Imagine

Here’s an email from former student, Lara Wagner, who is teaching at Loyola U in Chicago. If you teach, you will connect. And if not, you will get an idea of “what this part is like.” Lara is a remarkable writer and student of literature. What a delight it would be to be one of her students!

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Dear Jack,
Strangely, you have retired from teaching the same year that I am finally starting! Now I know what you mean about walking into a classroom, nervous to the core. Thankfully, I’m teaching a freshman composition class and they’re all pretty nice kids.

Oh goodness, Jack. How did you do this for so long? I love it, but I want SO MUCH for them and I’m running myself into circles trying to come up with creative ways to help them out. I know they can see and appreciate my effort, but I wonder if the effort will actually affect the product. How?

Today I came home with a stack of essays I had them write in class–the first thing they’ve written for me, just something small so that I could “get to know them in writing.” It sat on my desk during my office hours. I stared it down during lunch. Now I am back at my apartment and it’s waving at me from across the room. Never in my life have I been so afraid to read anything. It’s like I am about to start an archeological dig; I am thrilled and elated and scared and nervous and, most of all, without a clue what I will find beneath the soil.

Some part of me wants to put it off for the entire holiday weekend. Wouldn’t that be nice? No reading, no red pen, no comments to make. No evaluation of faulty logic, no absolute, ice-cold fear at thoughts like, “What does this need?” and “How do I help?” No back strain and squinting and spending too many hours extracting a response that comes from my heart and may very well never be read after the student sees the grade.

I guess the flip side is that then I’ll never know them, never see, never help, never prepare, never learn. No encounter with another person’s imagination. And even though this first week has been full of doubts, I kind of love teaching already. The first day of class, I overestimated how long it would take to go over the syllabus (how dry does that sound?) and scrambled to make use of time by having them write any questions or comments they had for me on scrap pieces of paper. One person wrote, “I love this class already,” and I thought, “Wow! I must be excellent at reading syllabi. Have I got the skills or what?” Hee hee. Honestly, I have no idea what prompted a response like that from that student, but it made me grin and think maybe I could somehow convince eighteen eighteen-year-olds that it’s worth it to roll out of bed for an 8:15 a.m. class about writing, writing and more writing.

I just looked at the top paper on my stack. The first sentence in her paper is “Imagine.”

Isn’t that nice?

Lara

Jack’s on the list…

Somehow in the kerfuffle and excitement of learning about CavanKerry publishing “Losing Season” next year, we neglected to mention a terrific honor Jack received, and how much it both tickles and warms him. The International Institute of Sport named Jack one of the 100 top sports educators in the country. The list is impressive. Jack’s been getting a lot of mileage out of being on the same list with, well, all of the others. At any rate, we got the word on the same day that we received word of the book, and the two are so connected, that we’ve conflated the news in our heads. What we think, more than anything, is how much Pop-Pop (Buzz Ridl, Jack’s Hall of Fame basketball coaching dad) would have loved this news. It’s a great honor, and Jack’s been having fun talking to writers and reporters from far and wide about sports education, his Dad’s record, and the little-known genre that is sports poetry.

“Retiree” Returns to Work

Well, this “retiree” is back at work! I’m teaching the Intermediate Poetry Writing course this fall I have a great gang of poets in there including my philosophy professor pal Jim Allis. He enables me to say things like “Oh, that ontological move you made from the Aristotelian assumption of reality to the Platonic reality of reality which then implies a Buber-influenced relational reality just blew me away!” And the students with their affirmation of one another’s work have taken a conventional classroom and have transformed it into a safe and creative space. We get to hang out and talk about poems.

The second edition of Approaching Literature (Bedford/St. Martin’s Press) that Peter Schakel and I wrote will be out soon along with a new edition of our 250 Poems. Approaching Literature, we think/hope, is a richer book than the first time around. I’ve loved working with Peter. We’re a great good team, able to bring our very different strengths to the book. It was funny—at first, I kept worrying that I was having all the fun while Peter was doing the work I would not enjoy. Then we found out that each of us was concerned about that for the other. We were able to harmonize what each of us brought to the project. We always signed off our emails to one another with “On we go.” And on we went until, after two years of all but daily work we met the deadline.

