"Seriously studying a text calls for an analysis of the one who, through studying, wrote it. It requires an understanding of the sociological-historical conditioning of knowledge. And it requires an understanding of the content under study and of other dimensions of knowledge. Studying is a form of reinventing, re-creating, rewriting; and this is a subject's, not an object's, task."
-Paulo Freire, from "The Act of Study"
S E L E C T E D C O U R S E S T A U G H T
(Syllabi available to download by scrolling to bottom of this page.)
Textiles, Writing, and Culture
The Long Poem
Documentary & Poetry
Surrealism in Art & Literature
Literature by Women
Thesis Development: the Book
Group Study in Lo-fi Publishing
20th Century American Poetry
Advanced Poetry Workshop
Introduction to Poetry
Core Humanities: Literature, Film, Art, and the Human Condition
A T E A C H I N G P H I L O S O P H Y
Writing as Inquiry
Annie Dillard has written that we write in order to find out what we know. This idea is central to my poetics and teaching, whether it's "creative" or "expository" writing. I believe that studying aesthetics and art traditions, and making and revising new works, are imagination-nourishing acts and have the potential to yield new perceptions and provide answers to contemporary questions. In the classroom, we usually begin with a key text and before writing, we engage in discussion. After we are relatively sure we understand the text and its historical and social context, and after ideas are flowing and questions arise, we move into free-writing or notebook writing sessions. The goal is for students to experience the moment of the personal intersecting with public language, or, as Freire might say, a moment when we read not only the word, but the world. My experience has shown that when this process is facilitated, students want to write. If that desire is kindled, then the fear of not writing “well” subsides and is overtaken by a new intention: to “say” something that is true and to write it as well as possible. Members of the classroom community often end up shifting from what they think they know, into a period of questioning, and on to new thought pathways. That this can happen via writing is thrilling.
However, sometimes, and especially in the poetry classroom, we will read a work out loud and not talk about it at all. Instead, we respond to the work viscerally through writing brand new creative works, accessing as directly as we can the way the text works on our minds and bodies without having to make "expository sense" of the text.
I teach writing primarily through reading. Writing in response to essays and literature models the practice of inter-textuality that is the cornerstone of the writer’s life. Assignments might take the shape of informal reading journal responses, a precís, notes for a group presentation, an annotated bibliography, a focused short essay, or an extended essay incorporating research. The process of shaping an extended research essay is built from shorter writing activities, with the important addition of research and revision: accessing new texts through research, exploring and creating bibliographies, and re-thinking or revising initial ideas and theses.
Classroom-based critique demands, I believe, careful facilitation and preparation on the part of students and instructor. Therefore, I ask those offering critique to articulate, in writing, how they read the work, to name other writings that the piece reminds them of, and to prepare questions they have of the work. I also ask them to annotate the piece, making their reading process materialize on the page. To ward off passivity and to place the author more centrally in the critique session, I require that authors come to the session prepared with their own set of questions about their work. At all stages and throughout, I am actively involved, asking students to clarify statements that seem murky, drawing out larger questions for both the individual author and the entire group to consider, and offering supportive comments to ensure that the atmosphere is both rigorous and friendly.
Toward Risk, Revision, and Self-awareness
Risk-taking is one of the greatest opportunities of the educational setting. Entertaining risk requires that I provide explicit reminders as to the value of such an undertaking. To help students find the balance between risk and revision, and to help them gather the energy and confidence to finish a work well, we discuss all aspects of the writing process in class and I meet with students individually to discuss their projects and methods.
My goal is for students to develop their own sense of purpose with each project, deciding, on their own, how far to take a piece, and when a work might be finished. Conducting these discussions helps everyone practice self-assessment. My goal is for students to leave a writing classroom as self-aware writers who can articulate their own process and have some amount of confidence to take this process into other settings.
To teach it you have to do it.
It is both my responsibility and pleasure to keep current and active in my field, to participate in exercises right alongside students, and to ask myself the questions I ask of them. I encourage students to develop a sense of both commitment and flexibility toward project goals, often telling them about my process and how a finished work of my own emerges over time.
Teaching, Power, and Assessment
The teacher/student relationship is a power relationship. I am responsible to the institutional and cultural power I am granted as a teacher by adhering to institutional guidelines, setting classroom guidelines and upholding these consistently, reflecting on my practice as a teacher, and being willing to listen and change.
Assessment is an ongoing process for students and myself, involving class discussion, individual meetings with students, and opportunities for students to write down their thoughts on the course, teaching methods, and what they've learned. I hand work back to students with thorough feedback, and on nearly all assignments, I develop and share assessment rubrics with the students so that their grades and areas for improvement are clearly understood. Assessment also includes, in my experience, informal and formal discussions with my colleagues on teaching.
Finally, the classroom teaches me that change is inevitable; this is its power, I believe. As soon as I have decided that I know what my philosophy and practice is, something happens that requires an adjustment. To practice flexibility and adaptability teaches me about art and writing itself: how to revise, how to re-see, how to imagine something brand new based on the moment at hand.