Wednesday, March 10, 2010

In CW2 This Is How We Roll

Creative Writing II is All Poetry, All The Time. But, in our Quest For Good Poetry, it usually becomes All Life, All The Time. And because writing good poetry is often about baring your soul, we have become a very intimate group. That's the way CW2 goes. It's an upper-level elective, and I run it like a studio class: each student receives individual instruction in conference and is graded on his or her progress as the semester goes on. Poems are read aloud, then frankly critiqued by the group. Sometimes in our Quest For Poetry, we go off on incredible tangents. We discuss Life In General. Nothing is Off Limits. Nothing. We laugh, we cry, we advise, and we snack. (The day that I brought in a tub of Trader Joe's Ginger Cat cookies, the place went nuts.)

Teenage poets eat a lot. It helps them create.

Earlier this week, the following scene took place in room 245, period 3, CW2--or as my writers call it, The Red Pen Massacre:

Scene opens in classroom. Teacher is perched on high stool at lectern at front of room. One student, Lindsey, the editor of the literary magazine, sits frowning, at teacher desk, working at computer. Several other students are sitting at desks in classroom. One student, Carlos, is sprawled on couch, surrounded by papers and notebooks. He is writing furiously while looking from two copies on either side of him, obviously blending the two. Two black students, one boy and one girl, are seated at desks next to each other on one side of the room, reading each other's work.

Terrence: I think it needs more development. The tone is good, but you don't have any positive imagery in there like you said you were going to.

Kashala: I know! I said it wasn't done yet. I'm experimenting with some alliteration in the first stanza, though, so I want some feedback on that, please. Also? Did you notice how my diction changes here (indicates a line) when I started using more fricatives? That took me all night! (Takes a plastic baggie containing chicken wings out of her purse; opens it, takes one out, begins to snack on it.)

Terrence: (immediately crestfallen) Oh no! No. You are not--

Kashala: Don't be hatin' on me right now because I have some fried chicken up in here.

Terrence: (looks longingly at the food and shakes his head; looks up at the teacher as if to say, "Aren't you going to say anything?") That is just hurtful.

Mrs. D.: (to girl, with mock admonishment and horror) Do you know how cliche you are right now? Holy crap! You are African-American. You are eating fried chicken. You used the slang terminology "be hatin' on me" and "up in here." You have a bunch of braids in your hair. AND YOUR NAME IS KASHALA! What on earth is left?

Kashala: I could get me some ropes and do the double-dutch!


  1. Anonymous5:02 PM

    This funny, but at the same time I am wondering if it is professional to say such stuff to STUDENTS about their race, it is a very touchy subject and if I were the child I would have been offended enough to take it up with the principles, only because right before that she obviously exhibits extensive and intelligent knowledge on poetry elements.

  2. Oh, how I miss the creative writing II days. This is tooo funny! I'm actually more excited, however, to see that you still have your creative writing classes! I remember the bit of drama going on in my day over it. I'm glad all seems well in the land of Creative Writing: Poetry Style.

  3. Courtney Ann--So nice to "see" you here! I miss you too! Hope you are still writing. Yes, CW2 is alive and well and still on the schedule, thank goodness, in spite of budget cuts. And we still knock out the best poetry in the world.

    Anonymous--I think you missed the point entirely of this post, which was illustrated by the graphic as well: "cliche" and also by Kashala's own response. You also seemed to disregard my stage direction, which said I spoke in MOCK admonishment and horror. Kashala herself was purposely using that slang to be funny. It is obvious by her erudite and academic vocabulary in discussing the craft of poetry that she only fell into that colloquial language on purpose for the sole reason to BE humorous for a single effect. As far as her calling it to the attention of the principals or being offended, you also missed the part where I made sure to say that CW2 was a casual environment of trust and support wherein we discuss everything openly and in a trusting environment. And as far as my professionalism, I won't even begin to address that as a career educator to an an anonymous commenter who has not been a regular reader. If you were a regular reader, you would never have made that gross assumption.

  4. Hmm. Strange comment from Anonymous. I am guessing that it is someone who has a general search on for possible offences. Whoever it is needs some basic instruction.
    Love the scene you create. I hope your poor hungry creator got some chicken after all.
    They're damn lucky to have an instructor like you.
    PS Remind me never, never, to show you my lame attempts at poetry.

  5. You made me laugh (silently, since my incision is only packed open and not stitched) with this post. Thank you for making me feel normal today.

  6. I think I'm in love with Kashala. That's such a fantastic response. You're lucky to have such brilliant students.

  7. Mikey--Isn't she fantastic. She is so intelligent and quick. And her poetry is terrific and thoughtful. Today, she had nachos and cheese to eat, and her poem was a tribute to me in which she called me The Defender of the Language and a warrior who "unsheathed her red weapon." It was breathtaking.

    apathy lounge--Poor thing! I am wishing you a speedy recovery and moments with your students that are as wonderful as the ones with CW2. Take good care!

