Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Stop the Bleeding with Words

In the Beginning…
by Kathy Belby

His name is Professor BJ Ward and I met him through a cold call to Warren County Community College in Washington, NJ. I hadn’t done my homework - hadn’t researched the English department at the small (1500 students) local two year college or googled the faculty. I knew I wanted some experience teaching; but Western’s vague course description of ENG 569 wasn’t much help:

"The program requires students to share their understandings as writers with others who want or need to write. The students will work as a teacher or coach of writing under the tutelage of a qualified mentor. The student will be required to keep a journal of his or her experience and to write a substantial evaluation of the experience. "

Frankly, I wasn’t even sure exactly what kind of teaching experience I should be asking for, but it was late November and the deadline to set up a practicum was at hand.

“My name is Kathy Belby,” I began. “I’m an MFA student from Western Connecticut University and I…” I paraphrased the course description of ENG 569 into something equally hazy.

BJ Ward listened patiently on the phone.

“I think we can work with you,” he said. “But just so you know, we’re not grooming Pulitzer prize winners here. It’s a war and we’re just trying to stop the bleeding.”

“That’s OK,” I assured him. (I’m a nurse after all).

We arranged to meet at a poetry reading a few days later.

As frequently happens in life – a brand new word pops up unexpectedly three times in the day after you learn it – or - without prompting, two people on separate occasions mention the obscure film you’ve picked up at Blockbuster – BJ Ward’s name came up at random right after our phone conversation.

“Hey, Devin, what’s up?” I said to my friend’s son as he stocked yogurt in the A & P. He tucked his hair behind his ear; his sideburns met his beard and made a complete loop around his angular face.

“I got finals at WCCC tomorrow,” he said as he ripped open a box of Land of Lakes unsalted butter. “English. I got this guy – BJ Ward. He’s really good.”

I stopped the slow motion of my cart. “Oh, yeah?” I said.

“Yeah, he’s probably the best teacher I’ve ever had.” He carefully lined up the edges of the butter boxes. “Yeah, it’s so much better than high school English.”

“That’s cool,” I said. “Hey, Dev, could you hand me one of those butters?”

“Sure,” he said and gave me a crooked smile. “See ya, Mrs. Belby.”

A few days later I was at a Christmas party, talking to Sarah, a 20 something daughter of a friend of mine. She’s now living in California, working with Americorp, helping to reforest a state park by planting seedlings. She loves Americorp - loves having the opportunity to travel and meet new friends – something that would be impossible without this agency, given the resources of her family. Americorp will help pay for the rest of college, too, she tells me. She did one year of school at WCCC and had decided to drop out, until one of the professors – BJ Ward – convinced her she should keep plugging away at it.

“BJ Ward?” I asked.

“Yeah, he’s the best,” she said. “Whenever I go back there, I always stop in to see him.”

“I’m going to be working with him…” I explained to her.

“Oh, you’ll like him,” she assured me. “He’s a really picky teacher, too. There are writing tutors that we can take our papers to for help. If those tutor people miss something, Professor Ward will make sure they’re fired.”

Through emails and one face to face meeting, BJ Ward and I hammered out a description of what my practicum will look like. I’ll attend his freshmen comp I class 2 days a week for an hour and a half each session. The book he uses,
Patterns for a Purpose, by Barbara Fine Clouse, presents different approaches (patterns) to writing essays through didactic material and example. Prof Ward focuses on four of these patterns in this course: narration, exemplification, process analysis, and comparison /contrast. I selected four essays which I wanted to discuss and will teach four complete classes. Along the way, I will also teach segments of lessons as we decide. The syllabus for this composition class requires that the students write four short papers of at least 500 words and one research paper of at least 2000 words. I will observe how Professor Ward grades the first three papers and then will grade the fourth set of papers (comparison and contrast) on my own, with a subsequent review by him before they are returned to the students. The students are graded on their four papers (10% each), class participation and quizzes (20%), the research paper (20%), and a final exam (20%).

Most of the 22 students in this class are 18-21 years old and many are taking Comp I second semester because they have had to take remedial writing or reading in the fall semester. Many work and all commute as there are no dormitories at WCCC.

