PhD (York University)
PhD, York University
MA, Simon Fraser University
BA, Hons, Simon Fraser University
As an undergraduate/graduate at Simon Fraser, my first interest was in modernist poetry and art. Marianne Moore was a favorite and her Selected Poems the topic of my graduating essay for the Honours programme. As a new graduate, however, I became interested in the early postmodern as a response to modernism. I had been studying with Robin Blaser, then faculty at Simon Fraser, and discovered that little had been written on Blaser himself or on the relations between his poetics and those of key members of his circle in San Francisco, namely Jack Spicer, and Robert Duncan. After an MA thesis on Blaser's work, I moved on to York University and a doctoral project on the San Francisco poets. My graduate work there was supported for four years by the SSHRC with a doctoral grant. While at York, my studies included contemporary literature of Canada, the US, and UK, post-1950, as well as a minor in the British Renaissance. I began my dissertation with Eli Mandel, but before I had finished, he became ill and unable to teach. I therefore completed the work under the supervision of Frank Davey, who has become a generous mentor and academic companion.
On graduation, I taught briefly at Medicine Hat College in Alberta before moving to Simon Fraser University as an adjunct. I joined UCFV's faculty in 1994. My current projects include the editing of Robin Blaser's Collected Essays and a book of critical essays on avant poetry of the west coast that I am tentatively calling "Radical Affections." I am also learning French (slowly!) with the idea of eventually including contemporary Quebeçois literature in my teaching repertoire (I expect to read in French but teach in translation)—this because of the quality and interest of the French Canadian avant garde and its affinities with English Canadian and American writing of similar ilk.
Like many teachers, I began my career by drawing on the styles of those professors I had most enjoyed as a student. Robin Blaser, George Bowering, Roy Miki, and Frank Davey were role models and I have also benefited from briefer encounters with Warren Tallman and Barbara Godard. In different ways, each of these scholars or poet-scholars was thoroughly engaged in a life focused on writing and thinking, and that was very exciting to me as a student. They were going somewhere, it seemed, and were amiably inclined to take me along. That “somewhere,” both inside and outside the classroom, was a complex world of art and writing that offered rich possibilities for new ways of seeing and understanding. When I began to teach myself, then, my first assumption was Aristotelian: ‘everyone wants to know’ or more formally, “the act of learning is not only most pleasant to philosophers but, in a similar way, to other men as well . . . .” My second assumption was that I had better be going somewhere myself, if I expected anyone to want to come along.
In translating these assumptions to teaching strategies, my first aim was and is to empower students. I do this by trying to help them find their own interests and develop those interests effectively, and I try to model engagement with the intellectual life. One strategy I favor is a readerly approach to texts. I like to begin by calling on the student’s experience of a given piece and work out from there with a series of questions drawn from that experience. Since I often teach poetry, and sometimes texts that are difficult of access, I usually begin with whatever blocks or slows understanding, or whatever strikes the student as unconventional. Much of my teaching experience has been in the seminar format, and I have used the small size of the seminar to focus on questions that, as I explain to my classes, are devices to draw out the possibilities of a text. From time to time, I use a more formal version of this strategy in classes. Because students sometimes find literary theory or avant garde poetry difficult, I assign passages to each student and ask that the student bring to his or her seminar, in lieu of a class presentation, a list of notes and questions on the text that include any problems the student may have experienced. My objective here is to use the student’s own perception of the text as the basis for discussion, rather than present my perspective first; the ultimate aim is to help all of us, myself included, develop a more intricate relationship with the text than can be had by treating it from an single, authoritative point of view. I speak of these assumptions and strategies as a beginning point for me, and while I still practice them, I have also added other strategies to my teaching style.
The above method works well for highly motivated and well-prepared students, but I have found it does not serve as well for students who need assistance in acquiring more basic skills, such as those needed to write an acadmeic essay. (I am referring to students enrolled in courses other than compostition). I have thus added a skills component to my lower division courses. Working with the perspective Janet Giltrow offers in Academic Writing, I present the academic essay as a genre with certain conventions, rather than as a "proper" writing as some of my students initially perceive it. Since a growing number of students come to us with a minimal background in print literacy (they are literate enough in visual media), or with first languages other than English, I have found it important to devise ways-in for them that minimize the disempowerment they feel with they are asked to produce academic writing. Teaching the essay as a genre does not make instant writers of anyone, but it does say that writing a certain way is not a matter of intelligence but of learning cultural grammars and conventions.
One aspect of my teaching with which I continue to struggle is finding a balance between guiding my students and enabling them. Since my preference is to help students explore their interests, I sometimes find myself confronted by students who want definitive interpretations of course material or more guidance on assignments. As one of my students remarked, “what’s wrong with having just one answer?” I address this problem in various ways—by tightening up if the situation seems to require it, by providing written descriptions of assignments, and by offering individualized sessions with students who are willing to bring in drafts of their work. I continue to search for effective classroom ways to communicate my expectations, engage students, and help them find their voices.
Ed., with Introduction and Interview with Robin Blaser. Even on Sunday: Essays, Readings, and Archival Materials on the Poetry and Poetics of Robin Blaser. Orono, ME: National Poetry Foundation, 2002. [396 pgs]
“A/Politics of Contemporary Anglo-Canadian Poetries: The Toronto Research Group and the Kootenay School of Writing.” Assembling Alternatives: Reading Postmodern Poetries Transnationally. Ed. Romana Huk. Wesleyan UP. [Forthcoming.]
“The Poetics of God: Spilling the Name in Robin Blaser’s The Last Supper.” Mosaic [Forthcoming].
“Radical Affections: Charles Olson’s Maximus.” Open Letter 11:1 (Spring 2001): 72-82.
“Subjects of Experience: Post-cognitive Subjectivity in the Work of bpNichol and Daphne Marlatt.” SCL/ÉLC 25:2 (2000): 108-130.
“Tensing the Difference: Daphne Marlatt, Karen Mac Cormack, and Susan Howe.” Tessera 27 (Winter 1999): 39-54.
“Three for Public: Steve McCaffery, Nicole Brossard, and Robin Blaser.” Public 12 (1995): 98-111; rpt.: The Recovery of the Public World. Eds. Edward Burne and Charles Watts. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1999.
Articles Under Review
"Jay Macpherson's Modernism"
Dictionary/Encyclopedia Articles“Robin Blaser.” Entry for The Reader’s Encyclopedia. Ed. William H. New. Toronto: U of T Press, 2002.
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