On the power of teaching strangeness

Never been a big fan of the average creative writing class, even though I have both taken and taught them. This guy says we need to let more mess and strangeness in and I generally agree. Actually, I see both sides of this. When I teach intro classes, I tend to focus on tradition — form, content, style, etc. — moving towards the point when we break from said same. When I teach advanced poetry, though, I like to focus on breaking out of tradition and getting a little more funky.

My years teaching creative writing to college and high school students have made me sympathetic to this tendency toward a conservative approach. I have previously written for The Millions about my commitment to teaching students about the business of creative writing. I certainly want to prepare my students for the worlds of publishing and graduate school, but I also fear Flannery O’Connor’s warning about the danger of mere competence in creative writing. Acceptable has become the new exceptional.

Art is taught in studios, but creative writing is taught in the same classrooms where we teach literary analysis, history, and business. We might be romantic and say that teacher and student need to create art through imagination, but in education, form is function. We need to shake things up in the creative writing classroom. We need to remember that writing is a messy, fractured, intensely personal pursuit that must not be neutered by the institutional needs of our classrooms.

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