I teach a variety of writing classes at UC Berkeley–two that fulfill the University’s Reading and Composition Requirement, an intermediate and an advanced writing class. The intermediate class–CW 105: Finding Your Voice with Others–is one in which students read current articles–academic and journalism–as well as a little theory–Marshall McLuhan, Walter Ong, David Post, Lawrence Lessig, Sherry Turkle, Anne Wysocki, etc–about new media and technology. Multimodal forms of expression are required, and students write reflective journals with each project submitted, thinking about how the use of technology affects the language we use. And they also think about design related issues: color, shape, image, platform.
One purpose of the course is to help students who have fulfilled the R&C Requirement continue to develop academic reading and writing strategies as they learn to hear, appreciate and deploy their own voices. Voice is a slippery concept. Most writing books and manuals take a kind of Grammar Girl approach, which is fine. It’s useful as a starting place. But students enrolled in 105 have read something like this already. Probably more than once.
While 105 is not a creative writing class (what kind of writing is not, in some sense, creative? question for another day), I do try to approach the concept of voice in a way that is about something more than style (while it is also, of course, related to style–see the concept begin to slip and slide?!). I use material that you might more often find in a creative writing course to get the discussion rolling. For example, I might use some passages from Finding Your Writer’s Voice, by Thaisa Frank and Dorothy Wall (a book I love): “Your voice is actually a very ordinary thing. It is just who you are, projected artistically. It is often linked to your speaking voice, and your breath, and the rhythms and sense of pace that you draw on when you are too absorbed in what you are saying to listen to yourself from a distance. It is also linked to your body, the language or dialect you spoke in childhood, and whatever naturally interests you. Your voice is how you write when you don’t have time to be elegant” (5). And later from the same chapter: “A search for voice must always involve a willingness to experience what you already know in a new light” (7).
And in 105 that new light often shines from new media. Students are using tools they have, for the most part, never used. They are writing in public. They are taking risks. And so when a student says to me, can I try, can I use, can have an extension, can I use I (yes, dear god, please use I–use it wisely, don’t over use it, but do not let writing at the University rob you of I). I say yes. We might have a brief discussion (depending on the question), but usually I say yes, try it; yes, you can turn it in late; yes yes yes.
I’m not an easy teacher, but I try to be a generous one.
How is yes rewarded? (okay, I’ll confess, sometimes it’s not; sometimes I should have probably said no: live and learn)
I’ve read several pieces by J. R. Carpenter whose work I really admire. I share with her an interest in uses of space and place and how we become attached to them. Entre Ville is one of my favorite pieces of hers.I think the design is interesting and it invites me to poke around on windows and doors and see what I can see. And much to my surprise also hear what I can hear. As we talked about in class today, texts like this put play back into reading. And too some extent it is also a collaborative experience. “Did you click the clothesline?” “Listen to the old man play his trumpet.” We want to share the parts of it that delight us.
While my students are going to be writing an analysis of the poem, I’m mostly trying to think abut the process of reading such texts (they’ll be doing that, too, and I’ll also be analyzing the poem, but I’ll probably put the emphasis in my essay on reading). How do we talk about reading such a text? Presumably we all start with the main poem, “Saint Urbain Street Heat,” in part because we easily recognize it: oh there’s the poem! The fact that it moves up and down guided by the red arrows is familiar as well to people who are accustomed to using a scroll bar. But then where do we go? I started with some of the windows and doors because they invite me to peek into them, like old-fashioned children’s books or an advent calendar–when you pull the tabs there is an image or a piece of chocolate behind them. And also it’s logical to open windows and doors.
It took me a while to get to the clothesline, and I clicked on the dog more than once before I found the story there. One of my favorite sections appears with the gloves. I like the way the poem there echoes via the repeated, shaded text and also the images that accompany the words.
Some questions I want to think about more have to do with reading in a nonlinear way. Does it matter that I didn’t see the dog story until the fourth or fifth reading? What would I be missing if I never located it? To some extent these are questions we ask with print texts as well. We may “miss” sections when we read because we don’t understand them or because we are distracted when we’re reading. But they are easier to recover, I suppose, because they are made up of words on a page. We don’t have to hunt for them, at least not by clicking to see what is behind a curtain, or what the bright flowers might deliver.
I am also really taken with the way the line changes directly underneath the title depending on what I click on.
I look forward to hearing what my students have to say.