Sunday, November 23, 2008

Week 5, 6, 7, 8

Week 5 no one brought in their stuff to workshop, which was really disappointing. Instead we read "Franchise" and considered basic elements of setting- Aidan did the who what when where why + how equation. This was followed by a disinterested discussion of the ways in which these forms work. But things got a little bit interesting when our kids questioned the order of these tenets (and how many are needed in a successful beginning. It was hard to say, but we thought we should tell them that they needed to focus a lot on one of these details of setting, but to make sure to include the other details (it was hard not to suggest to just let them come, but we thought it better to insist on including them explicitly).

Week 6 we read "Franchise" aloud. I also got a fair number of poems from each class, which I looked over and gave comments on. Interestingly here, I found it problematic giving comments on the slam poems that the kids had done in another class (but which I accepted to look over, still). The slam poems were very emotionally charged, and I was careful to make practical suggestions, mostly thinking about how best to form the emotions of the poems and best deliver the knockout punch that slam poetry wants. But the form is troublesome for me- I've never been taught formally about slam poetry, though I've heard it before. The form itself seems to deny a straightforward way of reading it. Likewise, the form seems to thrive on a reckless abandon of formality, careful architecture, and like a beat poem, strive to deliver the experience fast and hard.

Some of the other corrections I made were easier because the poems were either free verse (not slam) or in the sonnet form. Free verse is difficult to correct in the way that slam poetry denies a form, though explaining the 'form' of free verse is extremely difficult (because there is a form, certainly). Instinctively, I tried to correct rhythmic problems, grammar, or course, and ways in which ideas ought to be connected and punctuated. Free verse is not the total chaos, though it can thrive in abstraction.

Week 7 we read "A Good Man is Hard to Come By." Aidan didn't touch on the question of racist language, which arose in the stories we read both in Week 7 and Week 8. We were extremely proud of our students for handling these stories in such a mature manner. But in both Flannery O'connor's story and Hemmingway's "The Killers," racist language can be telling of both the setting and the condition of the characters. In the event that the students confronted us about the offensive words in O'connor's story, we were prepared to justify the language's use by talking about the character's fate, and the ultimate redemption of good taste (and non-racist language). But in "The Killers," both of the killers go back and forth calling the cook of the lunch counter by his name and his common slur. The killers are more base characters than O'connor's grandmother, and their language reflects their class. It also somewhat reflects the common tongue of the time. There is no redemption for the killer's offenses at the end of the story, but besides the smear, the character Sam is treated no differently than the other prisoners. Obviously these words are inexcusable, but creative writing also offers a place for the most base of base human emotions. Racism is a tricky issue, but like I said, our students handled these powerful stories responsibly.

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