When Teaching Goes ______ (it goes, it goes, it just goes?)

That’s two sessions of 2nd-term Reading for Writing. An good group, and interesting – four of the eight present this time were persons of the male persuasion, which is something of a record. I’m not going to draw any conclusions about the effect of the course subtitle (‘American Women’), but  …

The frustrating thing is that I have good, well-thought-out lessons prepared. And then babble through the bits where I should be explaining carefully. So all my through explanation of the ways in which you can use someone else’s poem to generate one of your own (ie.  the point of the course) becomes something rather closer to “nowtakethisanduseittowriteapoeminthesamestructureonasimilarsubject”. Sigh!

My bugbear seems to be the Sestina. Heaven knows I’ve tried to teach it often enough. And it’s such a simple form too – hard to write a good poem in, but simple to start with. All the rules are there, you just plug in your end words down the right hand margin and launch yourself towards them from the left. To make it even easier, I get the students to pick a favourite phrase or line from the poems we’ve been looking at so far and to use six words from it to provide the sestina’s end words. But as soon as I say the word ‘Sestina’, it’s as though aliens zap us all with rayguns. How to describe it …

Ah. There’s a scene about halfway through Dead Poets’ Society when Neil has just joined the drama club, and has come back to the dorm room in a seriously giddy mood. He’s leaping around from bed to bed, tootling on a recorder (or was it an ocarina?), while Todd stands in the middle of the room, helplessly watching. Remember the scene? Right. Now clone Neil seven or eight times, and replace the recorder with pens, bits of paper, phones, ceremonial daggers etc etc. That’s the class (any class, not specifically this one) when I say ‘Sestina’. And I’m not even Todd. I’m the pillow he eventually gets hit with, when Neil tries to get him more involved in the lunacy.

Maybe I should confiscate everything first?
Or make sure they haven’t had access to sugar that morning?

2 Replies to “When Teaching Goes ______ (it goes, it goes, it just goes?)”

  1. …sorry Jo, yes, I think I groaned the loudest, eyes rolled back into my head…when it comes to sestina I suddenly develop tourettes and siezures. I went away determined to get to grips with this thing and I think I’ve finally found a visualisation that helps. I imagine I’m filling in the blanks between words, like Mr Squiggle.

    1. No, it wasn’t you Marisa – or anyone in particular, other than me. It’s just really frustrating to look down at the end of a spouting of gibberish and see my lovely lucid notes sitting there on the desk, doing the paper equivalent of covering it’s face with its hands in disgust …

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