(photo by Mark Raynes Roberts depicting a suitably thoughtful and professorial posture)
Here’s a little piece I wrote about my experience teaching on line with WIER:
When I was in grade ten we had a book fair at my school, and in a noisy gymnasium smelling of sneakers and basketballs I bought my very first volume of poetry: Leonard Cohen’s Selected Poems 1956-1968. I still have it, inscribed in pencil on the title page with the now impossibly modest price of $2.95. Shortly thereafter, I wrote an essay on the poem “A Kite Is A Victim,” the first time I’d ever written anything about a living poet — and more remarkably, a poet living in Montreal, like me. I already wanted to be a poet although I didn’t know anyone who wrote poetry. But here was this guy, living a few blocks away, the son of one of my grandmother’s friends; he’d even gone to high school with my cousin, back when he had bad skin and tried to impress girls by playing the guitar
I also played the guitar, although my skin wasn’t as bad as I thought it was. Leonard became a beacon of hope in the dark world of adolescence. I could be saved by poetry, as he had been! I could survive by writing. I would do exactly what Leonard said: “pray the whole cold night/ under the travelling cordless moon, / to make you worthy and lyric and pure.”
The words of others have always been a lifeline for writers. We find each other in libraries, in cafés, in classrooms, in bookstores. We share our work and our dreams; we edit, encourage and inspire. And now, with WIER, we can do it all long distance, from coast to coast, as fast as we can type. Kids who want to be poets can send their work to professional writers and get an immediate response — something I never could have imagined back when I was sixteen. It’s a new variation on the old theme of apprenticeship, and an entirely appropriate one in the millennial global village.
The risk of this long-distance encounter is that, in the absence of body language, inflection, and eye contact, feelings can be hurt or advice be misunderstood. So we have to write better; to be absolutely clear in our responses to each other, to anticipate and deflect possible misunderstandings. Oddly enough, what I’ve found with WIER, is that having to rely on a written response has made me refine my teaching skills because I haven’t got the front-of-the-class mantle of authority, all I have is the persuasiveness and empathy of my analysis.
It’s ironic, in a way, that I’ve been able to focus so much on the actual writing because my first experience of WIER was undermined by an unrelated computer virus that made work a misery of waiting on hold for experts to give me the wrong advice, deleting and reinstalling programmes, and so on. To be honest, I spent most of the term in a techno-rage. And yet the actual time spent reading and responding to work occurred in a medieval purity of contemplating the words on the page. So although there is one kind of loss when we don’t speak together in a room, there is also a benefit to this impersonal scrutiny, to having the work seen only for itself, by itself, by people whose common interest is words. The voice on the page, singing for us alone, as Leonard Cohen sang for me alone in that crowded gymnasium when I was sixteen.
-© Susan Glickman 2001———-
Well folks, after forty-two years of teaching in every capacity from second-grade English at the Lycee Francaise through undergraduate English at the University of Toronto to Creative Writing in the Continuing Education departments ofU of T and Ryerson, I have retired. Just working as a freelance editor now, painting, and writing my own stuff.
Toodles. It’s been a slice.