Through course design that emphasizes consistent practice, creative critique, and larger contexts, my poetry workshops strive towards effective teaching by going beyond the traditional critique group. Final projects include tangible outcomes such as hand-made books and public poetry readings.
Literature courses emphasize consistent practice, creative critique, and larger contexts with the goal of creating a living model of the way literature and theory can help us think through difficult questions of art and life. Students internalize this model by connecting the traditions of literature and theory with their own contexts and creative practices.
Across courses I select a diversity of course texts and approaches to help all students gain the authority to tell their own stories and to connect with the experiences of others.
As a teacher I take very seriously a handful of things that I have found to be true keys to success not only for poets, but also for study and progression within any field. One: just as a dancer needs a consistent schedule of regular practice in order to be a dancer, the writer needs a consistent schedule of regular practice to be a writer. There is no such thing as waiting for inspiration. I imagine this would apply just as well to the scientist and the mathematician. Two: just as the philosopher needs to stand back, see clearly, and evaluate what she has written, all writers need to stand back, see clearly, and evaluate. If we do not strive to look at what we’ve made with the goal of strengthening it, we cannot make things of value—and we cannot make things that we value. This is true of the poem, of the story, of the essay, of the photograph, of the scientific experiment. Third: knowing that what are often solitary literary pursuits are grounded in real books that real people will read, I hold constantly in my mind’s eye 1923 and Virginia Woolf at the press typesetting T.S. Eliot’s work and then going to her study to draft Mrs. Dalloway and work on the essays of The Common Reader.
As such, the questions that I have been working on as a teacher for the past decade revolve around how to bring students to a consistent, practiced engagement with the objects they are studying. And, how do I lead students to create an enlightened, creative critique of their own processes while, at the same time, cultivating a sense of larger context and community? These questions apply to my creative writing courses and creative writing majors as well as to central curriculum literature courses and non-majors. They apply to the disciplines I know well: the study of poetry, poetry-writing, creative writing, literary criticism, and small press publishing, but I also have a great deal of confidence that they also apply to work out students come to do in other disciplines and out in the world beyond college.
Consistent practice. Creative critique. Larger context. In the teaching section of this portfolio I will show the way I approach these goals for the two types of classes that I teach regularly: the poetry workshop and the central curriculum literature course. In the Teaching: Poetry Workshops section of this page you will access a brief description of the workshop classes that I teach as well as a concrete example of innovations I have fostered in the form of the WRIT: 353 Intermediate Poetry Workshop that I taught on the prose poem during fall of 2016. You will find that the page includes a syllabus along with other teaching materials from the course. In the Teaching: Literature section you will find a brief description of literature courses that I teach as well as a concrete example of the innovation that I have fostered by way of the ENGL: 290 Aesthetics and Interpretation course. The last section of this page is Teaching: Diversity, which presents my thoughts on diversity in the classroom, an increasingly pressing issue.
The Personnel Committee will find full sets of my teaching evaluations in my paper appendix portfolio.
Teaching: Poetry Workshops
The primary type of course that I teach at Susquehanna is the poetry workshop, which we hold at the introductory (WRIT 252, previously 250), intermediate (WRIT 353, previously 350), and advanced levels (WRIT 452, previously 450). We have over 160 creative writing majors and all majors must take Introduction to Poetry. In addition, all creative writing majors must take two intermediate level workshops, selecting two of our three genres (poetry, fiction, or creative non-fiction) for this requirement. All creative writing majors must also take an advanced workshop and may choose between poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction for this requirement. At the advanced level the student works on a book-length manuscript.
As the sole tenure track faculty member devoted entirely to poetry, this sequence is my main responsibility and makes up the bulk of my teaching load. I teach between two and three sections of Introduction to Poetry a year. I offer Intermediate Poetry once a year and Advanced Poetry is offered every other year. I also regularly advise between one and five independent writing projects in poetry. For your reference, syllabi for the most recent iterations of these courses can be found here: Fall 2017 Introduction to Poetry is here; Fall 2017 Intermediate Poetry: Lyric is here; Spring 2017 Advanced Poetry is here and "Language Compost," our class blog, is here.
