Art/Research International: A Transdisciplinary Journal
Volume 4 Issue 2, 2019
TEACHING WRITING: FRAGMENTS OF A POET’S CREDO
Carl Leggo
University of British Columbia
Carl Leggo was a poet and professor at the University of British Columbia. His books
include: Come-By-Chance; Lifewriting as Literary Métissage and an Ethos for Our
Times
(co-authored with Erika Hasebe-Ludt and Cynthia Chambers); Creative
Expression, Creative Education (co-edited with Robert Kelly); Sailing in a Concrete
Boat; Arresting Hope: Prisons That Heal (co-edited with Ruth Martin, Mo Korchinski,
and Lynn Fels); Arts-based and Contemplative Practices in Research and Teaching:
Honoring Presence (co-edited with Susan Walsh and Barbara Bickel); Hearing Echoes
(co-authored with Renee Norman); and Poetic inquiry: Enchantment of Place (co-edited
with Pauline Sameshima, Alexandra Fidyk, and Kedrick James).
Author’s abstract: I have been in school since I was four years old. Now, at the age of
sixty-five, I look back on a long life spent in classrooms, as a learner and a school
teacher and a professor of education, and I am filled with amazement that I have grown
old! I was probably in my thirties before I began to understand how education always
occurs in communities of teachers and learners who teach and learn from one another,
who search and research together. As a beginning teacher, I wavered between feeling
powerless and powerful. On the one hand, I assumed that I was in control in the
classroom; I was the primary decision-maker. But, on the other hand, I typically
expected educational experts to tell me what I should do. I depended on the stipulations
of school administrators, the publications of professors, and the professional
development workshops of school district consultants to guide, convince, and inspire
me in my teaching. And, now that I’ve been a professor for a long time, I also know that
professors don’t really know very much. They might profess a lot, but they know the
searching is always in process, returning to the beginning of the search again and again
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in order to know the quests and the questions in lively other ways. As scholars,
theorists, artists, and educators, we need to attend to language. We need to attend to
etymology, diction, grammar, syntax, metaphors, and interpretation. All my life I have
been enamoured with the necromancy of the alphabet, the magic of spelling, the
alchemy of grammar, the mystery of books—the potent fecundity of language. I am
always seeking connections to scholars who are committed to provoking scholarship
with heartful and artful dedication.
Editor’s Preface: With the permission of his family, we are honoured to publish
posthumously “Teaching Writing: Fragments of a Poet’s Credo” by Carl Leggo. Carl
submitted this piece to Art/Research International on January 28, 2019, only five and a
half weeks before he passed from his physical being and life on Earth. Even as he
“dwell[ed] daily in the space between living and dying” with cancer, Carl graciously
offered earnest reflections about writing, poetry, and living well in the world: “fragments
and suggestions from [his] credo …what [he has] given [his] heart to.” His wise words,
always inspiring, are ever more precious now, a living reminder of the poet, teacher, and
scholar he was and always will be to so many of his colleagues, friends, and students:
thoughtful, erudite, generous, kind, courageous, vulnerable—and steadfastly hopeful.
“Teaching Writing: Fragments of a Poet’s Credo” is rich ground to return to again and
again: a succinct articulation of Carl’s ways of living poetically in the world, all threaded
through with insights from some of his favourite authors. May
“Teaching Writing”
reverberate among Carl’s many poems, articles, and books—and more widely, among
the writings of those who share his he(art)ful path in the academy. May these ever
widening and deepening reverberations bring healing and benefit to many.
- Susan Walsh, Ph.D.
