to play with syllables, with line lengths, with sound and shape.

I remember how cramped that sometimes felt when I was a beginning writer. Just the thought of having to write against restrictions felt like a battle, when it was really trying to help me free part of my brain--the part that was struggling to make it look and sound right at the same time as getting the meaning and content right--so that I could concentrate more on the real meat of it all.

I'm going to try and tell them how much I used to hate limitations and restrictions, but how I now realize they're good and can only make for better writers. Will they believe me? Probably not. Will they write awful, evil little notes about me and my syllable counts in the margins? Could be. We'll see. Today they handled their first restrictive poem assignment like champs.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Teaching Via The Harp

Not the instrument.

Rather, the verb. Harp. Harping. Harping on. You know, as in nag.

I think I might be a little bit of a nag when I teach--but a good nag. A sweet nag who's trying not to nag.

I am a fan of repeating things over. And over. It's just that I've come to realize that no matter how many times you repeat something in class, at least half of the students will let it go in one ear and out the other. So you repeat and repeat, and hope that one of those times it clicks.

I realized this today when I found myself repeating the same point over and over again, just changing up the words. I was beating them over the head with it. But at least I try to be charming about it. Bat a few eyelashes, grin disarmingly, like, I'm not really insinuating you're going to ignore me and not learn this, but it's going to happen no matter what, so look at how insistent I'm being. Don't you want to learn from me? Aren't I witty?

Today we did news of the weird. They're writing poems lifted from bizarre news stories or product announcements:

1.) Strawberry-milk flavored sausage unveiled in Japan
2.) Mother and daughter in the same beauty contest in Britain
3.) 65 girls pregnant in one school district (had one student show me the start of his poem--it was from the POV of one single guy responsible for singlehandedly impregnating half the school--how funny is that?)
4.) Big breasted mermaid sculpture getting bad press (the word "underboobed" actually appears in this article--can you believe it?)
5.) Lottery winner cites she only wants a new pair of nylons
6.) A man forgetting his wife at a gas station for 6 hours
7.) A system to train your cat how to go the bathroom on the toilet


I can't wait to see some of these!

Friday, September 02, 2005

The Unlikely Poet

I love those first days after a semester starts--days you finally start to bond with your class. You get to see their personalities, get to joke around with them, get to watch them be attentive and bend over their work and try to do well to impress you.

Today we wrote for the first time since the beginning of class on Monday. We did our intro to poetry yesterday, defined some poetic techniques today, and then got into it. Today we worked from personal experiences. Tuesday, when we come back from our Labor Day break, we'll start working on poems that are jumpstarted from things or ideas outside the realm of personal experience.

Anyway, we had about 15 minutes of writing time where we all sat down--me included--to write poems from a list of important (maybe big, maybe small) life events. I told them if anyone wanted to come up and have a one-on-one if they got stuck or needed help, they were more than welcome to come sit with me for a bit. And I got about five or six people who came up for help, wanted me to read a draft.

I had one student plop his notebook down on the table and say, "I don't get poetry. I don't know how to write it."

So I read the four lines he had written on the page. It was the best work I'd read from the class.

I think this is going to be even more fun than I originally thought.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

I'm Back, Jack

Welcome to the fall semester, 2005-style.

It's going to be an interesting year. I have shucked the evil skin of ENG 101 for the next two semesters. No more composition. Now it's all about the creative writing. Finally.

And it's not that I hated ENG 101 or teaching ENG 101, but creative writing is so much different. No more portfolios, incoming writing samples. No more memoirs. No more boring-ass research papers. No more throwing pens, pencils, Swiss Cake Rolls after reading a particularly awful sentence. Paragraph. Page. Entire paper. Ack.

I'm not sure if my students' writing is going to make me more or less motivated to throw things, but I'm guessing it's going to be less. My gag reflex may be tested more often than not, but hopefully these kids will have gone through Comp and know a little bit of what's what with the English language.

So far I'm happy with my class. They seem like a laid back kind of class. They have a collective sense of humor (laughed at my silly jokes) and are witty (had amusing responses to my informal questionnaire--I asked if they had a favorite naughty word). Some skipped today--whuuut? it's the third day--but I am not sure... maybe they dropped. Maybe I scared them off. Maybe they don't like naughty words (which I use) and decided to ditch.

We'll see. But now starts the getting-to-know them process. Now that we don't journal for the first ten minutes of class, I don't know how fast I'm going to be at getting their names down. I can't do the old stare at them and the attendance list until I have memorized their face by burning it into my memory thing.

Today we kicked off our poetry unit with some intro type stuff--definitions, lists, advice to beginning writers, some Richard Hugo inspiration, etc. I told them not to worry, we'd get writing soon. But to write or do something, you first must define and understand, so therefore we got down and dirty and I smeared chalk alllll over my linen pants. Hmm, chalk. What a novel idea. Last semester I lived off dry erase markers, since I was in the computer lab four days a week. Now I've got to make sure I have a never-ending supply of chalk with me.

Cheers to the start of the new semester. Cheers to 242. Cheers, cheers, cheers. I'm excited.

Monday, April 25, 2005


Today I watched this certain group of my students cheat on the profile quiz they were taking. I wanted to lob something at their collective heads.

I sat in silent rage. Silent rage. I seethed. I sent the evil eye, but that didn't work. I knew I was going to be writing a very awful e-mail later. And I did.

I sent an e-mail to the entire class, being very mysterious. I told them I knew what was going on, that some students had been caught cheating, and I wanted to address the whole class after I had time to simmer down. I told them that I'd already thrown out several of their compadres for plagiarism, and that this--while a lesser form of cheating--still slayed me. That I wanted to smack them.

So, I told them that the people who knew they cheated should come forward and apologize if they wanted to be even half forgiven.

What kills me is that the ones who cheated were some of my best students. Dickheads. And Dickheadesses.