Friday, August 10, 2007

The Arf Father

My dog, Dude, in a philosophical pose. He does my homework.

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Gabriel Gudding is the author of the mind-bogglingly refreshing A Defense of Poetry. Here is the text and an audio file of the title poem. Trickster-like he delights and thumbs his nose. Remarkably, even behind his most scatological, school-boy pranksterism, there is an earnest, spiritual compassion. I am reminded of Zen Koans and those stories of monks who thwack their pupils in order to teach them some lesson.

On his blog Conchology, Gudding has posted an essay of his which will appear in The New Writer's Handbook 2007: A Practical Anthology of Best Advice for Your Craft and Career (Scarlatta Press, July 2007) I find this essay refreshing. Not only is it wise, smart and incisive, but it reminds me how the range of ways that we think about teaching writing is so narrow. I note how the essay isn't advocating a kind of writing that is vague spiritual new age mush. It is talking about writing -- and an approach to writing pedagogy -- that is very awake, whatever that means to the writer. It is a writing of surprise and creative alert energy. It isn't advocating any style. It's a very radical essay .

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My dog has eaten my chair, my glasses, cellphone, other dogs, my lesson plans, turkeys, but never poetry.

THE ARF FATHER

take a regular dog
boil it down
to a speck

take this tiny dog
on tiny walks
in a miniscule park

teach the dog
what we know
the water bowls of heaven

the leash between
living and dying
the arf father:

arf father
who arf
arf! arf! arf! arf!

arf!

arf! arf!
arf!
arf! arf!

arf! arf! arf!
arf! arf!
arf!

arf!
arf! arf!

arf!

2 comments:

happenin fish said...

thanks for drawing attention to this, gary. I read gabriel's blog regularly, and more than once have I copied a particular nugget of wisdom from it and stuck it above my desk at work, to help keep me centred, sane (or is that insane?) and generous.

grounding the practice of writing in an ethical commitment to developing a curious habit of mind- can we get that into a curriculum document somewhere? i mean, that *is* the goal towards which I want to orient my work.

gary barwin said...

There does seem to be continuous talk about preparing students for the changing workplace, about teaching them to be creative and flexible thinkers, teaching them to develop 'a curious habit of mind,'however, I don't think -- for the most part -- that this is integrated into schools and school curricula. Heck, I've heard teachers chastise kids for climbing a tree on school property as if it were a completely ridiculous, thoughtless, and 'What were you thinking?" activity. (Given that I'm teaching quite young kids, I would ask them to come down from the trees, but I'd provide them with paper with lines on it so that they could write with a careless disregard for these very lines, thus providing an institutionally endorsed -- and liability-free -- mode of freedom, impulsivity, and self-expression. But few teachers are as enlighted as I am...)

I have experimented with allocating certain marks or a place on a rubric for a "surprise me" component on an assignment. I do want the students to be able to follow their inspiration or curiosity somewhere where the original assignment hadn't predicted. But of course, in most situations, it's more about setting up the creative space /power relations of the class/school.