Keywords: language; literature; writing; poetry; teaching writing; living poetically;
wonder; imagination
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Invocation
In Why poetry Matthew Zapruder (2017) writes about “the experience of getting
close to the unsayable and feeling it” (p. xv). He thinks that “it may be that true poetry is
the only way we can begin to see each other again” (p. 224). On January 17, 2019, my
favourite poet, Mary Oliver, died. At the age of 83 years, she died with lymphoma. No
poet has ever touched me more. She has both rattled and soothed my imagination and
spirit. No other poet has ever spoken in the ways that she has spoken. I have been
reading and citing Mary Oliver for many years. I, too, am living with lymphoma—not at
all sure what the result will be, but definitely feeling like cancer is my daily health risk! I
am glad that Mary Oliver lived till 83, and that she continued to write her wonderful
poetry until the end. I am 65 years old, and so I feel most days like cancer is at least a
little premature! Nevertheless, premature or not, cancer is what it is, and I am living with
cancer even though a part of me wants to write that I am dying with cancer. Right now, I
dwell daily in the space between living and dying. Matthew Zapruder (2017) claims that
“maybe poems are not to be read for their great answers, but for their great, more often
than not unanswerable, questions” (p. 107).
A while ago, I presented a workshop to some teachers about writing, especially
poetry. As I spoke to the teachers, I realized that I have been sharing the same ideas,
practices, and lessons for about forty years. Either I have something worth saying, or at
least I am convinced that I have something worth saying! So, in this paper I am going to
offer some fragments and suggestions from my credo (what I believe, what I have given
my heart to). I heartily agree with Jean Baudrillard
(1997) who once wrote that
“doubtless the final state of thought is disorder, rambling, the fragment and
extravagance” (p. 118). I am not offering these fragments as definitive guidelines for
organizing a writing curriculum. I offer these fragments as the kind of wisdom I have
gleaned from years of teaching and writing and living.
Michael Ondaatje (2002) once claimed that “practically everything I write is a
surprise to me, so in that sense, it’s inspiration. I don’t sit down with an idea or a plan. I
sit down to write and see what happens” (p. 36). I have always loved language, words,
the alphabet, the dictionary, the possibilities of spells and spelling. I cannot remember a
time that I was not passionately in love with language. I love the accidents of accents,
the intentionality of intonation, the sinuous bending of syntax, the glamour of grammar.
Poetry is my favourite genre because it is the most capacious genre. Poetry invites
music, philosophy, story, imagery, romance, tragedy, fantasy, and comedy. Poetry is
playful and purposeful. Poetry invents worlds and teaches us how to live in them. We
have not even caught a glimpse of the limits of poetry. We do not even know if poetry
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has limits. Like Matthew Zapruder (2017), “the energy of poetry comes primarily from
the reanimation and reactivation of the language that we recognize and know” (p. 9).
As a graduate student in creative writing in the mid-1980s, I remember one
significant incident. I was sitting at a table in the library at the University of New
Brunswick, reading or writing or falling asleep, when a woman whispered, “Are you Carl
Leggo, the poet?” I looked up with a startled face and said, “Yes.” I had been named,
discovered like Lana Turner, and with the question and my response, I was creatively
reborn—I was Carl Leggo, the poet. And I am, still. Like Hélène Cixous
(1998)
understands, “I wanted to remain faithful to chance, to mystery and above all to
difficulty” (p. 159).
I stare at the blank page, and its whiteness blinds and intimidates and disorients
like a snow blizzard that conceals all landmarks and reduces visibility to zero. I stare at
the blank page, and I do not know where to turn, what to do. I am lost. Beginning.
Scratching the first words in the whiteness, always intimidating. Where did I learn that I
had nothing valuable to say? Even now I feel that way most of the time. Who wants to
read my words? Why would anyone want to read my words?
The blank page is like a hospital bed sheet or a portal to the unknown or a salt
desert or a prairie field filled with snow. The blank page is expansive. Even if I use large
margins and double space, the typical blank page of eight and one-half inches by
eleven and one-half inches can hold at least one thousand alphabetic squiggles. That is
the problem. I must begin, and I must continue. Writing is plodding, one step after the
other, one squiggle after the other, until the blank page is filled or I grow weary or I run
out of squiggles. And that is the big problem: I never know where the squiggles come
from, and I never know how many of them there are for me to use, and so I never know
when they will end. I began in suspicion that I could never start, and I knew surprise that
I had anything to write, and I continue in suspense about when the words will end.
