21 August 2008

Follow the leader.

Fall 2008 syllabi are now finished, and ready to be copied. It's the perfect time to contemplate the following: is it possible to really teach creative writing?

On creative writing search committees we have asked job candidates a version of this question. I have spent a lot of time thinking of what my answer would've been, if I had been on the other side of the speakerphone.

It's different when you teach English composition, or literature, to some degree. Whether folks are talented essayists or critics, if they put in enough effort they can (hopefully) produce a decent research paper or analysis. But with creative writing there seems to be a mysterious extra component, and I'm not talking about adorable folders with puppies on them. Though I'm sure those help.

I guess what I'm saying is that even though most students can learn the poetic terms and try their hand at the craft, there's some point where inspiration and talent become necessities. And not every writer has both of those at the right time.

I do, however, believe in the value of poetry writing classes for honing critical thinking, and for helping students see the world in a different way. Some of my best undergrad creative writers have been computer science majors, or biology majors, or engineers. When I first started teaching creative writing, I wanted every single student to go on to an MFA. Looking back, that was pretty silly. But I do think that every student would benefit from at least a semester of writing poetry.

How do you feel about this issue? Can you teach creative writing? Can you teach creative writing? Can you teach creative writing?

8 comments:

Pamela said...

The question is not only Can you teach CW, but also Can it be learned?

I teach my heart out in my intro to poetry class; sometimes it makes a difference, sometimes not. It always matters to me, though, and maybe that's the important thing.

Karen J. Weyant said...

I work in a department full of artists and musicians and because I teach creative writing, we often have this discussion. I have a colleague who always says, "At one point you are teaching appreciation, and we can always use more students who appreciate art." I think she is right.

P. J. said...

I don't think it's possible to teach regular writing.

Philip Jenks said...

I don't know the answer to that big question but I do want to say congratulations on finishing the syllabi.

whirly-girl said...

I think that, if nothing else, a teacher can guide students to work *with* creative writing. What I mean by this is the stuff that you mentioned in your post--you can teach terms, you can teach craft, you can help students pick up the sorts of careful and critical *reading* skills that tend to come after being part of a bunch of workshops. I think, also, that a teacher can work with whatever instincts a crw student may have and start to guide them, I guess, out of harm's way. And a teacher of creative writing can educate the student on the different outlets for writing--not everything will be meant for publication in, oh, a journal or a book, and not everything will be meant as a means of expressing love and intimacy to a beloved--or an idea, or a country, or a time in life, or family. And then the teacher can encourage students to understand that instinct and innate talent are good things in and of themselves, but then what? How does one work with those? What does one do with instinct and talent and imagination?

But that's just me. If you ask Thomas Lux, though, he will have a wildly different answer. He believes, I have learned, that anyone can learn to write creatively and that anyone can write a great poem with enough care and attention and time paid to their work.

John Gallaher said...

What an easy question!

(I'll get right back to you in several years.)

Jordan said...

Yes x3.

Creative Writing said...

I think that, if nothing else, a teacher can guide students to work *with* creative writing. What I mean by this is the stuff that you mentioned in your post--you can teach terms, you can teach craft, you can help students pick up the sorts of careful and critical *reading* skills that tend to come after being part of a bunch of workshops. I think, also, that a teacher can work with whatever instincts a crw student may have and start to guide them, I guess, out of harm's way. And a teacher of creative writing can educate the student on the different outlets for writing--not everything will be meant for publication in, oh, a journal or a book, and not everything will be meant as a means of expressing love and intimacy to a beloved--or an idea, or a country, or a time in life, or family. And then the teacher can encourage students to understand that instinct and innate talent are good things in and of themselves, but then what? How does one work with those? What does one do with instinct and talent and imagination?