I’m going to be taking a class at the University where I work this spring semester. Being a small University, my employer offers full undergraduate tuition remission to all employees, which is pretty awesome perk, actually. Does Yale let its maintenance guys take classes for free? Somehow I doubt it.
The class I will be taking is ENG 311 “Writing Poetry” taught by the world-famous poet, Dr. Jason Sommer. All false hyperbole aside, he really is good, and I recommend checking him out–I thought The Man Who Sleeps In My Office is particularly good.
This will be the third time for me to take this particular class, which made the folks in the registrar’s office ask me if I had failed it twice already. No, actually, I got an “A” both times–in fact, I have a 4.00 GPA. (I also took a class in Narrative Structure from the same instructor.)
The next question that people always ask is what degree I am planning to get. None. I really have no interest in a degree. I do not want an English degree. I do not want an MFA. I would not take them if you gave them to me. Not on a boat, not with a goat, I do not want it, Sam I Am. Are we clear on this?
I am taking this class pure and simply as a way to get out and talk about writing one night a week with a man I really admire. The other students are usually a lot of fun, too. They are very young, and they tend to be hesitant to speak out at first, but I like to think that my presence in the class helps them to understand that it’s okay to disagree and discuss and have fun with the language.
A number of the works that I have published in the blog have come from earlier classes that I have taken from this man. In fact, I can trace my admiration for closed forms directly from his influence.
Not that he, himself, tends towards closed forms, it’s more that he made me realize that my initial resistance to strict rhyme scheme and scansion was based more on fear of hard work than any innate aesthetic.
There is a Hebrew word, pilpul, that doesn’t really have an exact equivalent in English–it comes from the verb meaning “to spice” and refers to a full contact, no holds barred sort of exegesis. Like brainstorming with footnotes.
That’s what I take the class for. I mean, it’s a nice ego-stroke when people like my work and tell me it’s wonderful, and I will fully admit to being a hardcore praise slut. Tell me I’m wonderful–tell me some more!
But praise doesn’t make me any better. For that I need nuts and bolts criticism. I need to have my work taken apart, word by word, and tested. What works, what doesn’t work, and most of all, why doesn’t it work? How do we fix it? Can this phrase be saved, or should it be scrapped? Are any of these letters really necessary?
Anyway, I’ll be starting that in January, and I’ll most likely be posting work from the class here. It’s been a couple of semesters since I took a class, and I am getting all excited about it again.