Because we have so many majors to move through our required sequence, generally all of my workshop students are creative writing majors, with the occasional English, publishing and editing, or non-major at the introductory level. Capped at fifteen to sixteen students class sizes are relatively small and I am fortunate that nearly all of my students are genuinely interested in the subject matter of writing. That being said, a number of students come to Introduction to Poetry finding poetry to be as foreign to them as their first course in symbolic logic or chemistry; in addition, many writing majors arrive at Susquehanna quite sure that they are purely novelists and wonder what poetry could have to offer to them. Some of these very same majors (and plenty who come into the course excited about poetry) find that they take to poetry and study all three levels, often repeating a level for the sheer experience of it as well as doing an independent writing project or honors project in poetry with me. Four advanced students have worked with me as a teaching assistant after completing two intermediate-level courses and/or the Advanced Poetry course. My goals for those who do not go on to study poetry is for them to have learned basic elements of the genre and to have understood that acquiring the skill of detailed attention to language required by poetry will serve them well in any form of writing they may do in the future. From novels to memos to briefs to grants to business reports.
Consistent practice. Creative critique. Larger context. These three structures are the foundations of poetry workshop at all three levels. I have varied what they mean over the years and across levels, but here I will give you a general scope. All creative writing “workshop” classes involve a component where students send around drafts of work for the class to critique verbally (and often also via critique letters). "Workshopping" in this way is a pedagogy that dates back to the first creative writing workshops at the Iowa Writers Workshop in the mid-1930s. As per tradition the writer of the poem listens closely (without talking) to peer critique and interpretation. Then, after class, the student works on revisions. The tradition of creative writing pedagogy emphasizes mentorship and I meet with each student one-on-one in conferences two or three times throughout the semester to guide them in developing their pieces. The strongest and most carefully edited version of each poem ends up in their final portfolio, which ranges from eight to eleven poems (at the intro level) to fourteen to eighteen interrelated poems (at the intermediate level) and a thirty to forty-eight-page manuscript at the advanced level. The workshop process is a wonderful way for distancing the author from his or her work enough to spark enlightened re-vision, and all of our writing majors' creative writing workshop classes include this component. Along with its usefulness in distancing and for practicing giving and receiving constructive criticism, it is also an essentially generous pedagogy, asking students to devote time and energy to seriously considering work that is not their own.
While the workshop is a main staple, my workshop courses go far beyond this practice to teach students consistent practice and larger context. For several years “consistent practice” at the introductory level has meant that I ask students to write eight sentences a day, every day of the semester, which they fashion into poems. This semester for intro students it means that each Thursday each student has a typed rough draft poem due, based on a specific writing assignment I've developed out of our discussion of the published poetry we have been reading. We pass drafts around the table for feedback and I give a specific revision assignment to the class, also developed out of the published poetry we have been reading. All students then have a typed revised draft due the next class. This pattern happens each week throughout the semester: new drafts Thursdays, revised drafts Tuesdays, and not only encourages discipline but also cultivates the practice of reading poetry as a writer—reading to "reverse engineer" the way a published poem works into a writing or revising exercise that will better one's own poetry. This semester, for “larger context,” students will attend five literary readings by visiting writers and/or senior creative writing majors, writing each visitor or senior a response poem that I will mail, as a class packet, to the guest author or senior writer.
