LIT writing vs CRW writing

It’s interesting and sad that these two are so often seen as combatants, rather than as family, extensions of one another, working towards a common good.

That said, I’m afraid I fall into the first camp.

Nearly every time I am required to read and regurgitate literary criticism, it is a painful process and comes at the expense of my creativity, my “muse” if you will.  It is a struggle for me to suffer through the deliberately obtuse language and thought process propounded by academics that seem to believe they are “paid by the pound” for the verbiage they generate. I resent such manipulators grabbing the power to, in most instances, destroy the last vestige of a work’s literary beauty in their apparent hunt for self-aggrandizement, and I truly don’t believe I’ve ever heard an adequate explanation for this selfishness. It seems a variant of the old saw is at work: s/he who can, does; s/he who can’t criticizes. Hopefully my ignorance is speaking, hopefully there’s a closet full of successful creative writers and poets who, having taken their art to the pinnacle of personal and peer satisfaction, have gone on to then dissect, analyze, and write about the work of their less advanced (or less privileged?) brethren.

But I don’t think so.

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Get with the Program, English Departments

Get with the program, English Departments

In “Writing Re-Launched: Teaching with Digital Tools,” published earlier this month in, Liana Heitin accurately reports that “[t]he nature of writing has shifted in recent years. There are very few—if any—jobs these days for which employees produce lengthy handwritten reports. News stories are an integration of words, images, audio, and website links. College applications are all online, and some schools are beginning to accept videos in place of essays. A friendly letter is more likely composed on a smartphone than on stationary.”

Hello-o-o! This does not mean “use 1980s tools like %&*$# Blackboard” with antiquated, awkward, and unfriendly user interfaces.” What this trend says is that if academia wants to keep pace with the “real world,” if we want to remain relevant to the students we serve and their (hopefully) employers, then we need to move MUCH faster in the technology arena.

“But how can we do this in these woe-is-me financial times? There’s no money, we’re losing teachers, yada yada yada.” What many of us can do first is to shed ourdinosaur skins and embrace–as well as we can–the contrivances and habits of the upcoming generation. Buy a smart phone, sign up for Facebook, and Twitter, and get an 11-year-old niece or grandson to show you how it works. And then we need to use these new things to gain at least an inkling of today’s “everyday life.” Without such experiences, much of what we try to communicate will be lost. While the latest fashions might not be critical, the backbone of communication IS changing. Literature–and in the immediate future, textbooks–is all being delivered on Smartphones,  Android tablet computers, and iPads.

Initiatives like One Laptop Per Child, that aims “to create educational opportunities for the world’s poorest children by providing each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop,” and the recent UCF Help Haiti Cell Phone Drive collecting phones to create “mobile training centers, able to teach Haitian students in the classroom and in the field,” are indicators of the tsunami that is washing over us even now. Somehow, we need to get moving and maximize what’s available while planning and seeking funding for the immediate future. Maybe a bake sale?

Adapt or go extinct, Universitarius Rex.

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Ya Gotta Love English

So, third recent pass through The Sun Also Rises while prepping for the fifth and final teaching lead, and I tried–one more time–to find the meaning of “darbs,” said by Bill to Jake in response to Jake’s statement about Robert Cohn, “You’ve got some fine ones [Jewish friends] yourself” (101 in the pictured edition: Scribner 1954).

I had tried several dictionaries in the past few weeks (including the illustrious OED via to no avail, ditto on (gasp!) wikipedia, but this time–finally, thanks to the google-gods smiling–I hit the jackpot with this old comment on an old blog post, which led to another–, this time with citations (nope, didn’t look it up…enough’s enough)–as follows:

One female name that was repeated so often it became a slang expression was Ruby Darby. She began in a Dallas chorus line, honed her act in World War I army camps and made her mark as one of the first to sing the blues in the southwest boomtowns. Known in the 1920s as the toast of the oil-field workers, this brazen sensuous showgirl toured the oil camps in a big red flashy chauffeur-driven automobile, coming in wearing only a fur coat and a smile to guarantee a packed house for the night’s performance. Her trademark song was W.C. Handy’s Memphis Blues but more popular than her sultry voice was her exotic dancing. They said she would strip at the drop of a driller’s hat; had ridden a hoss completely nekkid down the mud- and oil-splashed streets of Keifer, and haddanced bare-skinned on a tool shack roof as men tossed silver dollars at her feet. She packed a pistol, wore silk stockings and would try anything once… and an acquaintance called her a natural adventurer. There was a popular couplet warning, If you’ve got a good man keep him home tonight/for Ruby Darby’s in town and she’s your daddy’s delight. (Wallis 1988, p. 187).

