I Love Dead Poets

I am Kristin. I teach and write poetry. My inspiration comes from other poets, especially Tomas Transtromer and Yvor Winters. As you can tell from the title of my blog, I like my poets nice and dead.


I find myself curious and a little peeved when students use ESL as an excuse.  Specifically, I have a student who has lived in the U.S. for 13 years. He is now 18 and claims that because English is his second language, he has a really hard time.  It’s hard for me to negotiate that because I have other non-native speakers of English who have stronger literacy skills than many native speakers.  I just don’t know what to do about that, and I’m not sure how sympathetic I really have to be in this type of situation.

Essay Anxiety

Students get anxiety when they receive an essay assignment, but I’m not sure if they understand that professors (or at least this one) gets anxiety when they hand them in.  Class after class after class I collect essays.  The visible stack tortures me, but I know that I can carry it with me and grade: in my office, at home, in my car, at a park, at a restaurant, wherever.  But the ones that really give me anxiety are the ones submitted online.  They really trap me. Just thinking about them makes my shoulder hurt because I know that I can only grade them in my office.  At my computer.  Downloading, commenting, uploading.  With every essay a deeper stabbing pain in my left shoulder that over the counter pain killers won’t touch.  I understand the mental anguish that reading essays can bring, but the physical pain that accompanies it makes it that much less desirable.

Be A Falling Leaf

Absolutely unaware, and inappropriately so, you refuse to see me.

Am I invisible? I wonder.

The nova. The supernova is folded up in your pocket.

My muses and I go on writing outside the lines.

Can you see me? comes a voice from the white space,

but we aren’t paying attention.

We’re busy scribbling on the page.

The old toad rests like a statue on the porch.

Fireflies flit with silent signs. Here, here.

It’s late. The whole forest is down and out

in the night dreaming: The woman must return.

She is sleeping too, drawn from the house.

Yes, the woman must return to the woods.

She wakes up and forgets.

So, when you have a problem, go to the trees.

Trees, with their roots deep and wide,

more a part of you than You, rest among the trees,

and release your sorrows.

There’s no need to stay inside.

Be a falling leaf.

Shed yourself of Yourself.

Finnegans Wake

Woe is me.

No apostrophe. Sorry, Mary, you incestobsessedsmarterthanthoucunt.

Francois Vilion is Haunting Me

Several months ago I picked up a copy of Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. It was on the share table in the hall on the second floor of the in the Mechanical Building. Of course I intended to read it, but I got caught up in Veronika Decides to Die by Pablo Coelho and Lady Chatterly’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence. After a while I decided that I probably wouldn’t have time to read it, so I was going to give it away. But I just couldn’t do it. Something inside me said that I would read it, that I should read it. So I kept it. This happened twice, and Tree has been bouncing around my car for weeks. 

So there’s that part of the story.

This semester I’m teaching English 110: College Writing I, and the course text is A Reader’s Guide to College Writing by John J. Ruskiewicz. In the introduction, Ruskiewicz uses the phrase “snows of yesteryear” in reference to some people’s nostalglc notions that writing was better in times past; therefore, readers were smarter. Suspecting that my students would not look up words that they would encounter in the text, words like polemic and colloquial, I created an online quiz for them to take. One of the questions asked them what the snows of yesteryear referred to and how it connected to literacy.

After I was done grading, it was clear that half of the students understood how to take the quiz, and half of them didn’t. There are two sections online and one face-to-face. That’s 60 students. 30 got it. 30 didn’t. subjective questions about their passions and how the class was going for them. They had five days to compete a 9 question quiz. Three of the questions were based on Ruskiewicz’s introduction, and two were And it was very interesting to me. So, I decided to take my own quiz in order to provide a model.

It took a really long time, and I realized that I’m a tough teacher. Good for me. Goof for my students. 

Anyway, when I was researching the snows of yesteryear, I was introduced to Francois Villion, French poet from the 14th century. He wrote a book of poetry entitled Le Testament, and in it appears the poem “Ballad for the Ladies of Times Past.” The last line of each stanza asks the question: where are the snows of yesteryear? I guess the idea is that people tend to look back nostalgically to the past instead of being fully present or looking to the future. Curious to know more about this guy — a criminal kind of guy who frequently brushed with the authorities and wrote this poem like 600 years ago — I pledged to learn more about him when  I had the time.

I finished the quiz and kicked it’s ass.

Here is the next part of the story:

Tonight I found myself in a place with nothing to do, and all of my work was home. I remembered that I had Tree in my car and eagerly ran out to get it. Don’t you know that in chapter two or three, the main character goes to the library and checks out a book about FRANCOIS VILLION.