The most successful class I have created thus far in terms of consistent practice, creative critique, and larger context was the intermediate course I gave in fall 2016 on the prose poem, and I’d like to go into some specific details about the course to exemplify the way in which I continue to innovate with my classes. You will find the syllabus to the course, WRIT 352:01, here. But before I go into detail I would like to provide some context about the goals of all of the intermediate workshops in our curriculum. Our curriculum is designed so that while the introductory courses are aimed at giving an overview of the genre, intermediate workshop courses will give students a granular experience of each genre. Along with introducing students to a specific category, or facet, of genre, the intermediate level writing course has the goals of reading deeply in the published tradition and of writing pieces that go together in a short collection. For poetry typically the collection is “chapbook” sized, meaning fourteen to eighteen pages. This moves students from focusing only on individual pieces (as in the introductory level) into sequences and in preparation for the book-length manuscript at the advanced level.
For my intermediate workshop on prose poetry I assigned David Lehman's anthology of American prose poetry, which begins with Edgar Allen Poe and ends with poems published in 2000. I also assigned three books of prose poetry as models for how a collection of poetry might cohere. Planning the course I realized that I wanted my students to not only read widely in the prose poetry tradition, but I wanted them to internalize what they found to be the most significant poems. I wanted them to internalize these poems not only once or twice during the course of the semester, but to internalize them as part of their consistent practice. I also wanted them to do this not only by themselves in their notebooks—or for me—but for and with each other.
As such, I came up with a bi-weekly response poem assignment that they posted to our course facebook page along with an image or piece of media from the web that they thought expressed something significant about the poem. Adding additional layers, they also responded to each other’s posts and twice during the semester they presented their post to the class. These class presentations allowed us to talk intimately about the published poem, the student poem, and the various genre conventions of prose poetry. You can read the full assignment here on a document that walks through the facebook post, the commenting process, and the presentation write-up. If you have a facebook account (required for logging in) you are invited to browse our facebook group, “Prose Poems” intentionally made “public,” by our class so that anyone might read the work. If you have a facebook account, click here, and after logging in you will be taken directly to our "Prose Poems" group. I believe this assignment to be a success because it was interactive on so many levels: student writers interacted with published poems, images interacted with text, students interacted with students online and in presentation. It included consistent practice, creative critique, and larger context. Furthermore, the public nature of the posts led students to write and think at their highest level. This seemed to me to be the case even for the couple of students who I knew were taking the course less out of a love for poetry and more from a need to fulfill that last-minute requirement.
The second assignment I will share with you here is the chapbook and poetry reading component of the course. I have been using this form of the culminating intermediate-level project since 2014. For their final project students not only gather together 14-18 poems that are related, but they typeset and print their books; design and create their covers; and produce two copies of a hand-made chapbook of their work. As a class we work on the covers and I teach the students simple bookbinding techniques to hold their collections together. One copy of the book we keep on display in the Writers Institute, the other copy they take home. On the last day of class students read from their books in the art gallery. During finals week they compile an appendix portfolio of drafts and self-reflections, analyzing the process of putting together their books and discussing the decisions they made for their covers (which are not graded on artistic ability, but on thought). While the books themselves are meant to be held in the hand, I have scanned one of the books so that you can see an approximation of the final project here.
This assignment was inspired by a component of our senior writing major capstone project: a chapbook of best work and a reading in the art gallery. It also takes inspiration from the chapbook contest I invented not long after coming to Susquehanna when I revamped our Small Press Publishing course. For this course the class forms a small press that selects, edits, and produces hand-bound chapbooks of peer work. (The syllabus for my most recent version of Small Press Publishing is from spring of 2014 and can be found here.) Incorporating this publishing component into the poetry workshop provides a method for getting closer to the modernist model of the creative writer who actively participates in bringing writing into the world on a material level.
While I was optimistic about using such an assignment in workshop courses when I first used it in 2014, I was surprised to discover what a large impact taking the time to design and create a book seems to have on students, their poems, and their relationship to the writing process. Just as the facebook assignment brought each writer up to their best level, the chapbook assignment has a similar effect. Investment and engagement breeds investment and engagement. Making books out of their collections and participating in a community reading in the gallery transforms the final project from something that feels rather theoretical (this would be a book if it were published) and done mostly for a grade into something actual, something lived: this is a book because I made it so.