She was so highly loved in some of the Oklahoma oilfields that when a gusher came in the men would call it a Ruby Darby. Eventually, to call something a Darb was to say it could get no higher praise. In Ernest Hemingway’s (Fig. 14) The Sun Also Rises, the main character suggests his companion has some excellent acquaintances: You’ve got some fine ones yourself. The listener agrees that his acquaintances are good ones. Oh, yes. I’ve got some darbs. (Hemingway 1926, p. 107).

God, I love English.


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Lead #1 – “The Green Light in Great Gatsby”

Working notes – Lead #1 “The Green Light in Great Gatsby” (posted Blackboard in Feb.)

Student Learning Objective: Students will examine works of literature through various “lenses” such as close reading with focus on various interpretations of possible symbols and then compare with formal critical perspectives (e.g. economic/class/Marxist).

Ask students’ thoughts on green and the general meaning of the color: significance? List their ideas and examples from The Great Gatsby: Nature, growth, plants, water, life, money or prosperity, jealousy, sickness, what else?

Examples from text: leather car seat ch 4 (68) ch 7 (127), dock light (below), Gatz’s jersey ch 6 (104), Daisy’s kissing/dance card  ch 6 (111), Sound ch 7 (124), grass/golf links ch 8 (162), train tickets “clasped tight in…gloved hands” Ch 9 (184), …breast of the new world ch9 (189)

Green Light 1  (Bruccoli-prefaced addition)

Something in his leisurely movements and the secure position of his feet upon the lawn suggested that it was Mr. Gatsby himself, come out to determine what share was his of our local heavens.

I decided to call to him. Miss Baker had mentioned him at dinner, and that would do for an introduction. But I didn’t call to him for he gave a sudden intimation that he was content to be alone–he stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and far as I was from him I could have sworn he was trembling. Involuntarily I glanced seaward—and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock. When I looked once more for Gatsby he had vanished, and I was alone again in the unquiet darkness (25-26) Ch. 1.

Significance of outstretched arms? Prayer? Child reaching for mother? Grasping? What else? Does it matter there was only a single green light?

Green light 2-3

He took out a pile of shirts and began throwing them, one by one before us, shirts of sheer linen and thick silk and fine flannel which lost their …

After the house, we were to see the grounds and the swimming pool, and the hydroplane and the midsummer flowers–but outside Gatsby’s window it began to rain again so we stood in a row looking at the corrugated surface of the Sound.

“If it wasn’t for the mist we could see your home across the bay,” said Gatsby. “You always have a green light that burns all night at the end of your dock.”

Daisy put her arm through his abruptly but he seemed absorbed in what he had just said. Possibly it had occurred to him that the colossal significance of that light had now vanished forever. Compared to the great distance that had separated him from Daisy it had seemed very near to her, almost touching her. It had seemed as close as a star to the moon. Now it was again a green light on a dock. His count of enchanted objects had diminished by one (98) Ch. 5.

How did the meaning of the light change? Why was it “vanished forever”? Heavenly to earthly, how?

Green light 4-5

And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by

year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter–tomorrow

we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning—- So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past (189) Ch. 9.

How does the narrator/Nick’s voice change here? What effects does that have on the reader? What do the bold lines mean?

