(Spillover from a job app. Why am I putting it here? Someone might be curious? And, I was having fun with the pilcrow.)
The more I write and teach the less I know. In my writing, most of a poem now is found in the moment at hand, in what senses, breath, and mind, each attuned to each, have to say. In that same spirit of unknowing, though, I am less prone than I was, as a young teacher, to think my process a template for my students. More and more they teach me how to teach them. ¶ I teach revision as re-vision, deep new seeing. Some students see newly by reworking one body of words: with each pass they come closer to what they meant, or might mean anew. For others, revision means turning the page; reworking one piece, they worry it to death. So I have students try it both ways, and work with them in conference as they come to a sense of their own practices. ¶ My workshops emphasize non-evaluative feedback. I find that peer comments are more perceptive, and student authors more receptive to them, when praise and advice are set mostly aside. This approach has a downside—the ego wants to be fed and may complain when it’s not—but I find most students come to prefer it before long. ¶ I emphasize the “writer’s antennae”—the capacity for close attention to the texture of your moment-to-moment experience of your own writing. I find that faithful attention to those tingles of excitement, those pulses of boredom, guides composition and revision more reliably than any creative writing precept or external feedback. ¶ And I believe everyone has that capacity, though it’s often obscured by self-doubt or anxiety. A lot of teaching creative writing is showing how to wipe mud off a jewel. All the methods I use in the classroom—peer critique, small group work, class discussion, wacky writing prompts—are meant to foster that process of clarification. ¶ Many also ask students to negotiate differences of background and temperament they might have with their peers. For instance, I often put students in pairs to restore line breaks to a poem I’ve set as a prose paragraph. One is to make sure that the line breaks are expressive, the other that the line itself has integrity. Each has to contact her felt sense of the poem’s language, and to feel through how new lineations will create new patterns of energy. And each has, as she articulates her perceptions, to accommodate the perhaps quite different values and priorities of her partner. In this way, the sort of difference a line break is, brushes on the sort of difference another person is.
POSTSCRIPT. Reading about the pilcrow in Keith Houston’s Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols, and Other Typographical Marks. Good fun and some neat finds. But dreadful editing. Dangling modifiers so thick methinks I need a machete. Come on, Norton, you’re better than this.