Prior to gaining tenure my literature course and central curriculum offerings were wide-ranging and spanned from a creative writing and English-oriented perspectives course to an honors Thought course and included Living Writers, where students read books by visiting authors, as well as poetry-oriented 200-level courses. Since gaining tenure I teach an occasional variable course, but my offerings have been focused on two courses: Aesthetics and Interpretation (ENGL 290), which is the literary theory course required of creative writing, publishing and editing, English, and English-Secondary education students as well as Forms of Writing: Poetry (ENGL 265). Students majoring in creative writing, publishing and editing, English, and English-Secondary education are required to take “Forms” courses, although they may choose from a list of topics and do not all take the poetry version. Along with fulfilling requirements for my department’s majors, the courses fill several central curriculum requirements and are taken by some non-majors.
I teach a section of Aesthetics and Forms every year. Drawing between twenty and thirty students and focusing on reading and understanding published writing, these courses are necessarily different in structure than the creative writing workshop model. That being said, my conviction in the efficacy of consistent practice, creative critique, and larger context has led me to innovate with these courses, bringing creative pedagogy to bear on scholarly subject matter. Below I will describe teaching innovations I have brought to Aesthetics and Interpretation to serve as an example of the way I apply consistent practice, creative critique, and larger context to the literature classroom. (For those interested in my Forms of Writing: Poetry course, you can find a syllabus here. The course surveys various forms of poetry—from iambic pentameter and sonnets to rap and performance poetry—and seeks to engage students in a variety of poetic traditions.) The final type of course I will briefly discuss on this page is a hybrid writing-literature course, exemplified by “Experimental Writing” WRIT 240, a course that I designed from the ground up, and which conveys my appetite for continuing innovation.
Aesthetics and Interpretation is our department’s “theory” course and introduces students to an intensive and advanced study of aesthetic and interpretive theory. It is known by our students to be a very challenging course. Taken at the sophomore level, students read essays by such thinkers as Plato, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Donna Haraway, as you can see from the course syllabus, which you will find here. The course was developed by the English faculty of our department, and much of what you see in the syllabus is due to the innovative and creative course design of Laurence Roth, Randy Robertson, and Betsy Verhoeven, who also regularly teach the course. While we each modify the syllabus, we try to keep the course consistent across sections.
I am the first creative writer in our department to have taught the course, and my first experience teaching it was exceptional because I was able to team-teach the course with Betsy Verhoeven during spring of 2014. This not only allowed me to learn new things about pedagogy in general, but it also allowed me to understand, first-hand, what my colleagues in literary studies had in mind for the course. “Theory” is traditionally housed on the literary studies—as opposed to the creative writing—“side” of departments, and I was eager to carry on the literary studies rigor of the course. I was also excited to learn from the way the course connects critical theory not only to interpretation, but also to the more practical part of literary production: publishing and editing. Recognizing that roughly three-quarters of the students in the class identify as creative writing majors (with an increasing number of these students doubling in publishing and editing), when Betsy and I began preparing the course in fall of 2013 we discussed ways we might effectively bring a “creative writing” perspective into the course. How might we encourage students to bridge what might seem to be quite abstract concepts with their lives as creative writers along with their future selves, who might be teachers, editors, and publishers? Furthermore, I have known published creative writers to claim that “reading theory” can “ruin” a writer. Clearly I have not found this to be so in my own path of writing, and I was eager to show our student writers, critics, publishers, editors, teachers, and the few brave non-majors who take the class as a central curriculum requirement that thinking rigorously and creatively about language, literature, and culture strengthens—rather than damages—both critical and creative capacity.
