Now that I have a few weeks off from teaching, though, I'm going to throw myself hard at those projects, try to break a few logjams. And, en route, to post a few things here--the usual mix of personal update and professional musing.
Finished grading Tuesday, down at the office, & left the papers and grade sheets there on my desk, glad to be rid of them.
By the time I got home, this email was simmering in my inbox:
Hi Professor Selinger,A few years back, this would have sent me through the roof. And I'm still a little miffed. Rewriting the papers got this particular student into sight of the B+; one of them was a C+ paper to start with, raised to a B after I changed the syllabus to allow for revision. ("No good deed," as Elphaba says.) As for attendance, the syllabus said that missing classes would lower your grade; the converse isn't necessarily true, is it?
I'm just wondering if I could have a rundown of why I received a B plus in your class. I was anticipating a higher grade after re-writing my papers and attending every class, participating, and never leaving early.
If you could let me know where I went wrong, I'd appreciate it.
But, as I say, this time the complaint didn't send me through the roof. I just wrote back, explained what I said here, and promised to take another look at the student's final exam on my return from winter break. *Shrug* Maybe I'm just too old to fret about such things the way I used to. (Or to care?)
Something sad about the "never leaving early" bit, on reflection. It's as though the student really wanted to cut out halfway through--as some did, it being a night class--but forced him / herself to stay in order to get that top-notch grade. This is supposed to move me?
(Anyone else out there remember the old essay about "cow" and "bull"? It seems on point, somehow.)
My "Modern Poetry" survey this quarter--the one that B+ email comes from--was, I fear, less successful than I'd hoped. My plan was to give the students oodles and oodles of reading, drawn each week from both volumes of the Norton Modern and Contemporary Poetry anthologies. I organized the class thematically, rather than chronologically or by author or movement: a week on war, a week on gender, etc., with some poems (like The Waste Land and Mina Loy's Songs for Joannes) showing up repeatedly, in several contexts. Why? Partly because I'm tired of telling the same old stories about Modernism, stories that I'm no longer sure that I entirely believe; partly to try and restage, on the undergraduate level, the thrills of my recent graduate courses, in which I've simply assigned whole anthologies, reading them at about 100 pages a week. (This way, my students don't simply imbibe my own interests or biases--they get to, have to discover the poets and poems and movements that interest them.)
Most of the students seemed happy enough with the results, and I got some lovely notes from a few about how much they liked the class. Me? Not so much--I would dearly love to find a good prose guide to modern poetry, something as well written as Hugh Kenner's venerable introductions but a bit more inclusive. (Suggestions, anyone?) Still, a few highs and lows are worth noting:
- Pound is getting almost impossible to teach, here at DePaul, at least without devoting several weeks exclusively to him. The student resistance and fear needs to be a subject all its own, and I'm not passionate enough about the work itself these days to carry me over those shoals. We'll see whether the grad students do better with him next quarter, taught out of Cary Nelson's Modern American Poetry antho, with the companion website.
- Lorine Niedecker, on the other hand, taught extremely well, as did Yeats, Robinson Jeffers, May Swenson, and Adrienne Rich.
- Ginsberg remains extremely popular--enough so that I should probably go back and teach him at length again, since he's surrounded by a lot of very vapid cliches (about history, form, and the like) that I might enjoy dispelling. I'm not sure, though, that I want to spend 10 weeks with students who want to spend 10 weeks on Ginsberg anymore.
- Denise Levertov's "Song for Ishtar" was a big hit early in the quarter:
Students liked that more than Mina Loy's "hoggerel," although we did well with Loy by the end of the quarter.The moon is a sowand grunts in my throatHer great shining shines through meso the mud of my hollow gleamsand breaks in silver bubblesShe is a sowand I a pig and a poetWhen she opens her whitelips to devour me I bite backand laughter rocks the moonIn the black of desirewe rock and grunt, grunt andshine
The big surprise, to me? I'd never taught Hugh MacDiarmid before, but took a swipe at teaching "O Wha's the Bride" on the day I called "Against Empire as Such," which focused on modernism and insurgent regional / ethnic / post-colonial poetries. My accent needs work, but the sheer melodious strangeness of the piece carried me through. Since most of my students have never encountered ballads as such, or at least not recently, they struggled a bit, but I was quite enraptured--here's a poem, and a poet, I'll need to come back to:
O Wha's the bride that carries the bunch
O' thistles blinterin' white?
Her cuckold bridegroom little dreids
What he sall ken this nicht.
For closer than gudeman can come
And closer to'r than hersel',
Wha didna need her maidenheid
Has wrocht his purpose fell.
O wha's been here afore me, lass,
And hoo did he get in?
-A man that deed or was I born
This evil thing has din.
And left, as it were on a corpse,
Your maidenheid to me?
-Nae lass, gudeman, sin' Time began
'S hed ony mair to gi'e.
But I can gi'e ye kindness, lad,
And a pair o' willin' hands.
And you shall he'e me breists like stars,
My limbs like willow wands.
And on my lips ye'll heed nae mair,
And in my hair forget,
The seed o' a' the men that in
My virgin womb ha'e met....
Anyone out there ever teach MacDiarmid? What, how, why?