Where did I learn the fear of the blank page? The page is not blank; the page is
never blank. Instead it is scribbled over and over by all the writers who have gone
before me, as it will continue to be scribbled by all the writers presently writing and all
the writers who will write after me. My fear is not only that I have nothing to write; my
fear is that I have nothing new to write. Others have said it all. Why say it again? In
school I did not learn I had a word-making role in the world, or that the world ran only as
long as I made my words. Instead of wavering with the anxiety of influence, instead of
growing weary with the desire for something new, instead of propagating a myth that
writing is individual and idiosyncratic and unique, I need to write an older myth that
celebrates the communitarian dynamic of writing as corporate. Writing is a palimpsest.
Writing is a wooden desktop that has been written over and over. Writing is layers of
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acetate laid on top of one another, a thousand miles high. Writing is tangled and criss-
crossing.
a
According to John Ashbery (2002), “there is more to our story, more to the telling of
it” (p. 97). Writing creatively is primarily about learning to live creatively in the world. The
only question that concerns me these days is: How can we live well in the world?
Writing is about health and healing.
b
Margaret Atwood (2002) understands how “there’s one characteristic that sets writing
apart from most of the other arts—its apparent democracy, by which I mean its
availability to almost everyone as a medium of expression” (p. 25). I am glad when
young people write, in any medium, in any language, including Facebook, slang, blogs,
Twitter, and text-messaging. I trust that, if writers write, they will grow as writers. And
young writers will attend to formal conventions when formal writing is expected and/or
required. Students will want to learn all they can in order to make their writing as
effective as it can be, and that includes paying attention to standard language use in
those kinds of texts and situations when formal language use is expected and needed.
c
The most difficult part of assessing writing is using the standard approaches to
assessment which are negatively oriented to finding what is wrong with the writing and
how it does not fit standards. Creative writing should be evaluated creatively, by
acknowledging the value of writing and the writer, by recognizing what works and
suggesting possibilities for revision. The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus (2001)
once wrote:
“The rule that makes
its subject weary
is a sentence
of hard labor” (p. 53).
We are obsessed with assessment! If a grade must be given, assign a letter like Q or Z.
(These are interesting letters that are almost never used in assessing!) Above all,
creative writing should be assessed by how much it moves us, brings us to laughter or
tears.
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d
Elizabeth Hay (2011) once observed that “it’s possible that a hidden symmetry is often
at work as we stumble our way through life” (p. 292). As a writer I am a whirling dervish,
a freestyle dancer, an interpretive dancer, a wounded dancer, a broken dancer. As a
writer I want to be the adolescent dancer I once was, wild and free, listening to the
music, interpreting in my own ways, oblivious to what was going on around me. I want
to dance with wild abandon on the edges, without following somebody else’s dictates.
e
When we become “better writers,” do we become wiser? I sometimes complain that the
biggest challenge of being a poet is that nobody reads poetry, but that is not true.
Canada is full of poets. We are ubiquitous like Tim Horton’s. We just aren’t as popular.
My biggest challenge as a poet is other poets who review poetry with a fundamentalist
fervour for guarding their convictions about what poetry is, and can be, and ought to be.
In my experience, most reviewers of poetry like what they like which is generally what
they (and their friends) write. We need to be more generous in our responses to the
poetry of others. Linda Hogan (1995) reflects on her process: “Walking, I am listening to
a deeper way. Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. Be still, they say. Watch and
listen. You are the result of the love of thousands” (p. 159).
f
Patrick Lane (2004) understands how he found his “place in the world with language” (p.
169). We need to care for the stories as we care for ourselves. We cannot exhaust the
stories of childhood. How much can we know in stories? Stories shape experience.
Experience is like the ocean. A story is a cup of the ocean. How do stories inhibit our
growth as human beings? What are the stories we cannot tell? How can we learn to tell
all our stories?
g
Octavio Paz (1999) thinks that “writing opened unexplored spaces for me. In brief texts
in prose—poems or explosions?—I tried to grasp myself. I set sail in each word like in a
nutshell” (p. 68). I am now living with cancer, and I do not know what the future holds.
