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Old 09-02-2001, 02:26 PM
Alan Sullivan Alan Sullivan is offline
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Hello, Rhina. I'm very glad you could join us here, and I hope your computer is working OK for you.

You are one of the most temperate and humane people I have ever met; yet you are also quite stringent in your expectations for poetry, and willing to express your views strongly. How do you balance the conflicting imperatives of civility and asperity?

A.S.
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Old 09-02-2001, 04:56 PM
Anthony Lombardy Anthony Lombardy is offline
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I hope it isn't rude to jump in here when a question has been asked of Rhina, but I can't help but seize the opportunity to praise a poem, "Class Notes," from <u>Where Horizons Go</u>, which deals with the question Alan asks. In this poem, the persona is visited by the Muse, who has been angered by the teacher's too gentle ways with the bad poetry of her students. Chastened by the Muse, the persona resolves to deal more firmly with her students in the future. Here is the second half of the poem:

By morning I had vowed to be unswerving
in my devotion henceforth. And the test
came soon: shy, slight, neither the worst nor best
in a slow class, colorless, not a child
to be remembered long, she had a mild
aptitude for a flabby line or two.
But I was chastened now: "These will not do
for print just yet," I wrote her in red pen.
"Work on them; in September, try again."
By summer she was gone to foster care.
She'd wept behind her hand. I had been fair,
the Muse was pleased with me; the saints were not.
Saints, largely an unliterary lot,
apply the hairshirt skillfully, and boast
more tongues of flame than any Holy Ghost.
I've heard them all by now, and come no nearer
to answers either just or kind or clearer
than I had then, still fail to make an end
of war between firm teacher and friend,
hard fact, well-meaning lie, injury, touch,
what truth is worth and why it costs so much.

The poem doesn't offer any facile answers, but I can't imagine reading it and not wanting to listen to whatever its author has to say.
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Old 09-04-2001, 12:17 PM
Rhina P. Espaillat Rhina P. Espaillat is offline
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Both of you are very kind: thank you, Alan, for the phrasing of your question, and you Tony, for the generous answer! And you're right: there is no real answer, no solution to this warfare "between firm teacher and kind friend," because as a teacher your loyalty is divided between the subject you ostensibly love enough to want to spend yuor life teaching it, and the live, vulnerable human beings you want to spur to greater effort but not humiliate or hurt.

And yes, it is the subject yu love, not the students. It's impossible to "love" people by the roomful, tht can only be done one by one. What I feel for students is good will, pleasure in their company--usually--and a sense of profound proessional obligation to do for them as much good as I can, because I'm being paid to do that and it's also my pleasure.

I guess what I did in the classroom, and what I do with workshop members now, is remember what my father taught me: that almost everything can be said in ways that will make it less hurtful without falsifying it. I think there are people who confuse brutality with honesty, but that's a mistake.

That "persona," by the way, was me, as I'm sure you've both guessed. The experience left its trace, and has given me a lot to think about over the years, but still no wholly satisfying "answer."
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Old 09-04-2001, 12:58 PM
Alan Sullivan Alan Sullivan is offline
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I'm really glad Anthony posted the poem. I must admit that I had only a subliminal recollection of it when I posted the question. There is, of course, no satisfying answer; instead we can now contemplate the poem and your commentary on it. What an unexpected turn!

A.S.
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Old 09-04-2001, 01:10 PM
PrttyKtty PrttyKtty is offline
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As an admitted novice, this is an interesting topic to me. Not only because I've felt both the humiliation of being "flamed" and, on the other side, patronized. I admit to being somewhat reticent in critiquing poetry, in part, to step gently on other people's art and in part, for lack of experience and knowledge in how to be as helpful to others as they have been to me. Somewhat sensitive by nature, I find the most useful critiques to be those that start out with at least one kind thing about the work posted followed by concrete suggestions on what doesn't work. I've learned that Alan is spare with praise, which makes it seem so much more valuable when I hear I've pulled something off. My poetry has improved immensely for his comments, and many of the other experts who take their time to read and comment. I know when I've not done well, most people say nothing.

Rhina, I've read critiques you've done, and think you approach it with the sensitivity of a good teacher who wants to nurture the desire for good writing, with the knowledge that most of us aren't there yet. You provide helpful suggestions on how we can improve, which is greatly appreciated.

Anthony, That poem is a wonderful response to the question.
I think the key is balance the muse and the saint.

Mary
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