Planning the course with Betsy I found that she already had instilled in the course a sense of “consistent practice,” via a Blackboard assignment, to be completed before each class session. This assignment, which you will find described in full under the heading “Critical Connection” on my most recent version of the course syllabus, requires students to isolate passages from the reading, come to an understanding of that passage, and connect it to something they had experienced in their writing, reading, or “other” life beyond the theory classroom. This consistent practice of writing and thinking helps students understand complex writing and make connections with the world outside of the classroom. In subsequent versions of the course I innovated with this assignment by having students bring in hard copies of their responses to share with the class. My class often used a workshop-style approach to these copies, allowing us to critique and discuss ideas, refining students’ sense of the theoretical passage while bringing into discussion connections between theory and other forms of reading and writing.
Along with giving students both a creative writing and analytical perspective during class discussion, team-teaching also inspired innovation with formal writing assignments. I proposed a midterm assignment that would give all students the option of working with theoretical texts as creative writers. Betsy, Laurence, and I collaborated on crafting the assignment and ended up with something that gives students the option of analyzing one of their own creative works through a particular theoretical concept and then writing a new creative work that kept this concept in mind. The last turn of the assignment asked students to reflect on this process of strategically constructing a creative work around a theoretical concept. You can find a recent version of the assignment here. Among the goals of this assignment was giving the students distance from default composition processes and to provide them with the opportunity to work intimately with a theoretical concept. I am always interested to find that both creative writing majors and non-majors most often elect to do this creative version of the assignment and are energized by exploring theory and literature from both creative and analytical points of view. In the current version of the course the application aspect of this assignment is mirrored by a final assignment designed by Laurence where students act as editors to create an anthology of their most significant Blackboard analyses.
In my most recent version of Aesthetics and Interpretation I further innovated with Betsy’s Blackboard assignment and with the foundations of the midterm assignment by asking students to perform a “Creative Connection” response instead of a “Critical Connection” response for reading assignments that focus on literary texts rather than theoretical texts. “Creative Connections” ask students not only to connect the literary text with a theorist we have studied, but also to design a creative or critical writing exercise based on this connection. The prompt also asks the student to say what they think a writer, reader, teacher, publisher, or editor can learn from thinking along creative lines and performing such a creative assignment. Students shared these responses in class, occasionally performing the creative exercise and discussing the process. In this assignment, as well as with more formal assignments, both creative writing and non-creative writing majors seemed to enjoy the space and freedom to try ideas out in both creative and critical writing. A full description of the assignment can be found on the syllabus under “Creative Connection.”
The most successful version of “Creative Connection” came with students’ responses to Shara McCallum’s book of poetry, Madwoman, a book that uses poetry to address issues of race, privilege, and intersectionality. We read Madwoman while at the same time reading theoretical texts by W.E.B Dubois, Edward Said, and Paula Gunn Allen, which address many of the same issues. In addition, I arranged for McCallum to give a poetry reading for the students and she also conducted a lively Q and A after the reading. The combination of theoretical texts, McCallum’s visit, and the students’ eagerness to talk about race, privilege, and representation created a living model of the way in which theory can help us think through difficult questions of art and life.
Along with creative writing workshops and literature courses I have also developed for Susquehanna hybrid courses, which explore the question of what creative writing practices can bring to the study and practice of different disciplines: visual art, environmental studies, philosophy, as well as other fields. I have created and proposed three such courses and Experimental Writing (WRIT 240), which focuses on the connection between literature and visual art, was passed through the curriculum committee for course and central curriculum status in spring of 2014 and I offered it in fall of 2014. You can find the syllabus here. The student make-up of the course was among my most diverse: creative writing majors, literature majors, and non-majors seeking Artistic Expression credits enrolled. Instead of meeting in a literature or writing classroom we met in the art studio, using the space to both gather in the traditional discussion group format typical of humanities courses and as space for the students to create their own image-text hybrids. I structured the course into five units, each exploring a particular form, or type of image-text relationship (writing with images/illustration; collage; treated text; script/typography; and the artist’s book). For each topic we set out to accomplish five tasks: 1)to view and discuss historical excerpts asking: what do these excerpts have in common in terms of the relation of image to text? how do they differ? what can an audience get from such a text? 2) to read theoretical/artistic statements about the form (type) asking: what do theorists/artists/writers say about the relationship of image and text in this form? 3) to articulate the fundamental conventions of the form (type): given these examples and statements, what is the essential relationships of the form? (Example: the text narrates what happens in the image; the text is itself an image; the text throws the image into questions; the text reinvents the image). 4) to plan and produce our own versions of the form asking: how can incorporate what I have learned about this form into my own creative process? And 5) to present these works in progress for workshop-style critique.