What I know about teaching is mostly from observing the many teachers I have had throughout my life. I believe that a teacher’s chief job is to motivate students to think, and more pointedly, to think about a specific field – in this case, writing/reading. In order to achieve this, a teacher must care about his (or her) students and I suspect from those two random and unsolicited student comments that BJ Ward may be such a teacher. A good teacher must also be passionate about his field and ideally be practicing it outside the classroom. A Google search after I set up my practicum, revealed that Professor Ward has won the Pushcart Prize for Poetry and two Distinguished Artist Fellowships from the NJ State Council on the Arts. His poetry has been read on NPR and New Jersey Network’s “State of the Arts” and published in TriQuarterly, Poetry, Painted Bride Quarterly, and Mid -American Review, to name a few. He’s also had essays published in the New York Times, The Worcester Review, and Teaching Artist of New Jersey. This spring on April 4 in New Orleans, he will deliver a paper, “Blue Collar Poetry from my Working-Class Students’ Perspectives” at the National Conference on College Composition and Communication, hosted by the National Council of Teachers of English. Somehow I have inadvertently stumbled on a mentor who seems to embody what I consider the two most essential qualities of a good teacher – one who is passionate about his students and passionate about his work.

There are many things I don’t know about teaching, things which I hope find out about during this practicum – how to grade essays fairly, how to set up lesson plans, how to manage a class. But I know I will care about the students. Already I am wondering about the boy in the third row, front seat (one of three Matts) who says he spent the last six months living in NYC sleeping “wherever” (to include a dumpster) and the girl who sits in the back, and was “kicked out of the Army for anorexia” and now has a new baby. How can I get them to care – even a little, given their circumstances – about the passion I feel for writing?

From this practicum, I want to discern whether or not I could be an effective Composition teacher at the community college level. BJ Ward tells me that Warren County Community College is setting up the first AFA in Writing – Associates in Fine Arts – in the state of New Jersey (and the seventh in the nation.) Armed with an MFA in Professional Writing from Western, I would like to see myself as part of this new program – as an adjunct professor in Warren County Community College’s AFA for writers.

References cited:
Clouse, Barbara Fine. Patterns for a Purpose. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2006.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Online Courses

The syllabi for all of this semester's online courses are up--please check in on them.

Artist's Reception - Ode to the Women

Osettar Tones (detail), 2007. Acrylic on sewn hand-me downs.

The Greenwich Art Society Presents

Ode to the Women
Feb 5 – Mar 5, 2008
an exhibition of works by

Richelle Hod┼ża Ivarsson

Artist’s Reception
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
5 to 8 pm

The GAS Gallery►2nd Floor►299 Greenwich Ave►Greenwich, CT

For additional info: greenwichartsociety.org and click on "current exhibitions"


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Another residency down...

...let's plan another!

The August residency will take place the week of the 4th. The Sunday before and the Sunday after will be travel dates, with orientation events and welcome convocation the afternoon/evening of Sunday, the 3rd.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Thesis Binders via Internet

If anyone outside Danbury is looking to buy individual thesis binders, I've found a rare resource. Mayapple Press offers individual thesis binders in the 1", 1.5" and 2" variety directly from their website: www.mayapplepress.com

They're difficult to find and I believe the WCSU bookstore will only ship groups of six. Mayapple will send them individually from their location in Bay City, Mich. Link to the binders is on the left under "manuscript binders."

I've seen them and they appear to be identical to what others have used to file their works.

Best - Fletch

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

A Kernel for a Fowl

Hello Everyone,

I must say what a delight it was to be with you all, fine creative minds, at the residency. It was a unique experience in my writing life.

As a way of an introduction to those who I did not get the chance to speak to or those who saw me just from the lens of The Blank Tape, a short story of mine was recently published at the online site, author-me.com. I present the link below for those who may want to read.


Mind you the story belongs to the unfortunate list of works written before Westconn MFA - before I heard Mark Sundeen talked about all literature as longing, someone wanting something he or she cannot have; about vulnerability as what will make readers care about your character; about illuminating society by creating universal feelings readers can relate to; and about the best dialogue being the one that reveals character without having the him know he is revealing character.

Good repose the while.


Miranda Literary Magazine / Openings and Internships

Nice to see everyone and meet the new students this semester. It is humbling and very exciting to be among such intelligent and creative people. Below is information about internship and other possibilities for working on Miranda Literary Magazine. Last semester, a student worked with on a small component of th magazine to enhance a course requirement. We can tailor the experience and your work skills to fit the needs of your course work and the needs of the magazine.