Here’s something cheerful: You should all check out Julie’s knitting blog: knittingjuju.wordpress.com what she’s designed and knitted are now showing up all over the knitting globe, and I do mean globe. Wait’ll you see the sweater she made for me. I’ve reached the age where I could live in autumn in that sweater all year.

Summer Workshop Roundup

Have I ever been lucky this summer, getting to lead poetry workshops at The Far Field Retreat for Writers, at Interlochen’s first annual writers conference and at Ox Bow where I was surrounded by artists.

I highly and whoopingly recommend all three of these opportunities. They are so well run, never a bump in the road, everything moving along as if they are running themselves when one knows that behind the scenes, those in charge– Mary Ann Samyn, Anne Marie Oomen, and Jason Kalajainen–have made sure that we are in a writer’s paradise. What a joy to work with attendees ranging in age from 19-83 each carrying life stories abundant with sorrow and hilarity.

Julie and Charlie dog went along to Interlochen, and Charlie was in heaven each morning as he dashed out the door of our home on Green Lake and headed to the shoreline to roll in a dead fish. Ahhhhhh. Hmmmmm, maybe there’s a metaphor in there about this life in poetry.

Our class visited Mike Delp at his fishing camp, where Charlie tasted the life of a river dog.

Next up: A week long seminar in poetry that I’ll be leading at Hope College, July 30-August 3. Come join the good time. Just contact David James at Hope College — james@hope.edu

Then on August 5 at 2:30, I’ll get to read with Jackie Bartley at the Fenn Valley Winery. Come join us for poems and for tasting, sipping, downright imbibing in wine and one another.

What a thrill

Julie here again, posting for Ridl….

What a thrill:

http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org/programs/2007/04/30/index.html

Thanks, all you almanac folks.

And then, today Jack received notice that Broken Symmetry is a co-winner of the Society of Midland Authors Award for poetry for 2007. Jack’s blinking. This award covers work published in 12 states, and the past winners include Ted Kooser, Jim Harrison, Carl Phillips, Alice Fulton, and Richard Jones.

Detroit Historical Museum

Julie and I drove over to Ann Arbor on Saturday, December 2, hung out there and felt politically correct, wandered in real bookstores, and ate good. Then on Sunday we headed over to The Detroit Historical Museum for a book signing. After signing a book, we went out to eat with Sarah and Mollica from the Wayne Press, their friend Brooke and former student David Soubly. That was a great time as we celebrated Sarah’s birthday even though it wasn’t her birthday. It was a delight to see David and learn about his survival at Ford, his continuing to write–he’s working to finish his second novel–and his family.

Look for David’s first novel titled SANTA, CEO. You can check out the novel at www.santaceo.com or obtain copies at www.booklocker.com. And while mentioning former students, I recently learned that Jill Thiel who went to Hope College in the 70s was at the reading that Sally Smits and I got to give at IUSB.

What a joy to hear from good good her! Here’s wishing one and all the very best of these holiday times.

Penn State, Altoona

The creative writing faculty at the Altoona campus of Penn State is magical, exceptional. What a gang of talents and intelligences–and they all woop for one another. I had such a great good time there. To be once again surrounded by my Pennsylvania mountains was rejuvenating. Todd Davis’s class was a joy to be with. Todd and Shelly and their boys, Noah and Nathan created a resort out of their home for me. Talk about good sleepin’ and good eatin and good talkin’! I repaid them by trouncing them at Rummy after the reading. Read in a chapel. I think I should set up the “Jack-in-the-Chapel Tour.” How many is that now?

So thanks to Todd and family, to Dinty Moore and Erin Murphy for being such great “instant friends.” Buy their books. They write the real stuff.