To create consistent practice I used a blackboard assignment similar in style to Betsy's Aesthetics response module. I used the creative writing workshop model for presentations of works in progress. I used an art studio model for maker-days. I used an analytical model for assignment write-ups. Many of the projects created for the course were stunning: one student made a three-dimensional paper wedding dress from a romance novel; another student made a series of paper dolls to tell the story of cultural appropriation. Some of the projects were low on skill, but very high on vision and innovation. The thing that impressed me most about the class, however, was the way in which it deeply engaged students of diverse backgrounds, interest, and levels of preparedness.
To some extent all my courses are "hybrid." My creative writing workshops always require a heavy dose of reading published authors and responding both creatively and analytically. Literature courses always give students the space to creatively try the techniques and forms that build the literature they are reading. What I think of as the “hybrid” course takes this one level deeper by not just responding creatively to the world (of text, of art, of science, of history) but by studying hybridity’s power to open new perspectives on the world: to revalue and reconstitute identity—of self, of art, of world.
While the majority of my teaching has focused on undergraduate poetry courses at Susquehanna University, one of my most formative experiences occurred during the creative non-fiction course I offered at the Etövös Collegium Honors College in Budapest during my sabbatical during fall 2012. On the first day of class my Hungarian students read a short memoir published by a Susquehanna student in Essay, our campus literary magazine for creative non-fiction. The piece focused on the memoirist’s father, an alcoholic, and included passages where the writer had sex with her boyfriend in her car. Hungary is quite a Catholic country and I was curious to see how students would process the young American writer’s sexual experiences. As it turned out, students were not at all surprised by the sex, but they were surprised that an average college-aged person in the United States would own a car—and they were shocked that a young writer would write about a family member’s private affairs in a published forum. Their bewilderment over this and over the idea that there might be an audience for ordinary people’s private lives stood out in sharp contrast with my American students who often come to love the confessional poets and flock to our workshops on the memoir.
Throughout the semester I came to understand the cultural reasons behind my Hungarian students’ reaction to particular genres and writing assignments. During communism neighbors informed on each other to the state police and privacy of home-life is a serious matter—even for these students who were born after 1989. In addition, Hungarian literature is full of patriotic poet-heroes who are a far cry from the ordinary twenty-first-century university student, particularly if that student is female. While my Hungarian students had an extensive knowledge of literature and liked, themselves, to write, many did not feel they had the permission and authority to do so, particularly since creative writing is very rarely taught in school and is most often fostered by literary family members and friends.
The reason this experience was so transformative is that it caused me to realize that back in the United States my students’ relationship to writing was equally culturally composed and complex. While I had comprehended this intellectually, only after encountering this truth in a different cultural context—where it was so vivid for me—did I came to respect its significance. As I thought further, I became troubled that I had not put enough consideration into the relationship my students have with the role of authorship. This seemed particularly relevant given the diverse student population of Susquehanna, with our many first-generation college students who seem particularly anxious about majoring in something "practical." But even students who are not first-generation feel this pressure and in the twenty-first century there is pressure around telling one's parents one had decided to become a poet...or even just that one had "gotten into" poetry. What might empower my students to feel confident as authors, regardless of their backgrounds or aspirations for future poet-hood? What models might inspire them to explore diverse facets of their cultural moment and their lives?