For a time, I did not write much, like I was scared of writing, frightened of remembering,
eager to live in the present moment, perhaps unable to live well in forgiveness,
accepting that the past is always present, always a part of my life, not only like a part
that precedes, that holds
“in the beginning,” that comprises the first sequence of
chapters. Instead, the past is still present. It is still being lived, or it is still alive, or it is
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still living. I want to say that the future does not count, has not yet been lived, and
therefore does not enter into my storied universe. But I believe in the eschaton, the
future, the hope—the future is then like the past, also present. Perhaps the future is the
telling of the stories that are possible when we attend to the art and heart of story-
telling. So, the future is the panoply of versions of stories that can be told to reveal the
world. “Future” is a word. So, I am not talking about linear progress—I am talking about
growth to freedom, growth in spirit, a keen sense of artful attending in the momentous
moment.
h
To write well we must care about our writing. When we care about our writing, we write
well. Like Thomas King (2003), “we trust easy oppositions. We are suspicious of
complexities, distrustful of contradictions, fearful of enigmas” (p. 25). May we continue
to shape our words and send them into the world! The act of writing is efficacious and
necessary. May we read the words that we find along the way, and linger with them as
we would linger with gifts that have been offered with hope. I am seeking cosmos in
chaos, and finding that chaos is omnipresent and primordial and all-encompassing.
Chaos is the ocean I swim in. Cosmos is the line I swim, lines in all directions,
intersecting and parallel and skew. I lay down a line of words, and the words are
ephemeral, aqueous, beginning in darkness, ending in darkness, always immersed in
darkness.
i
There is no end to the information and knowledge I need to write my poems. For
example, I need to know the names of plants, trees, flowers, birds, and clouds, but if I
waited till I possessed the knowledge, I would never write a poem. So, I need to write
about what I know and continue to learn more as I go. Nobody knows everything.
Agnosticism is part of humility.
Mary Oliver (2010) once wrote:
“What can I say that I have not said before?
So I’ll say it again” (p. 1).
j
Irving Singer (2009) thinks that “the humanities can benefit from science, but they suffer
badly when reduced to its methodologies” (p. 118). When I start drawing shadows I
realize that they are far more pervasive than I had earlier thought. The shadows are
everywhere, creating a dark counterpoint to the light green grass. The grass is light. I
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can actually see the blades as if they have been bathed in light. There is a silver colour
to some of the grass, as if the light is shining directly on the grass. I now see the
shadow everywhere. Perhaps the sun is moving. Perhaps I am moving. I want to know
shadows, to know the ways I can linger in darkness and know, not the absence of light,
but the spaces only light and earth can make, fecund places of imagination. There is
always so much that I need to write and talk about and explore, always so little that I
understand, but, of course, I probably can never understand many of the experiences in
my life—I do not have the memory or the records or the insights needed to make sense
of my life. So, I seek to make my life sensible, to understand as much of it as possible.
k
Wendell Berry (1990) is convinced that “a good poem reminds us of love because it
cannot be written or read in distraction; it cannot be written or understood by anyone
thinking of praise or publication or promotion” (p. 90). What would happen if I really
turned my critical eye to everything I witness. I think it is easy to live critically, to make
fun of everything, to cast a satirical light everywhere. I do not think it is at all difficult to
critique, dissect, and deconstruct. Of course, everything can be criticized. What does
the word “criticism” mean? How hard is it to be naïve, to hold hope, to re/present the
world with an optimistic spirit? This is my goal. All fears and demons and potentially
hard memories can be cleansed and transformed, rendered in optimistic ways. The
world of words is a remarkably lovely location for locution. Enjoy!
l
Roland Barthes (1977) once claimed that “one writes with one’s desire, and I am not
through desiring” (p. 188). Like Barthes, I revel in the realization that rhetoric reveals our
reality. I love to play with letters because in play I learn who I am, who you are.
Unravelling = revealing = revelling. I am happy to doodle and write nonsense. I love to
make up words. I love to play with rhyme. I love to compose long lists. I love to mine the
past. I never feel like I have domesticated words. They are always wild and fierce and
wonderful.
