On co-teaching and letting go

From a recent teaching statement. One thing on Socratic method, rhizome-style, and one on letting your beautiful construct go, when ya gotta.


On democratizing Socrates

The student presentations are really ongoing improvisations in co-teaching. Students meet with each other and with me ahead of time to discuss angles of approach. I pay special attention to the design of their lesson plan – which I say should be fluid, responsive to the facts of the moment in the room – and to orienting them to Socratic method. You should have, I say, with each question you ask, an issue you want to bring to the fore, and a thought of how to get there – but also know that students’ responses might propose many alternative pathways there, or might open a different, equally fruitful line of inquiry.

You will be thinking on your feet. When to stay the course, when to let digress? when to reflect and extend a comment? when to lean into a term or a notion and interrogate it? when to leap to something seemingly unrelated, and how to make, eventually, the bridge? I don’t answer these questions for them ahead of time, of course, I just alert them they’ll be facing them.

Also, I’m modelling Socratic method all quarter long myself, and sometimes reflecting explicitly on it. It’s teaching that keeps me on my own toes, for at any given moment, I need to decide whether to let be, or to step in as a discussant, or to step in as one of the co-teachers, or to step in as teacher of the co-teachers. And all these strata are part of one fabric, a rhizomatic classroom.

The point here is to democratize Socrates – to hand the role of teacher over to every interlocutor. Evidence of success? Start of the quarter, discussions were hesitant, needing much help from me. By the end, they were running themselves, question, point, follow-up question, counterpoint, dialogue, as I listened and took notes.

Scruffy, unpredictable, co-teaching is implicitly political, a surrender of control and dispersal of authority much in the spirit of the rhizome.


On letting the beautiful construct go

The meetings where we work out each rhizome one-on-one are important. Late in fall quarter a student came for a second such conference. She’d changed her idea. She wanted to do a rhizome “about” life and death, or maybe death and rebirth. Was that specific enough?

I checked in with my sense of this student, her fondness for arranging schemes – her book proposal in my Editing and Publishing course had been for an encyclopedia of all pagan faiths – and compared that to the sharp little momentary poems she’d started making, with no grand designs, just edgy perception and a brave unfinishedness.

This assignment could be bad for her.

I said, maybe you should just drop the whole rhizome thing. Make five to eight poems, like the ones you’ve been doing. And write something about them and a couple of the readings, you know, but no big deal. She said, I like the sound of that. I said, then you could look at the poems you’ve made, see what they have to tell you, maybe there’s an idea for a rhizome in them. But trust their intelligence; don’t push them around.

She looked relieved. My teaching philosophy is, only connect.

The revolution will not be tweets

Written for a teaching portfolio. I was asked to comment on a sample assignment, in a way that got across my teaching philosophy. I chose the DIY Rhizome Project that caps my advanced poetry workshop, and said this.


On the “DIY Rhizome” Project

English 453, Creative Writing Seminar: Poetry, is the highest-level poetry workshop undergraduates may take at Western. Most students are juniors and seniors majoring in English with a creative writing concentration. They’ll have taken an introductory poetry workshop already, probably also several other writing courses. That said, their prior experience in poetry can vary widely. So notwithstanding our esoteric arranging idea, some of our class time is given to basic matters of poetic composition: the line, concrete details, figurative language.

I call 453 “Poetics of the Rhizome.” Taken from Deleuze and Guattari, the rhizome is a way of seeing that emphasizes multiplicity, connectedness, interbeing. Diversity, robustly. Or Indra’s Net, with more contortions, because Western thought. Ranging among William Carlos Williams’s Spring and All, Aimé Césaire’s Discourse on Colonialism, Coral Bracho’s selected poems, and lots of others, students face several challenges: (1) Poetry and poetics texts from an outsider Western tradition (Black Mountain) and then from outside the Anglo-Amer­ican tradition. (2) An arranging idea that’s hard to wrap your head around. (3) A student-centred pedagogy that has evolved, as my Socratic teaching style has matured, into a collaborative form of co-teaching. (4) Creative exercises simple on the surface but hard to accomplish. “Write a poem that embodies spring.” “Write a poem that taps into myth consciousness.” “Write a poem of praise.”

These demands, if balanced right, and made with plenty of good cheer and encouragement, push students to new places. That’s happening this quarter right now and is lovely to see. Their final project, the DIY Rhizome project, is an invitation to each to define, provisionally, what that place is for them, its contours. It’s a portfolio, made rhizomatic, made to differ. Students are asked to imagine what forms a rhizome might take: a hypertext, a spoken word set uploaded to YouTube, a keepsake box of typewritten scraps. And it needs to build difference into its own body – by talking with, to, or about one of the poets we’ve read, and one of the poetics texts we’ve read, and also by having a non-textual aspect, something pictorial or tactile or auditory about it. Diversity, diverted to genre, medium, discourse. Because by now we’ve come, with the aid of Négritude, Sufism, the Haida Mythworld, Spanish Surrealism, Language Poetry, and Cage’s Black Mountain take on emptiness, as well as a cheerful scepticism about all these thought-boxes, to see the rhizome as what takes in difference without effacing its differentness.


