Friday, November 19, 2010

Student Choice Day 4; conclusion

Yesterday a couple students failed to contribute, and so we close this series of posts with three links rather than the typical five.

Jimmy Chen -- "Written By Death, Welcome to My Door" -- Dark Sky Magazine

The student emphasized the daring of the lengthy, labyrinthine first sentence, the dark comedy of the piece, the way it looks at human lives from a perspective unlike the typical literary outlook. We talked about the risks of the piece -- the syntax, the humor, the way it's all one paragraph, the obscenities, etc. -- and how they paid off, or did not pay off. I enjoy the story but admitted I didn't think some of the bits that felt designed to be offensive worked very well.

R. A. Villanueva -- "Corpus" -- The Collagist

We mainly talked about how it managed narrative and atmosphere. The dateline at the beginning immediately establishes something of a setting and atmosphere, the title and chosen words in the beginning also do a lot of work. The way that traditional punctuation and syntax can help a narrative poem to deliver its payload. There was some discussion of how this narrative compared to a hypothetical prose version, which would be perhaps more explicit and less evocative.

Lindsay Tipping -- "Loose Change" -- The Incongruous Quarerly

This student chose to read the piece aloud for the class. We noticed immediately how easily it came to him -- partly because he's a gregarious guy, but also because Tipping skillfully arranged the syntax such that it was extremely readable, and also suggested tone, delivery, mood, etc. We talked about what this suggested about the potential for reading one's work aloud as a revision strategy, which we've discussed before. The student read the piece allegorically, which is clearly an option available in the text, but as usual I prefer a more literal reading. I actually solicited the author of this piece a while ago on the strength of this story, unless I missed it somehow I don't think she ever sent us anything, I hope she'll reconsider!


Overall I would say this has been a successful experiment. The main disappointment has been that you could tell some students were settling, not in terms of quality (they generally worked pretty hard to find something that was a good example of what it meant to be) so much as in terms of personal tastes. Sometimes they chose things, in other words, that were good in their eyes but not what they had specifically hoped to read. The idea of doing online magazines was that since they were free, this would not only introduce students to a valuable source of reading and potential community, but to a source of reading sufficiently diverse so as to help them begin to define themselves as writers and readers.

Of course any reading will ultimately advance this goal if it is serious, and I think part of the trouble was that I didn't give them a lot of guidance as to the aesthetic of each magazine, but I think this does underscore somewhat my feeling that online magazines are at times surprisingly homogeneous. Ultimately there's not much to be done here other than to encourage writers who feel estranged by the aesthetics of publishers on- and offline to persist in submitting work with unexpected styles, aesthetics, and combinations. I think editors, in aggregate, generally take the best of what they are offered. This means that writers need to be courageous and explore the possibilities of their work as fully as possible. It also suggests, however, that editors may need to emphasize sending in stories that "fit" a little less: it can close off possibilities.

For creative writing teachers out there, depending on the requirements and limitations of your class and what you hope to accomplish with your students, I would suggest offering students more agency in selecting their readings, whether by using online lit mags or making them go out in the world and find printed work. Tracy has been approaching this same issue in a different way, and I think it's paid off for her as well. Ultimately we can't make our students into the sort of readers and writers we want them to be, and we shouldn't try. What we need to do is model and facilitate deeper and more durable engagement with the writing of others, as a means to the production of our own writing, and as an end in itself.

1 comment:

  1. i want to use some variance of this model in my 306 next semester, i think. i need to talk to you guys and get more ideas, see how you did it and structured it within the scope of the semester, but i'm really into the idea of giving the students agency in selecting their readings, and also exposing them to the literary world that is happening right now.