CFP: Teaching with Bernstein’s and Meyer’s Experiments and Google-Sculpture

I’ve been thinking about this paper I’m going to write about poetry writing teaching pedagogy. A call for papers (CFP) went out on the English grad listserve a few months ago for papers by graduate students on teaching creative writing. I’ve taught two semester of the English 205 course at Purdue now, and hey, perhaps I will teach some more workshops/lectures in the future. I also think my approach to teaching the poetry section of the course was very beneficial to my students learning to approach poetry in a more engaged and exciting way.

Basically, I structured the half-semester of poetry around Bernstein’s inspired compilation and update of Bernadette Meyer’s “Experiments” from the 1970’s. It was the spirit of these experiments that was most beneficially applied to the classroom, which is a spirit of open-minded interaction with the world, ideas and language, and in some ways a kind of responsiveness training [not sure what I mean by that yet]. The readings for the course were mostly chosen to correspond with certain exercises, usually as a sample of what kind of poem might come from the specific exercise(s) chosen for a particular class. An example of this was to choose Silliman’s “BART” (from Age of Huts (compleat)) and one of Mac Low’s Twenties poems as examples of an attention poem (Experiment #41). I also combined two exercises and had my students collaborate on an alphabet poem (#17 + #21), using the model of Lyn Hejinian and Jack Collom’s Abecedarian’s Dream collabs from Situations, Sings.

But the most interesting exercise, which was not included in the 90’s version of the “Experiments” list, was #71, the Google Poem or Google Sculpture. I wrote about the exercise I created on the blog earlier this year (“Teaching Google Sculpting at Purdue“), which used K. Silem Mohammad’s Deer Head Nation as a model. (Bernstein’s exercise gives a few more options than mine did.) Some of them responded very well to the exercise, and came out with some very exciting poems. One of my students later reported that she has since done three more google sculptures “for fun,” which is a wonderful thing to hear.

I chose to teach using “Experiments” as my model in order to counteract the mainstream lyric workshop model that dominates even early poetry education. Most undergraduate students have no sense at all of contemporary poetry, and most are exposed by their professors/instructors to only a very narrow range of approaches. I employed along with “Experiments” a reading list of poems from nearly every contemporary aesthetic I could teach in 8 weeks. I did not seek to indoctrinate my students in the aesthetic of avant-garde poetry, but I equally chose to not indoctrinate them in the mainstream. The goal was to show them that poetry is an engagement with language, that words as sound and signifier are all around them, and that there are many, many ways to create a poem and many different voices to employ besides the self(poet)-conscious/self(poet)-obsessed subject inherited from Romanticism.

There. I just wrote some of my paper.

I wish I had been able at the time to use Gnoetry and mchain (statistical text analysis/genesis programs) in the classroom, too, but there were some software issues due to Microsoft’s institutional monopoly. Perhaps in the future.

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4 thoughts on “CFP: Teaching with Bernstein’s and Meyer’s Experiments and Google-Sculpture

  1. What’s up Eric?

    I think you’re right on in identifying the lyric as the go to model in creative writing education. It blows my mind when people complain about how their students are writing these grossly sentimental poems when all they’re teaching is the lyric.

    I’ve also found it useful and entertaining to teach whole lessons on sound early on in the semester where they have to really think about what motions their mouth has to make with certain words and syllables. Connects ’em to the visceral side of things.

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