The drawing atop is from this site. Exquisite sequence!

DIY rhizome

Planted asparagus crowns today – kraken jellyfish sprawls – and guess what, they’re rhizomes. In which honour, instead of the grading I meant to, am posting the project I spent the afternoon hatching for my poetry students.


For your final project, instead of a plain old boring ordinary portfolio, you’re going to construct a rhizome of your ownsome. I’ll set some parameters, and then we can work out together, one-on-one, the form each of your rhizomes takes. Please enter this project in the spirit of cheerful exploration you’ve been cultivating (lovely to see) all quarter.

As we discussed, your rhizome needs (1) to do self-reflection; (2) to include finished poetry of your own; (3) to engage with at least one of the poetry texts and one of the poetics texts we’ve read; and (4) to have a non-textual dimension. My hope’s that these parameters will foster rhizome values of heterogeneity, interconnection, polyphony. And I invite but won’t require you (5) to engage with Deleuze and Guattari’s essay “Introduction: Rhizome” itself.


(1) Self-reflection

You’ve read others on their poetics – what about your poetics? Hey what are your poetics? How have your poetics changed over the last ten weeks? What aspects of the course, other courses, your daily round, have affected your poetics? (Williams learns his poetics from an old man with a watch chain; Levertov from a vase of tulips; Cage from street noise and the endlessness of Kansas.) Is there a given word, image, line or line break in one of your poems where your poetics come clear to you? Write about it, talk about it, blog about it, make a sound poem à la Taggart out of it. You’re doing self-reflection if you’re thinking explicitly and incisively about your own work and practice.

(2) Finished poetry

This is the only component of the rhizome I can realistically quantify. There should be five to eight finished poems. (Towards the lower end if other requirements are met outside the poems. Towards the higher end if they’re met within.) Don’t include drafts unless drafts are part of your rhizome-vision (a process-study rhizome…?). Do consider all the feedback you’ve received, everything you’ve learned about poetic inspiration and poetic craft, and your own writerly intuitions, as you revise your work, a little or a lot.

(3) Engagement with poetry and poetics texts

Your rhizome needs to meet one of the poetry texts we’ve read, head-on, and one of the poetics texts, head on. (Spring and All can count as either, but you need to grapple with a second text as well.) Your meeting can be analytical or creative or both. Endless possibilities! Analytical: Say your rhizome’s a blog. You could write a post about your changing understanding of Williams’s line and how it has changed your own line. Creative: Say your rhizome’s a series of manipulations of found texts. You could do an asemic translation of Cage’s “Lecture on Nothing” following an algorithm derived from the square root sequence he uses to structure it.[1]

Whether your work here is creative or analytical, it should be thoughtful and substantive, emerging, in a way that’s clear to an outside reader (me), from a sustained engagement with the text at hand. Quote, converse, argue; analyze, imitate, parody; cut up, write through, collage.

(4) A non-textual dimension

Your rhizome should have a significant non-textual aspect, component, or dimension. It could be one part of the rhizome – a visual poem, in among other textual poems. Or it could be an aspect of the whole – your rhizome presents as hypertext, say, or a mobile for above the crib of your unborn child, or a set of performance poems, or nested boxes you’ve glued up out of grocery store bags and inscribed with your poems in fake blood from the dollar store. Why? Because rhizome.

(5) “Introduction: Rhizome”

Finally, and optionally, I encourage you to make contact with Deleuze and Guattari’s essay, source of this nuttiness. It’s posted on Canvas, along with key excerpts, some of which we’ve discussed. Seems to me even snippets, little phrases, could turn, open, frame, or maybe defenestrate a poem of yours. Take one and build it into a poem it has nothing to do with – see if it opens up things. A love poem with “Don’t bring out the General in you!” as epigraph? An elegy with “Don’t sow, grow offshoots!” as last line? Or, just put your finger down on a page at random, and whatever phrase you land on, write a poem with that as the title. Or, if you’re truly brave, read the essay for real, see if any of it sheds light on the work you’ve done, are doing, have yet to do.


How it comes together

There’s a safe way to do this. A poetry portfolio that includes a visual poem and a self-assess­ment in which you situate your work in relation to the poet who’s had the most effect on you this quarter, and the poetics essay you’ve found most provocative, illuminating, or unsettling.

