Reading “Entre Ville” together

On Thursday class met, students talked in groups of 4-5 (14 students total in the class–yes, I know this is a heavenly number) about the freewriting they did after reading “Entre Ville” while I got the projector set up so that we could read it together.

While they were talking with each other, I did my usual teacher-eavesdropping and heard some great comments: I’m a visual learner, so this was perfect for me; I think she uses place like Tuan‘s definition because she really makes us experience her neighborhood; space is the internet, right, where she’s doing the writing?

There are a lot of things to like about those comments: students are using Tuan’s terminology, making interesting observations about how they read and asking good questions. What more could a teacher ask for? The assignment is a fairly complex one, I think, inasmuch as it requires students to both analyze J. R. Carpenter’s poem and to think about their process of reading the text as well. We’ll talk about various ways this piece of writing might be organized when we meet on Tuesday and they will have their first very rough drafts with them. I like to see what they’ve come up with (in terms of organization and the commentary on the poem) before we discuss things like development and organization.

In our larger discussion, students asked what we were considering to be the poem, which is a good question if you look at the electronic text. Most students had focused on Saint Urbain Street Heat, mainly because it was easily identifiable as a poem, it is centered on the page, and it is contained in a notebook. We discussed the ways in which the design invited us in with things we were familiar with. But then someone pointed out that the entire work is called Entre Ville. A couple of students had read only Saint Urbain, unsure why they hadn’t explored the page further. One student was bothered by the fact that he was supposed to analyze the poem, but he couldn’t use his usual annotation strategies: highlighting, underlining, writing in the margins, etc. In fact, these were all strategies they had just read about in an essay by Donald M. Murray called Reading as a Reader. In addition, however, we’d also read an interview with Ryan Nadel on transliteracy and talked about what it means to be a transliterate person. One student said that he had copied and pasted the text of Saint Urbain onto a doc so that he could work with it in that way. Another revealed that he had discovered that there were other places to go in Entre Ville when he by chance moved his mouse and the cursor landed on an image that opened up a video with sound, which drew a comment about Tuan’s use of the word Experience when he discusses how we use our five senses to know a place. Her comment elicited more comments about how students had played around with the poem to find more poems, a story about a dog, and many interesting sounds of the neighborhood.

The words play, experience, discover and explore are what interest me as a teacher (and also as a reader and writer). This is why we read, yes? And I like having this discussion in the first couple of meetings with a class whose goal it is to improve their reading and writing in an academic context. As the one student was concerned that he couldn’t analyze the poem the way he’d been taught, I expect there will be other concerns. But I assume (and hope) that each concern opens a door (like those in Entre Ville) into a new way of thinking about how we are reading and what kind(s) of analysis might result from these discoveries. Right, the essays they write might not look like essays they’ve written about Sylvia Plath poems or Tupac’s lyrics. Good, I say. All the better.

About Jane Hammons

I write. I teach. I teach writing.
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