One project that isn't mentioned below is our creation of a yearly anthology of all the work from last year. We need an editor or editors to shape this project. It will eventually be an on-demand publication sold on the magazine.

Look at some of the ideas we have below. Some are marked with suggested tags to help you gauge the commitment level, but if you have a project idea that isn't here, let me know.

Miranda Literary Magazine is a growing online source for fiction, poetry, essays, articles, books, reviews, podcasts, and visual art. As you consider your enrichment project or your internship, consider working with Miranda Literary Magazine, or Miranda Films, as part of your work. We can tailor our needs to fit your course outline. If you are looking for two hours a week as a course supplement, or an internship opportunity, we can make it work. Areas of interest include, web editing, marketing, public relations, content and slush pile editing, promotional materials, and more. Below are some of the projects we need help in. If they don't interest you in your direct coursework, tell us what does.

I mention the length or scope of the some of these projects because of time commitments. Some are very extensive, some are interactive.

  • Links Editor - developing links and networking with other websites. (course supplement)
  • Editor's Blog Editor - further developing the editor's blog to make it more useful to promote the magazine and our contributors. (course supplement)
  • Contributors Director - creating a master list of all the contributors to the magazine and a brief bio. (internship)
  • Public Relations Manager - creating an email list of all our contacts, and writing press releases, news, and articles. Also must plan the best way to deliver this content i.e. email, postcards, events (AWP in New York), ect. Acting spokes person for the magazine.(internship)
  • Reading Board Manager - get more out of our reading board, from recruitment to reading submissions. How do we make the reading board members feel important?(Enrichment)
  • Sectional managers - work in dedicated sections to help the fiction, poetry, or arts sections with the work load. (course supplement)
  • Podcasting Director - creating a plan for recording, producing, and publishing podcasts out to our readership. (course supplement)
  • International Development Director - create a plan for attracting writers and artists from all over the world, engaging translators, and other outlets to find work that we can present from other countries. (enrichment)
Please feel free to contact ronsamul@gmail.com with any questions or ideas. Carmen Palmer is also very active in our project development and she is a good source of ideas and inspiration.

Writing Ilustration Competition

Hello MFAers,

I came across a competition seeking unpublished writers and illustrators of children books for a statewide juried competition, the 2008 Tassy Walden Awards for New Voices in Children's Literature.

When I saw the listing for the competition in the Hartford Courant, the first thing I thought about was the presentation we had by Karen Romano Young on publishing children's work.

Guidelines for the contest may be downloaded from the Shoreline Arts Alliance website, http://www.shorelinearts.org/ (click on programs and scroll down to Tassy), by calling the office at 203.453.3890, or by emailing at donita@ShorlineArts.org.

Barnes and Noble is a major sponsor and the submission deadline for manuscripts and portfolios is Feb. 13, 2008.

Good luck.


Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Alumni Blog

I would like to invite you all to check out the WestConn MFA in Professional Writing alumni blog. It's a forum for alumni to post news and updates about their writing goals and accomplishments. As soon as the rest of y'all graduate, I'll formally invite you to join the blog. We want to keep this community of writerly support strong even after we move away from the program. Here's the link: http://www.westconnmfaalumni.blogspot.com


Advertising Internship

Reply to: job-527082397@craigslist.org
Date: 2008-01-03, 12:20PM
The Voice, an advertising agency based in Bridgeport CT, is currently seeking university students for internships in the fields of art direction, copywriting, and account management. Always looking for talented people, The Voice offers interns the chance to work 15-20 hours per week, at home and on site — learning more and faster in one semester than you ever did in school.
Interns and junior staffers are steered and advised by experienced ad professionals. "Young talent get immediate experience, and clients get work that’s fresh, professional, and cost effective," says Matthew Hallock, who serves as the firm’s creative director. With this unique two-tiered structure, a Voice intern is at once provided the training and professional experience needed for their career and often lacking from university programs.
Location: Bridgeport, CT
Compensation: $10/hour, or school credit available
This is an internship job
Principals only. Recruiters, please don't contact this job poster.
Please, no phone calls about this job!
Please do not contact job poster about other services, products or commercial interests.
Original URL: http://newyork.craigslist.org/fct/mar/527082397.html

Monday, January 07, 2008

For my friends about to begin their thesis semester

"Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement; then it becomes a mistress, and then it becomes a master, and then a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster, and fling him out to the public."

- Winston Churchill

I'll be thinking about y'all --and will be with you in spirit!