UPDATE: March 10, 2010
I’ve had this book sitting on my virtual “now reading” shelf for nearly seven months. While I have not really been reading this book for that long, I figured I should return to close the chapter on this and update the space with something that I’ve read a bit more recently. So, as for the Mayer’s book, I found it dead-on relevant to my experience as a composition and creative writing teacher at a community college that struggles with the disciplinary identity crises and territory wars he writes of.
Mayers spent the first four chapters of his five chapter book making the case for alliance amongst the sub-disciplines of literature, creative writing, and composition within the academy. For me, this was a case that did not need making, as I have observed this in my own career for years now. Just the same, he gave validated for me my own anecdotal observations with the teeth of solid research and compelling argumentation. The chapter of the book that I found most enjoyable and most useful though was his fifth and final chapter. In this chapter entitled “Starting Somewhere,” Mayers lays out a blueprint for change–change at the course level, the program level, and the larger department and institutional level. Since beginning reading Mayers book, I’ve already begun to make some changes to the way I approach my teaching.
Last semester was my first teaching poetry writing. As I designed my course and talked to my students about poetry, I heard Mayers’ voice ringing in the back of my head, reminding me that I need not abandon my composition/rhetoric roots and training once I donned my creative writing teacher’s hat. Rather than force myself to adopt the tradition of this discipline (which often runs somewhat counter–at least in practice–to that of composition studies), I fully embraced it and approached poetry writing as a rhetorical act. It was a refreshing experience for me to feel full license to draw on my rhetoric training to teach poetry–which I had experienced as a far different tradition and “culture” in my own university upbringing. Students responded well to the idea, too, that their poetry is more than just art for art’s sake (as some poetic traditions might suggest and embrace)–that it is (or can be) a persuasive and political force to be reckoned with. Of course, this idea is not really a new one, but in terms of how we speak of poetry and how I can feel I can teach it now, I feel empowered. Thank you Mr. Mayers for the fresh perspective.