Some critics

“At this point, Gatsby’s dream becomes completely transcended: from ‘I’ and ‘he,’ the narrator passes on to ‘we,’ through a process of assimilation: ‘Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us.’ We have now become Gatsby, but at the same time Gatsby is us, Gatsby is every man. And the green light is much more than the light ‘at the end of Daisy’s dock;” it is now called ‘the orgastic future.” We know Fitzgerald meant ‘orgastic,’ which, he said, ‘is the adjective for “orgasm” and it expresses exactly the intended ecstasy. It is not a bit dirty.’ (Johnson 116).

“Throughout the novel Gatsby is associated with the night, and more particularly with the moon… Hence it is surely significant that on the last pages of the novel Nick Carraway—alone in the night—wanders over to Gatsby’s house in the moonlight, sprawls on the sand, and thinks of Gatsby’s wonder when he picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. For a moment, perhaps, Nick felt a sense of identity with the moon person who had lived and died next door” (Donaldson 138).

“Money has created this artificial, denatured world, ‘material without being real’ for, as Marx reminds us, with the money to buy everything comes the power to change ‘reality into mere representation’… commodity fetishism—the passionate chase after symbolic representations of other men’s desires [as seen in] Gatsby’s sense of the ‘colossal significance of the green light at the end of her dock ‘now vanished forever.’ ‘Now it was again a green light on a dock.’ But this symbolic stripping away of the symbolic brings not elation but a sense of loss: ‘His count of enchanted objects had diminished by one.’”(207).


Works Cited

Donaldson, Scott. “The Trouble with Nick.” Critical Essays on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Ed. Scott Donaldson. New York: G.K. Hall & Co., 1984. Print.

Johnson, Christiane. “The Great Gatsby: The Final Vision.” Critical Essays on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Ed. Scott Donaldson. New York: G.K. Hall & Co., 1984. Print.

Posnock, Ross. “A New World, Material Without Being Real”: Critique of Capitalism in The Great Gatsby.” Critical Essays on F. Scott Fitzgerald. Ed. Scott Donaldson. New York: G.K. Hall & Co., 1984. Print.

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Lead #4 – Frost’s “Never Again Would Bird’s Song be the Same”

Lead 4 – Frost’s “Never Again Would Bird’s Song be the Same”

Learning Outcomes

With a close reading of the poem, students will identify the rhyme scheme and meter of this sonnet; interpret the speaker, situation, and meaning; and examine the effectiveness or difficulty of working within such constraints.

Lecture/Discussion, part 1

Poetic Form

This poem is a Shakespearean sonnet—14 lines, three rhyming quatrains ending with rhyming couplet (abab cdcd efef gg). Brief explanation of the sonnet and other poetic forms and examples:

Couplet: William Blake’s “The Tyger”

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

Terza Rima: Robert Frost’s “Acquainted with the Night”

I have been one acquainted with the night.

I have walked out in rain — and back in rain.

I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.

I have passed by the watchman on his beat

And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

Blank Verse: William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”

Caesar: Let me have men about me that are fat, / Sleek-headed men, and such as sleep o’ nights. / Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look; / He thinks too much, such men are dangerous. (I, iii, 192-5).

Villanelle: Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle into this Good Night”

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Lecture/Discussion, part 2

On Frost’s “Never Again Would Birds’ Song be the Same”


Birds in the Garden of Eden—and since—were changed with the coming of Eve; her “eloquence so soft” was incorporated into their various songs: “her voice upon their voices crossed.”

Rhyme Scheme

Never Again Would Birds’ Song be the Same

He would declare and could himself believe

That the birds there in all the garden round

From having heard the daylong voice of Eve

Had added to their own an oversound,

Her tone of meaning but without the words.

Admittedly an eloquence so soft

Could only have had an influence on birds

When call or laughter carried it aloft.

Be that as may be, she was in their song.

Moreover her voice upon their voices crossed

Had now persisted in the woods so long

That probably it never would be lost.

Never again would birds’ song be the same.

And to do that to birds was why she came.

Speaker of the poem

Knowing, but not omniscient – “He would declare and could himself believe” – God-like perspective but does not “himself believe,” so not God; suggests speaker is First Man Adam waxing eloquent about his help-meet; declares meaning behind Eve’s existence; vague possibility that speaker is Satan, but flattering tongue would likely be aimed directly at object of poem Eve were that the case.


