Julia Bloch

Against the weather: On teaching Williams

Williams in the mail

WCW stamp.
WCW stamp.

Mail received the other day from Joe Milutis, who Skyped into my William Carlos Williams class to talk about Paterson and the work he’s been doing on the impressively audio-rich and intertextual blog New Jersey as an Impossible Object.

Visualizing Paterson

Question gallery.
Question gallery.

Our first week on Williams’s Paterson we began by constructing a question gallery. First, come up with a question about some key detail of the poem. Second, come up with a quesion about some formal element of the poem. Third, come up with a question about a larger question raised by the poem. Once the questions have been pinned to the wall, used colored post-its to annotate, respond to, and further question the questions.

The MLA does not support the variable foot

Asphodel flowers.
Asphodel flowers.

By the time we got to the long, apologetic love poem Asphodel, That Greeny Flower in the Williams class, I was beginning to worry about the relatively short amount of time we had spent on the variable foot.

Dowling/Taransky/Williams

Sarah Dowling, Michelle Taransky, and Central California.
Sarah Dowling, Michelle Taransky, and Central California.

Poets Sarah Dowling (until recently of Philadelphia; now of Seattle; originally of Regina, Saskatchewan) and Michelle Taransky (of Philadelphia; originally of Camden, New Jersey) used Google Hangout to visit my William Carlos Williams class last month to talk about their relationship to WCW, modernism, and Spring and All.

Double entry

At the library.
At the library.

I recently asked my students to engage in a “dialectical journal” activity in our William Carlos Williams class. There are many examples online of what teachers refer to as a “dialectical” or “double entry journal,” in which students use multiple columns on a page to react to specific phrases and passages from a text. The dialectical journal is a popular tool in secondary schools and undergraduate curricula, and ranges from the relatively simple act of gathering reactions to a text to more complex methods of translating reactions into critical assessment and reflection — visual connections, social questions, naming literary techniques, generating a thesis. Essentially, the dialectical journal is a physical template for the kinds of annotating and close reading we do all the time: a kind of spreadsheet to track what different parts of the text are doing, and what kinds of reactions we have to them. What I found in the Williams class, however, is that there is something even more dialogic going on than creating a conversation between readers: the genre of the text seems in some ways to determine the form of the reader’s own writing.