    Mary G--Perhaps Anonymous is just very uncomfortable with racial issues in general. In CW2, we just aren't. We are so far beyond that, that it's a non-issue. The other day, Terrence asked, "Why do some of y'all white folks put your kids on a leash? You don't ever see black parents do that." We talked about it for awhile, along with other perceived cultural differences and some of the cultural differences that our group simply doesn't exhibit. That day, Kashala had pudding. Thanks, by the way, for the compliment. And I'm sure your poetry isn't lame--at least all the time. We all have flashes of genius now and then!

  8. Excellent post, and I agree with Mikey. Kashala is my kind of person. How quick and sharp and witty she was. Anonymous needs to get a life. And how wonderful to be deemed The Defender of the Language, when words are so important to you.

    I'm a fair poet when I put my mind to it, but I like prose better--not that I've been too good an example of late, what with being so busy. However, my kid wrote a great haiku (in fifth grade no less) that I liked so much that I still have it taped to my bathroom mirror:

    Jumping and playing,
    Running down the field it goes.
    A horse at full speed.

    Great imagery, and it reminds me that art and language can move you at any time, anywhere.

  9. Bwaa-hah, ha, Nance, you obviously have a great relationship with your students. Also, I'm jealous that you're teaching a poetry class. How fun! The chicken sounds good, too.

    You might not believe this, but the verification word is "proust." May I order some madeleines with that?

  10. Nancy6:38 PM

    I like the sound of that class and those kids.

    Kashala has the Nachos and cheese and some chicken wings. If we could just get Ben to come back with that loaf of French bread,we could all sit around eating,voicing fricatives and
    criticizing T.S.Eliot for writing "The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock"

  11. Nance, Have I ever told you that I love you?

  12. Kashala is a bright, strong young woman. Bravo to her teacher for providing such a nurturing environment!

  13. This sounds like a great class. I wish *I* could take it.

    My kids, in 6th and 8th grades, have an amazing English teacher who really challenges them. They're learning things in middle school that I was not taught until late high school and college.

  14. V-grrrl--Thank you. Not only would you love it, you'd get an A.

    And please make sure you tell their teachers how much you appreciate them. These days, we are all feeling very undervalued, unappreciated, and like scapegoats. It's very fashionable to blame teachers; sadly, even our president is engaging in it. And we're not going to forget that.

    Melissa B.--Oh, is she ever. She also mentors elementary kids after school and babysits for her niece and nephew. She is a dynamo. And thanks for the kind words, which mean even more coming from a fellow in the trenches.

    Nina--Yes, but as you know, I cannot hear it nearly enough. I miss you, by the way.

    Nancy--Don't be hatin' on TS Eliot's "Prufrock." It is one of my all-time favourite poems. How can you not admire the metaphor of measuring out one's life in coffee spoons, or the simile comparing the "evening spread across the sky" to "a patient etherized upon a table." If you want to pick at Eliot, snark about his hideous and unworthy cat poems. Oh, PS--sneaked into Ben's AP class to congratulate him on his band's successes. He's as adorable as ever.

    sputnik--I adore CW2; it's such a high point of my day (and semester). And, oh, madeleines. Yes, please.

    Life--I am better at prose, too, but I think my poetry is better when I'm not teaching other people how to write it. One of my formers who is now a published poet and novelist is always after me to write more. CHIDING me is more like it. But now he is a writing teacher too, so we'll see if he is as creatively productive once he's "red-penning", too.

  15. Great post.

    As a followup to a question you asked in a previous post, for suggestions of non-fiction books. I highly recommend The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, a memoir of growing up with creative, non-conformist parents, who were also extremely irresponsible and neglectful. The children often went hungry and lived in deplorable conditions, yet the book is written without an ounce of self pity and is, at times, humorous. Three of the Walls children were able to use their hard-won skills of self-reliance to become successful, productive adults, so in the end it is uplifting. I listened to the audiobook, then ordered the book from the library, mainly hoping to find some photos of the family ---there was only one ---and ended up re-reading most of it.

  16. CJ--Great to see you here, and thanks for commenting. I remember reading a blurb about this book. It was actually recommended to me by Amazon's little robo-recommendation-thingy. I eschewed it at the time because I often have a difficult time reading or watching stories in which children are victimized. Read "Angela's Ashes" and although the style itself gave me fits, it was the story that really bothered me even though it was obvious that Frank McCourt ended up just fine.

  17. Nance, you're awesome.

    P.S. How dare haven't posted since March 10th. Stop slacking!

  18. Tera--Thanks. It's nice to be called "awesome." Now, you want to talk about "slacking." WHO HASN'T POSTED FOR MONTHS AND MONTHS? But let me just did after a half-year hiatus and that's why you're here...?

  19. *Note*--I've recently deleted comments from someone who wanted to play a guessing game regarding the identity of students in my posts. This treads dangerously upon Privacy Issues. I'd contact this Commenter directly, but he/she has a private Blogger Account, so I'm having to do it here. Please respect the Privacy I've established here. Thanks.


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