Poem is male-centered/patriarchal, and unusual for Frost in that this piece seems to admit existence of God. That Eve/ur-woman influenced all birdsong portrays woman as bringer of beauty, similar to the Victorian “angel in the house.” In “Frost and Modernism,” Robert Kern elaborates on this, saying “Adam is presented as the author of a myth about the human appropriation of nature, or the absorption, the transformation, of nature into language—an event which gives rise to the nostalgia of the poem’s title even as it marks the beginnings of a full human awareness of nature” (13). Kern also says “Frost is working with images to the ear as well as to the eye, so that the reader experiences a voice as much as (if not more than) a thing. . . [and] If images to the ear are things, then Frost is an imagist” (12).

Works Cited

Frost, Robert. “Never Again Would Bird’s Song Be The Same.” Poetry X. Ed. Jough Dempsey. 16 Jun 2003. Web. 24 Mar. 2011.

Kern, Robert. “Frost and Modernism.” American Literature, 60.1 (1988). 1-16. JSTOR. Web. 24 March 2011.

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Just What’s a “Bricoleur” Anyway?

In “Opening Spaces of Possibility: The Teacher as Bricoleur,” Mary Ann Reilly explains this term, clarifies the concept, and relates an effective example of bricolage in today’s English classroom. She shows how in real life the lines separating genres such as poetry, fiction, and essay are blurred, giving as evidence student successes in a New Jersey middle-school where the teacher helps students using tools like “tuning ears” to understand “voice” and “breath,” “collaging cards” to generate poetry themes, and “picturing place” to re-frame observation techniques.

Reilly references The Savage Mind, where Lévi-Strauss defines “bricolage as the make-do activities a handyperson employs while working,” “the bricoleur is one who tinkers with the materials at hand. . . [and further explains that] ‘the materials of the bricoleur are elements which can be defined by two criteria: the have had a use. . .and they can be used again‘ (35 italics in original, as qtd in Reilly). This picture of today’s educator as jack-of-all-trades–often having to optimize less-than-ideal situations, work under many constraints, and scrounge for supplies–seems unpleasantly accurate for too many classrooms.

What strikes a chord in me with Reilly’s observations and conclusions about this particular classroom are the holistic approach and underlying ideas. People are multi-faceted, not single-focused, as much current curricula and pedagogy presume. The STEM-focused programs now in vogue are built to turn out a variety of “products”–scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians–who conform to standards in their respective fields. This approach, however, has too much in common with franchise or assembly-line training–it turns out terrific burger cooks and bicycle builders, but neglects attention to critical thinking involving cross-discipline knowledge and ideas. The roundedness of a liberal education is its strength, not just in creating experts in the different disciplines but in helping students learn how to gather and process the vast amount of information involved in being an effective member of today’s society.

So bricolage, recycling what’s on hand to provide new functionality, in the classroom is a patchwork of whatever available learning tools fit the situation and allow for holistic learning. And bricoleurs are just educators doing the best job they can to cobble together opportunities for their students no matter the circumstances.

Levi-Strauss, C. (1962/1966). The savage mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (Original work published 1962).

Reilly, Mary Ann. “Opening Spaces of Possibility: The Teacher as Bricoleur.” JSTOR. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 52.5 (2009). 376-384. Web. 23 March 2011. Article Stable URL:

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Our Leadership is Insane (or why I need the serenity prayer)

Scant weeks after President Obama approved budget cuts eliminating funding for education programs in this country, including the National Writing Project, Reading is Fundamental, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and Teach for America,” his wife Michelle Obama announced she will be writing a book “about eating healthy and her White House garden; further, on a recent visit to Chile the First Lady went on to say she and her husband “grew up poor and with few resources [and] their success. . .was due to their good educations.”

The politicos of this supposed “greatest nation on Earth” continue to act illogically and inconsistently, now funding golden child STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) (Washington) yet pulling the plug on programs that prepare students to succeed across the disciplines.

The more I read about the state of education in the United States, the more I am dismayed and overwhelmed. I must cling to the ideas behind the words of Edward Everett Hale: “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”

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