One of the most important ways is to emphasize playing with language—a lot of my
work as a teacher educator is about encouraging teachers to be playful in their
approaches to writing. Many teachers think they are preparing students to write the
government-sponsored final exams at the end of high school, and those exams are not
only important because they are government-sponsored, but because they also act as
gatekeepers to university entrance. So, the goal for some teachers is in preparing their
students to write these ultimate tests. We become readers and writers by engaging with
the spells and mystery of language. I think we ought to emphasize the mystery rather
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than the mastery of language. None of us ever masters language. We can never rest
assured there is nothing more to learn. If we embrace the mystery, the playfulness of
language, then we remain humble.
m
I am sitting in a retreat with faculty members, and my colleagues and I are talking words
like chewing and swallowing myrrh from a fir tree. I am always very unhappy when
words are made fat and sweaty like they have walked too quickly up the stairs and
squeezed into your office. Language is not necessarily lovely and beautiful. With
language, so much always remains unsaid. How is desire connected with the unsaid?
What is an inability to hear? An inability to understand? A way/stance of being puzzled
in the world? A sense of separation? A confirmation of aloneness? Steven Pinker (1999)
accurately observes that “language comes so naturally to us that it is easy to forget
what a strange and miraculous gift it is” (p. 1).
n
Stephen King (2000) wrote about the writing process that it is “a disjointed growth
process in which ambition, desire, luck, and a little talent all played a part. Don’t bother
trying to read between the lines…. There are no lines—only snapshots, most out of
focus” (p. 18). My advice to young writers is relatively simple:
Believe in your writing and yourself as a writer.
Commit yourself to writing every day.
Cultivate a keen sense of your voice.
Seek to know the world in writing.
Always read lots of other writers.
Share your writing with others.
Learn to listen to your heart.
o
About her writing, Jeanette Winterson (2011) notes that “it is a true story but it is still a
version” (p. 229). How can we learn if we do not sometimes (perhaps most times) invite
failure or the possibility of failure? Perhaps we should give A’s to people who try, and
take risks, and experiment, and seek the unfamiliar, and fail, instead of those who play it
safe all the time, and only, at best, recapitulate what has already been done. Parents
and teachers need to let their children and students fail. Failure is a good thing. It opens
the way for learning, forgiveness, grace, humility, openness, caring, compassion, and
beginning again.
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p
The word poetry comes from the Greek word poiein, to make—so as a poet, I am a
maker—I could be making sense, or making stories, or making lines of connections with
others. I am always engaging in something that feels like composing, constructing, and
making. I always want to write poetry that is accessible to folk who do not ordinarily read
poetry. Jay Parini (2008) understands that “the poet quickens our sense of language,
and our sense of life as well” (p. 38).
q
I promote life writing as a way to investigate lived and living experiences. If I stand bare
buff in public, I no longer need to hide, to linger in fear and silence, to live pretentiously
under the guise of pretense. So, the main challenge of writing personally is that some
people will scratch you off their Christmas card list or refuse to befriend you on
Facebook. The blessing is that others will learn to regard you as trustworthy, as ethical,
as human. Writing with love is simply necessary.
A phrase which I have been using for a long time is living poetically—about learning
how to live well in the world. All of my poems are about daily living; they are
autobiographical, about growing up in Newfoundland on the east coast of Canada. What
I am really interested in is writing poems that others can read and enjoy. I write poetry
for readers who will be reminded that the world, for all of the messiness, is still a
beautiful place to be alive. So I write my poems to remind people to enjoy being alive, to
savour the sensual experiences of lingering outdoors, of being with others, of
relationships. And I write my poetry to deal with challenging issues. I’ve written some
confessional poems that speak to life experiences. I write these poems
autobiographically and personally because writing helps me to make sense of
experiences and also helps me to connect with other people.
