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!