I hope though you’ll bring out the rhizome in you more so. Consider the interconnecting divergent heterogeneous multimedia genre-bending border-crashing ways you might do this thing. A few we came up with last week: A chapbook. A conspiracy board. A video mashup. A blog. A purse. A potted plant. Do others come to mind?

And consider as you work: what makes the art object whole? We’re well beyond the well-wrought urn here, the neat and tidy closure of the sonnet. Think about all the accounts of wholeness we’ve encountered: the seeming sprawl of Spring and All; the forest network of Ghandl’s stories; Cage’s tightly structured yet breezy improvisatory lecture; Olson’s and Hejinian’s divergent senses of open field and open form.

And no, not one of them means just any old mess passes muster, sorry. (A stake in the heart of Reader Response Theory! Die! It’s not that you’re not right, but you stunt young minds!) What, for Ghandl, Lorca, Cage, Valentine, Taggart, is the difference between whole and not whole? What is the difference for you? Hey, sounds like a question of poetics … maybe one to reflect on …


Finally, practicalities

Our last workshop round will be a rhizome workshop. Bring, for it, whatever will be most helpful to you to discuss – a poem to be part of your rhizome, or a paragraph describing your rhizome scheme, or a link to a blog post or video essay. If the object’s unique and irreproducible – a paper mâché elephant assembled of discarded drafts – bring pictures to pass round, and on the day you’re to be discussed, the object itself, if you can.

Please take note of your date in the schedule. We’re slightly behind, but please, just the same, bring your work on the day your work is due. Allows us max flex. As said, we’ll take care of the backlog at a supplemental meeting, Monday March 14, 5pm at Rudy’s Pizza. Because mushroom.

[1] WTF? See Beaulieu, Flatland. This, BTW, is what Bedient is talking about.

Cage on teacher, student

Found this on a blog that linked to this one and looks kindred but clearer headed. John Cage on being a teacher being a student.

cagerulesteachersstudents

Gonna direct my students to this, and this blog, because honest to G-d, sometimes I think they think I’m making this shit up all on my lonesome.

P.S. No, my students, rule 6 does not sound like Yoda. Yoda sounds like rule 6. Am I sounding testy? It’s that point in the quarter. Nothing is a mistake. Try (note to self) trusting it awhile.

Aasemic writing

Asemic writing is writing you can’t read. Semic writing is writing you can. (A back formation, there’s no such word.) I am at play, finessing the difference, with aasemic writing.

A joy of asemic writing is that it draws all the promise of meaning-making, all the whole multifoliate interpretive apparatus, into activity, w/o resolution or conclusion. It’s Steinian indeterminacy, in not the syntax but the graphemes. It’s the made mark as blastocyst, as stem cell, as potential to become. Is it a Deleuzian plateau? Maybe, still sweating that concept out.

So the aasemic script I’ve been playing with is neither indeterminate nor determinate. (GOD you can take this non-dualist thing too far, mm? how’s this not just centrist squish?) It starts with a journal page transcribed in a projective hand – descender a plunge, cross-stroke a jailbreak. Then I wave or shiver it over the photocopier light bar as it slides under, gathering data in.

All this is lead in to say, The New Post-Literate has posted a few, and that makes me happy, cuz they’re the first bits of Overject to be published, other than here, which don’t count. Here’s the link.

And here are a few other recent offerings there I think especially cool.

The home page of The New Post-Literate where it’s all to be found.


A lot of my trouble w/ academic parlance comes from trying to translate Buddhist vocabulary and values to a non-Buddhist circumstance. Most of the rest of it comes from being a lazy and a lousy Buddhist. (The latter’s 90%.)


Feste to Viola, Twelfth Night, “I am [a] corrupter of words.” After they’ve just rung their changes on live, stand, lie. I compared the move on lie to a triple-axle – Viola to Feste, “yo watch this move” – and one of my students found a sextuple axle in it, bam. Post-structuralism, its insights, e.g., words’re banana peels, dates back at least to Shakespeare, if not to Jesus? “On this rock I build my church,” that’s a pun, Jesus is making a funny, I told them, explaining the finger joints of a dactyl, by way pterodactyl. Petros (Peter), petra (rock). Long live the rhizome. Weed shoot that cracks the rock.

Spring and All and all

One week in, both my classes, and they’re so nice! In a life that feels, gonna just say it, a bit thin for human company, my teaching is textured, rugose. They go by fast, these students, even those I connect with beyond the usual. (They’ve got lives to get on with, yo?) But in their meteoric transits through, briefly they’re as if my kids – kids I never raised, but get to feel tender toward a spell, aren’t they.