About her writing, Hélène Cixous (1998) notes: “I advance error by error, with erring
steps, by the force of error. It’s suffering, but it’s joy” (p. 22). So, when I write about
living poetically, I do not mean that everything is perfect. I am actually writing about
living well in the messiness of the world we live in. What I am striving to understand is
that poetry is not only this eloquent and lovely use of language that gives us sweet
thoughts and entertains us and moves us. It is that, certainly, but it is a great deal more,
and it can move us to action.
r
I agree with Stephanie Dowrick (1997) who thinks that “each choice we make replaces
other choices” (p. 92). I am particularly concerned that much teaching about writing
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perpetuates rules and approaches that sustain dominant discursive practices that
actually impair, instead of support, the writing processes and practices of many
students. I seek to interrogate seemingly natural ways of writing and teaching writing in
order to promote other diverse approaches which invite writers to write in different
voices and styles.
s
Lorri Neilsen Glenn (2011) claims that “poetry remains the erotic hearth we are drawn
to, the deep river and nameless source” (p. 117) as well as “the grace we can find in the
everyday” (p. 117). Language is game or play. To use language is to be caught up in
discourse, in rhetoric, in the materiality of language, in a verbal performance, in a
verbally wrought illusion or reality-effect, in producing and disclosing and constructing
the world. I claim that the most effective way to use language with power, conviction,
and confidence is to use language with play, pleasure, and delight in the potential of
language for making together. The binary opposition between seriousness and play
leads to misconceptions about writing which is, after all, indisputably, inarguably, and
unquestionably most serious when it is playful.
t
All my teaching of writing, both in school and university classrooms, is informed and
generated by my practices as a writer of poetry, fiction, and scholarly texts. Hence, the
way I teach writing is connected to my own experiences as a writer. In turn, I encourage
my students to pay attention to their writing processes in order to understand the
complex ways that writing unfolds in individual practice. When I read many influential
books about teaching writing, I find myself nonplussed by the advice that is provided
because I just do not see my own processes and practices as a writer and teacher in
the typical textbook advice. Take, for example, the important work of Donald C. Stewart
(1986) who was an influential scholar of rhetoric and composition. I have paid close
attention to his books, and I have always learned from him, but, nevertheless, I also
have many questions about Stewart’s views and advice. In The Versatile Writer he
contends that “writers settle for nothing less than absolute honesty in their work. This
requires a special kind of writing discipline because you have to learn to throw away
whatever is false, no matter how much it pleases you” (p. 19).
u
The notion of convention has been constrained by defining the word as rules of
standard usage. Convention does not mean custom. Instead of defining “convention” as
a rule of conduct or constraint or control, thereby making convention a strategy of
power, a more liberating notion of convention is the calling or inviting of a chorus or
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assembly, a carnival of conversation. Hence, this essay contravenes common
conventions of composition in order to court continuing conversation and collaboration
in the creation of meaning. You are invited to interact with the text which is an open
space where writers and readers come together. The text is open. The text eschews
fixed meanings. The authors refuse the mantle of authority that authors are
conventionally invested with in efforts to convene a less authoritarian spirit of openness
where multiple meanings can be playfully and productively summoned. I admire
Anthony Doerr’s (2014) claim that “it’s embarrassingly plain how inadequate language
is” (p. 503).
v
V. S. Naipaul (2000) once wrote: “I wished to be a writer. But together with the wish
there had come the knowledge that the literature that had given me the wish came from
another world, far away from our own” (pp. 9-10). It does not matter how much I write or
get published, I will never be satisfied—I always want more. I’ve been a writer (a poet
even) since my later 20’s, and I have evidence of writing poetry before that, too. I wrote
several theses. Perhaps most of my writing has been writing for the wrong reasons.
Perhaps I need to write for myself. To write what I want to write with little thought of the
ways that the writing will be published and reviewed.
I am a writer because I have created myself, written myself as a writer, and in the
creating and writing, I have come to know myself. I have called the shape out of the
stone, or the stone has spoken and guided me to reveal the shape. The block of rock,
the granite—the sculptor releases and relives the shape that is held in the stone. I do
not think we could breathe, or function, or be together without writing. I call the shape
forth and reveal the shape so that I can then be/come in the world full of grace, not
granite. I will write, and my writing will find a fertile soil, not a fallow soil, in which to
grow, and bear fruit.
