Lets start with a quote from the late Terry Pratchett, that quite neatly sums this post up:
Getting an education was a bit like a communicable sexual disease. It made you unsuitable for a lot of jobs, and then you had the urge to pass it on.”
― Terry Pratchett, Hogfather
And there’s the problem. Since I started teaching poetry classes, I’ve found that more and more of the things I do seem to accumulate little mental flags marked ‘ooh! I could teach this!’ (In case you’re wondering what that sounds like, treat yourself to Damian Lewis hosting Season 48, Episode 5 of Have I Go New For You. The bit in question happens about halfway through. Substitute Teaching for Toblerone – something I will never again suggest doing.) I’m sure it makes me incredibly annoying to talk to as well – I catch myself slipping into my teaching voice from time to time, saying things like ‘Well, why do you think that? Anyone?’ (Not good if the question asked was along the lines of ‘Can I take your order?’ or ‘Could you pass the salt, please?’)
At least when I’m reading poetry books there’s a decent chance that I’ll be able to wangle whatever it is that has struck me into an upcoming class. (And I can use the excuse Oh, it’s for class when I want to buy a new book.) Although I do end up with vastly more ideas for exercises and so on than I have classes to teach them in. (Why oh why can’t I just get paid to run ongoing, drop-in writing classes, that are based on whatever happened to occur to me this week in the course of my readings/ writing/ watching/ discussions/ things?! ) Blogging about them would be an outlet, except that I’ve realised some of you actually read my posts, and so I need to put in some effort to sound coherent. (The reason why I am Queen of Class Handouts is that I rely on the materials I give my students to provide an entirely spurious air of competence. I figure that if I make sufficient sense in the notes, most of my students will forget how little sense I actually made in person.) (Seems to be working so far.) The downside is that I have to pitch the classes I want to teach quite a long way in advance, both to the various funding bodies (Creative Communities Scheme, I love you!) an also to the people on my class mailing list. So I’m more or less locked in to what I’ll be doing (or at least the general outline of it) many months in advance. (See previous lamentation. Seriously.)
Which brings me to the trigger of this post – two new Poetry Exercises books: Wingbeats: Exercises and Practice in Poetry and Wingbeats II, edited by David Meischen and Scott Wiggerman. Oh, they’re good. Really good. Get-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night-to-jot-down-notes good. A splendid plenitude of writing exercises, from a whole range of different (American) poets. It’s like having a new, expanded volume of Behn and Twitchell’s The Practice of Poetry, which has been my gold-standard for quite a long time. And there are two of them! (Insert high-pitched wheeeeee! noise, or appropriate substitute.)
I’ve been wallowing in the exercises for the last six weeks, and loving them. Not every exercise feels like it’s something I want to use, but so far virtually all of them have at least given me something to think about. To the point where I have to keep a notebook and pen with the books, so I can make a note of page numbers to come back to, and what reading the exercise has suggested. It just feels so good to have the itch to write again! The real downside to doing things like editing is that it does diminish my desire to write. So these books are exactly what I needed.
Now I just have to find a way to work them into a class … a writing exercise marathon class for Poetry Day? Anyone? Anyone?
2 Replies to “The Trouble with Teaching”
Let me know when you become peripatetic… A marathon class sounds excellent.
I’m peripatetic now, and have been since CPIT canned their Adult Education department. Although I guess it depends on what definition of peripatetic you use – I mostly work close to home, but I’m abundantly available to come and teach one-off or short duration classes elsewhere. Especially if I don’t have to do the organising!