He’s seems to be speaking to me. I hope that I am wise enough to understand what he is saying.

Bon jour and merci, Francois.

Rumi and The Existential Dilemma

In Rumi’s poem, “Who Says Words With My Mouth?” he asks, “Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing?” (line 2).

I decided to change the question that originally spoke to me because I didn’t want to be redundant or unoriginal. (<consider that a random and unnecessary aside).

Where did I come from and what am I supposed to be doing? The obvious answer is that I came from my parents who came from their parents and so on, but I think that Rumi cares less about ancestry and more about the spiritual, so I will speak of myself and of my soul, and consider my soul’s history, which should be interesting because I certainly have no idea. If I knew about the soul or the soul’s journey, I would probably be on some late night infomercial hustling an 800 number where I would reveal the secrets of the soul for $2.99/minute. So, yeah, the soul. What even is the soul? And how do we even know? Is believing in the soul like believing in god? Is the soul just as mysterious? For the most part, it seems to be invisible and relatively magical, so it just might be. I don’t know. Where did I come from? The universe? Should I speak to the past lives that I have been told that I have experienced by various psychics? Yeah? Okay. Let’s see. All that I really remember is that I was told that I was an 18th century bar and brothel owner in Germany. According to the psychic, I was truly happy in that life and the bawdy party-lovin’ part of me came from that time in my soul’s experience. That one came out of the blue, but another past life revealed itself in a mysterious way: I was in London and went to a museum because I was drawn (literally being pulled toward) an exhibit by the Danish painter Wilhelm Hammershoi. Once inside the exhibit, I felt very strange, as though I had been in the places in the paintings, as though I knew the subjects therein. Further, I felt weird for the rest of the day. Back in the states, I was invited to a psychic party and asked the clairvoyant about it. She informed me that I had been a student of Hammershoi’s and went on to become quite well know in my own artistic right. Interestingly, in addition to being a bawdy party-lovin’ gal, I am also quite artistic, so maybe that’s where it comes from. On another occasion, someone mentioned that I must have been an ancient Egyptian because I was drawn to essential oils for healing purposes. So, perhaps, that is where I have come from. 

What am I supposed to be doing? I think that I am doing what I am supposed to be doing: teaching, writing poetry, and making art. I am also supposed to be making a big change in my life (I hope so because I am) that will free me to do more of what I am supposed to be doing &mdashor perhaps a new path will be presented to me. All I know is that I hope I am reading the signs regarding my big life change correctly and that the universe will provide when I am in need because I’m taking a leap &mdash and I need it to make sure that I land safely.

What students don’t understand

The assignment: summarize an episode of The Twilight Zone and analyze how symbols support a theme. 2-4 pages.

The activities: Prewriting/Watched two episodes/Freewriting/Notes on plot, symbols, and themes/Discussion/Q & A

Student question: I don’t understand what you want us to do for this paper.

My question: Why not? How can I explain this differently?  I really don’t know how to make this any simpler. Does anyone have suggestions or feedback?

College English and Lit Week One

This is the first teaching blog that I have ever attempted and it’s only because the composition coordinator urged us to try it so that we can share our blogs for professional development days.  Hence, I’m not entirely sure what to reflect on.  I guess that I will start at the beginning of this week and go from there.

First classes went well.  For ENG 220 (a critical thinking course about ideas and values), our primary text is the television series The Twilight Zone. On Tuesday we watched “Where is Everybody?” I was afraid that the students would not have much to say, especially on the first day, but they dazzled me with ideas and connections  — we were examining symbolic content and how it supports a theme. All I did was share my notes on the board, started walking them through the plot and symbolic analysis.  They did the rest. Awesome!  Same thing was true for the night class, although they should probably up their caffeine intake before class.

LIT 240 - The Poetic Experience: Sights and Sounds is all about Rumi this semester. And why Rumi? Because a philosophy professor suggested it.  Boy, was I sorry once I realized how much I had to learn about world history, middle eastern and Asian cultures, and Islamism. I’m not sorry that I have to learn all of this stuff.  I’m actually stoked for it, but i certainly couldn’t learn it all in the short time that I allowed for myself to plan the course!  So, on the first day of class I explained my predicament, informed them that we would be learning together, then we went outside and read Rumi.  It was a perfect first class.

A beaten and battered crew, we lean on the bed of an old Brockway

April 4, 2014

Along the flag lined streets,

the people are in mourning

they slumber in mourning

they wake in mourning

even the bridges bow in mourning

the badges, the roses:

all in mourning

and there is nothing that will make this okay

make us okay

mourning sighs, mourning cries,

mourning has bloodshot eyes

mourning is.

The procession is long

and the sorrow

and the wind

in this town that has buried

it’s fallen