w
According to David Lynch (2006), “ideas come along in the strangest way when you just
pay attention” (p. 77). In ancient times a family servant called a pedagogue led the child
(Gr. paidagogos: paidos=child+agein=to lead) to the teacher. The pedagogue was not
the teacher; the pedagogue was the one who led the student to the teacher. The
alphabet leads the student to the teacher, but we have pretended that the alphabet is
the teacher when the alphabet is actually only the way. Pedagogy, and by extension life,
since pedagogy and life are one, are always at the end of the alphabet. Of course, the
end of the alphabet is really the beginning, a recursive movement of circularity leading
to a grand (w)hole, dark and mysterious filled with stars (like Alpha), a (w)hole that is not
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bound by fences. I want to interrogate the notion that ordered, logical, grammatical
arguments fuelled by a classical rhetorical stance are the only way to know, to be, to be/
come. I want to understand that the alphabet has constrained us to a linear way of
thinking. We need a way to juggle many divergent paths of knowing—to walk down
many paths at once, to dance with many partners.
x
Steven Galloway (2009) once wrote that “there is no way to tell which version of a lie is
the truth” (p. 33). In school I learned to be a timid writer. I lacked the courage to write
with boldness and innovation. In school I learned to be a half-hearted writer, afraid of
the rules of correctness. Writing was a nerve-wracking effort to remember the many
rules that constrained the writing, and the even more nerve-wracking effort to remember
the exceptions to the rules, because writing apparently had a way of refusing to be
boxed. Writing seemed organic, dynamic, alive, ever-changing, defiant of conventions,
and radical. Writing was no hobbyhorse that rocked back and forth in endless and futile
mimicry of going somewhere. Writing was a wild horse that charged and jumped and
ran in exciting ways if only the writer shared the wildness. In school, of course, I rode
the hobbyhorse, year after year. I went nowhere, but back and forth.
y
According to Méira Cook (2003), “the world is, was, and ever will be full of wonder” (p.
81). Perhaps most writers write in the gaps and cracks and spaces of living. I must write
in the cracks and gaps (gasps) of a busy life. Why do I want to be correct and clear? I
feel muddled and muddied most of the time. I feel like a fragment, a run-on sentence, a
rambling sentence, an overlapping construction. I am incoherent, but still coherent in my
incoherence, or only coherent in my incoherence. I do not want to write sentences that
are clear. I want to write sentences that meander sensuously here and there, finding the
way (or ways) as the lines of letters are impressed in space and time creating a
universe of discourse which reveals what is otherwise unseen and unheard, a journey
without beginning or destination, an explosion or strip-tease of revelation, in which the
world is worded (the godly creative efficacy of words spoken and written), so you and I
can know the world through the prism of language which disperses white light into
countless shades of meaning, a dazzling and dizzying explosion of incoherence in
coherence.
z
Luci Shaw (2003) understands that “no poem ends at the bottom of a page” (p. 72). In
all my writing, I know I am not telling the whole story. I am writing a few fragments only,
and the fragments are like bits of coloured glass that refract light in entrancing ways—
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entrance (the verb); entrance (the noun). Writing is discovery. I love to be surprised in
my writing. My calling as a poet is to write the poetry and to share it, and to send it out
into the world. If it is not responded to, if it is rejected, if it is not liked, that is not my
responsibility. My responsibility is to work with the words.
Convocation
Octavio Paz (1999) thinks that “perhaps true imagination, nothing to do with fantasy,
consists in seeing everyday things with the eyes of our earliest days” (p. 103). I have
lived sixty-five years, many of those years with my wife Lana. I will draw this essay to a
close with a recent poem written for Lana’s sixty-fifth birthday.
Love Is
(Lana, January 7, 2019)
Love is joking around,
even finding my way
in words when the words
are popping up like gophers
Love is walking a tightrope
of remembering and dreaming,
always tense with balance,
singing with rhythm
Love is the blank space
that just called out to me
to continue writing
whatever called out
Love is letting go with
a stream of green ink flowing
from my fountain pen like I can
row my boat to the earth’s centre
Love is calling out, even quietly,
while I wait for an answer
that might never come, or
might come, full of surprises
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Love is one more stanza, always,
a stanza like a dais, a platform
for shaping views so we can
see what needs to be seen
Love is knowing the mystery
at the heart of every tunnel,
with mazes here and there,
always hopeful for …
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