Didn’t think to go there. (Even the ones who don’t remember my name. The ones whose names I have to reach for. Somehow, and more than formally, them too. What is that?) (A leopard makes a rhizome with a newborn baboon. Our instincts, drives, are endlessly various and flexible; are originally free; hence, maybe, art.*) (There’s a thesis for you – interspecies bonds and art happen by the same mechanisms.**)

My mind goes this way, these ways, thanks to William Carlos Williams’s Spring and All, first text of our rhizome workshop, whose motive is life and more life, life in nooks and crannies, life in standing water and sickbeds. Spring and yes are synonyms.


It’s late, Sunday tracking to Monday, so just this, second para:

There is a constant barrier between the reader and his consciousness of immediate contact with the world. If there is an ocean it is here. Or rather, the whole world is between:

Consider how odd that is. Intimacy with the world is intact. Consciousness of intimacy with the world is intact. There’s a barrier, and it’s constant, but it’s not anywhere you’d think to posit it. More than intact, maybe, inviolable, and yet, a barrier, a constant one.

And more – the barrier between you and your awareness of intimacy with the world – is the world. How are you not intimate with that?

Dharma of a red wheelbarrow. Why the participle glazed matters, why the prepositions, their stationing in mental space, matters.

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens


And a key to Paterson. I think so. Williams is a shitkicker, but his question’s a loving one, why don’t we treat each other more tenderly as we might? That’s not rhetorical – if it were it’d be schlock. He’s really asking. He puts a life’s energy into asking.

He moved me to ask it too. I tend to ask in the first person singular, cuz the plural feels presumptuous, though as I’ve looked at my poetry this weekend, I’ve had fears of narcissism … I, I, I, the vowel in die, the vowel in live (adj.) …

In which vein, this little one came yesterday, out of crumpled disjecta, I see a bear cub, but that may be my pareidolia talking.

 

Disjecta scan 1.jpg


* Check out that link! See if you don’t think art is incipient there. In the leopard’s uncertainty – do I nurture or do I pounce. In its unfitness – how will it feed its new charge. And in its untowardness – it’s ventured where it should not have. Those are three of the uns of art, yes, no?

It’s broken, I mean, into a new space, which it, and the baby baboon, and the forest, and 2 million YouTube views all honour in their ways.

As I do you by tapping “Publish.” G’night.


** (Next morning.) Try this. Art is second-order play. Art is when play becomes the content of new play. Which could be why it feels to us both vital and inutile, and why its nature slips out of our grasp, and why we’re tempted to think of it as transcendent, when in fact it’s supervenient …

Down boy. You’re supposed to be lesson planning.

 

On co-teaching

A bit more from the syllabus of my upcoming poetry worksop.

How’s that for a Freudian typo. Workshop.


Something started happening with the presentations in a class I taught last spring. Between the work of the presenting student, and my pesky interrupts, and the contributions of everyone else, they ceased to be presentations, without becoming anything else at all defined. A little bit seminar, a little bit Q&A, quite a lot of free-for-all. The presenter and I were, in effect, teaching the class together in an ongoing improvisation, and though there was sometimes awk­wardness there was a lot of joy. I think a lot got learned. I came to call the practice co-teaching.

Scruffy, unpredictable, co-teaching is a surrender of control and dispersal of authority very much in the spirit of the rhizome. So I propose that we take up co-teaching as a practice this quarter also. First time round, it came adventitiously, and I don’t want to over-plan things now, it might kill the spontaneity. Soon to come, then, bare traces of a structure, offered tentative, for us to revise if we find them too much, or too little, or simply amiss.

For now. Each of you will sign up to co-teach one poetry text and one poetics text. (Full list below.) In most cases you’ll be collaborating with one fellow student and with me. I’ll give you some pointers – poems or concepts I think important to touch on in the text – and will count on you to develop a plan of action, ahead of time, with your student collaborator. (If you need to involve me in your plans ahead of time, cool, but otherwise I’m happy improvising in response to whatever unfolds.) Sign-up will happen soon, so please acquaint yourself with the course texts promptly.


The list, i.e., the crazy we be up to:

William Carlos Williams, Spring & All

Robert Creeley, Pieces
Charles Olson, “Projective Verse”

John Taggart, “The Rothko Chapel Poem”
Denise Levertov, “Some Notes on Organic Form”

Ghandl of the Qayahl Llaanas, from Nine Visits to the Mythworld*
John Cage, “Lecture on Nothing”

Will Alexander, from Towards the Primeval Lightning Field*
Calvin Bedient, “Against Conceptualism” (CV)

Adonis, from Selected Poems*
Federico García Lorca, “Theory and Play of the Duende”

Jean Valentine, Break the Glass
Lyn Hejinian, “The Rejection of Closure”

Coral Bracho, from Firefly under the Tongue*
Adrienne Rich, “When We Dead Awaken”

*Selections to be worked out in consultation with co-teachers.


Image credit: Marc Ngui, Thousand Plateaus.