Saturday, September 27, 2008

Recharging the Batteries

Friday was a good day in my creative writing class. Earlier in the week it had become apparent that everybody was feeling the stress and time crunch I referenced in a recent post. The bounce had gone out of our collective step. So we went to the library. We went to the library but not to look at books. Our campus has recently sprouted gallery space for the visual arts within our new library. It's a small area, a set of cases on the first floor, and some wall space on the second floor, but for many of our students, it will be their first opportunity to look at art up close and personal, in the flesh, so to speak. For example, we are currently hosting an exhibit owned by the Arkansas Arts Council.

So, I did what my undergraduate teacher did (albeit in a much larger gallery space). I invited the students to mill about and absorb the art. Then, I asked them to pick a piece that they felt strongly about. Only after they picked a piece of art did I give them the prompt: write a poem or story inspired by this piece of art. I emphasized the inspiration part rather that a summary of what the piece looked like.

For 25 minutes hardly anyone's pen stopped moving. There was an aura of concentrated energy in the space. Once I noticed people running out of gas, I asked for any brave volunteers to read from these very rough drafts. We gathered around each "featured" piece of art. Then, five students read out loud in a public place, and for first drafts, several knocked me back a step or two. Most of the students left with a smile, and one even stopped me outside later that day to tell me she wanted to go back and write about some of the other pieces.

Sometimes it's the little victories that help the most.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

An Evening of Arkansas Authors

For anyone who lives in Central Arkansas, I'll be moderating the following reading and discussion with Kevin Brockeier, Hope Coulter, and Trenton Lee Stewart next Tuesday, 9/30/08. Hope to see you there!

Pulaski Technical College Presents

An Evening of Arkansas Authors

Author Readings and Discussion

Tuesday, September 30th 6:30pm – 8:00pm

R.J. Wills Lecture Hall, Campus Center Building

Trenton Lee Stewart, author of The Mysterious Benedict Society

Kevin Brockmeier, author of The View from the Seventh Layer

Hope Coulter, author of Dry Bones

Friday, September 19, 2008

Grasping at Minutes

The student papers are piling up, the news of the world is more stressful by the day, and poetry is not making it to the top of my priority list lately. I read in fits and starts. I try to keep up with my favorite blogs. And, I recently realized that I hadn't sent out any poems for September, so tonight I made a start. The start feels rejuvenating, but the student papers are leering at me from my bookbag.

I am just about reconciled to being a summer writer, at least for generating new work. I know other academics who work this way, but I had hoped I'd be able to "settle into" my teaching career enough to free up some time during the school year to do some serious drafting. It doesn't look to be happening anytime soon. I make small revisions. I work on the manuscript as new deadlines for book submissions approach. I am carving out time tonight to focus on submissions--the stack of folders teeters to my left. In other words, like so many others out there, I make do.

We've just completed Week 5 of a 16 week semester.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Reginald Shepherd 1963-2008

Reginald Shepherd died earlier this week. Reginald chose Blood Almanac for the Anhinga Prize and changed my life. I never had the chance to meet him and thank him in person, and we only exchanged a handful of emails; however, I will be forever grateful to him for plucking my manuscript from a long history of semi-finalist and finalist status.

More importantly, having read his work and admired it deeply, his voice will be missed.

You, Therefore
For Robert Philen

You are like me, you will die too, but not today:
you, incommensurate, therefore the hours shine:
if I say to you “To you I say,” you have not been
set to music, or broadcast live on the ghost
radio, may never be an oil painting or
Old Master’s charcoal sketch: you are
a concordance of person, number, voice,
and place, strawberries spread through your name
as if it were budding shrubs, how you remind me
of some spring, the waters as cool and clear
(late rain clings to your leaves, shaken by light wind),
which is where you occur in grassy moonlight:
and you are a lily, an aster, white trillium
or viburnum, by all rights mine, white star
in the meadow sky, the snow still arriving
from its earthwards journeys, here where there is
no snow (I dreamed the snow was you,
when there was snow), you are my right,
have come to be my night (your body takes on
the dimensions of sleep, the shape of sleep
becomes you): and you fall from the sky
with several flowers, words spill from your mouth
in waves, your lips taste like the sea, salt-sweet (trees
and seas have flown away, I call it
loving you): home is nowhere, therefore you,
a kind of dwell and welcome, song after all,
and free of any eden we can name

Reprinted from Fata Morgana by Reginald Shepherd, published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Copyright © 2007 by Reginald Shepherd.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Job Benefits

I've talked about teaching at the community college level before, but today a new benefit made itself known to me. Each semester, as I begin teaching literature (either in a Comp class or in a Lit class), it is inevitable that a student challenges all my long-held beliefs about the worth of my subject matter. As I explain once again why I see literature as valuable to a student who may never read another poem, story, or play outside of my class, and who may be more concerned with how to pay this month's electricity bill than how to write a literary analysis, I am forced to stop and think and put myself in that student's shoes.

I ask my students simply to give the literature a chance. I ask them to be open-minded and curious. Today, I was reminded that I need to be the same with my students. My hope is that we all learn something from each other by the end of the semester.

Today, I am grateful to be teaching such diverse students, who may yet teach me more about the literature that I love.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

A New Field of Dreams...For Writers

I have been under the weather lately, but this post on Poetry's Harriet blog did indeed make me smile. Check out Travis Nichols' Iowa You Make Me Smile. It appears that Iowa City is trying to recover from the horrible pork barrel fiasco of the Rainforest Project with a plan for a museum of literature and other goodies on the site.