Compounding this, while our students come from a diversity of backgrounds, as is typical of the average eighteen-year-old American, the majority of the students who take my Introduction to Poetry workshop have not read much poetry. At most they have read some Shakespeare, a few of the British Romantics, ee cummings and, in some cases, the Beat poets and spoken word poetry. While these are admirable beginnings to an education in poetry they are limited in many ways: when a freshman student sits down to write, which of these writers has the ability to stand before her as a model? What subject matters and points of view does she feel are legitimate and appropriate to voice? Exposure to the rich and diverse offerings of contemporary writing strengthens student’s relationships to their own writing and goes hand in hand with developing accomplished and engaged work. The foundation for this development is, of course, taking each student seriously as a writer and thinker and creating a class environment supportive of their efforts. But the question of how to accomplish deeper cultural awareness while building individual authority is continually before me, and focuses differently depending on the course, course-level, and students.
In both creative writing and literature courses I work towards these goals by assigning a diverse list of authors who address cultural complexity with their work; by giving process-oriented writing assignments that invite students to use their cultural contexts as material; and by focusing on craft to provide a common platform for workshop and class discussions. In addition, one-on-one mentoring is essential to fostering each writer’s sense of permission to write from the whole of their lives, and from an array of traditions. For example, a recent Introduction to Poetry workshop class read Terrance Hayes’s book How to be Drawn, a collection that centers around identity and representation, focusing on African-American identity and its articulation in the media and in the arts. This book opens up the question of culture’s role in subject formation as well as elements of process and craft: many of these poems are ekphrastic, and Hayes uses a number of innovative forms that create striking patterns on the page. Students used Hayes’s work as a model for their own poems, “translating” his approach to cultural forces into their own contexts, and drawing on visual art and media representations of aspects of their own identity that often fall into stereotype. At the end of each workshop the class gave each student poet a suggestion for form inspired by Hayes’s innovations. In addition, one-on-one conferences with students provided time and space for me to listen to the larger contexts they are drawing upon so that I can help them articulate themselves more deeply on the page. Activities such as these connect students with the work of diverse contemporary poets and provide an opportunity to develop craft-elements of poetry while exploring aspects of identity.
Along with this exposure to published poetry from a diversity of subject positions—proof that all humans have the authority to be a writer—is the importance of individually connecting students to writers that feel like family to them. One-on-one conferences are essential to this connection. At the introductory level I work with each student to develop a vocabulary to talk about how the student engages the page and the student's aesthetic and beyond-the-page interests. At the intermediate level I work with students to craft a reading list of authors who speak to their sensibility. At the advanced level students work on longer projects that develop themes across a longer body of work. These projects are always infused with the larger context of students’ lives and I work to help them develop projects that are both exploratory and finely crafted. At all levels, each class culminates in the opportunity for students to share their work with the greater campus community. Intro-level students create a class anthology, while intermediate students create handmade chapbooks archived in our department and perform a public class reading. Seniors participate in our senior reading series held in the campus art gallery. These events bolster students’ concept of self as author—as an author who not only has the authority and tools to create, but who also has the responsibility and opportunity to share her or his work with a larger community. These goals may be slightly utopian, but what I work towards in these moments is the realization that the "other" isn't someone you read about in the newspaper but is your fellow creative writer reading his, her, or their poems at the podium.
These concerns around authority are also significant in activities outside of the classroom such as the editorial processes of campus literary journals as well as the visiting writers reading series—activities that are crucial for a vibrant literary community. I consider these activities to be extensions of the work I do in the classroom, helping to make sure our visiting writers represent a diversity of voices and that students have meaningful interactions with these writers via question-and-answer sessions and class visits. The college experience has the potential to expand the way students assess their own authority, and also holds the possibility to transform the way they see who should have access to authorship, fostering the desire to build a community—a society—where all people have the privilege of being taken seriously as writers, as human subjects who have a voice.
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