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Rose McLarney - Teaching Philosophy___________________________

In the poem C. D. Wright most wants to write, the splendid catch she can never quite net, it is always
Arkansas, summer, evening. Meanwhile, for Adam Zagajewski, his childhood scenery of Eastern
Europes shattered buildings overgrown with grassas seductive as the ruins of a Gothic abbey had
been for the first generation of Romantics continues to provide the setting for many of his poems. As
different as the backgrounds of these poets from the American South and Poland are, they speak in their
essays to complementary ideas. Zagajewski says Polish poetry is far-reaching because its creators, after
the destruction of their country by war and occupation, forged a literature that answered historys
menace in universal, not provincial ways. Wrights work goes beyond regionalism, or as she puts it, I
poetry. I write it, study it, read it, edit it, publish it, teach itI also arkansas. Sometimes these verbs
coalesce. Sometimes they trot off in opposite directions.
Both also emphasize the roles of what they term contradiction inherent in poetry. Yet, Zagajewski calls
for, not the tepid irony prevalent in some contemporary art, but for us to use our faulty voices as truly as
we can. He calls for, Ardor: The earths fervent song, which we answer with our own imperfect song.
Wright, after repulsing assimilation, resisting identification, becoming a tramp poet, asserts, I am left
with: be critical and sing.
I begin with, as a teacher: be rigorous and give. I move students to give generous attention to the literature
we readthe models around which my courses are builtand to peers writing in workshop. And I
advocate generosity towards ones own future readers. This means that the attitude students must take
towards the examination of their own writing is a demanding one, continually asking that each draft,
whether of a creative or critical piece, work still harder. One could say these ideas are contradictory; I
call them complementary.
The process of producing our ideas in variations and multiplesrevisionis the technique my teaching
emphasizes. I grade, not on the finished quality of creative writing, but on the degree of adventurous reenvisioning I can see a student has undertaken over the course of numerous drafts. In one of my courses,
each topic is taught twice. We read and discuss a selection of poems once, then re-read the same pieces
for consideration from another angle during the next class meeting. We workshop poems as early drafts,
and again in their subsequent forms. In another course, we study poetic sequences and series, which I
present as useful models for all emerging writers, even if they do not intend to write series in the end.
Poems in series are admissions that it takes numerous tries to articulate an idea and amplifications of the
poets drive to strive towards perfection. Or, to put it another way, series, like revisions, are celebrations
of how many ways there are to say a thing.
As the teacher, I must be the most giving of all the contributors in the classroom. I provide personalized
responses to assignments and emphasize individual interactions. Im known for rapport with students,
involvement in campus events, availability beyond office hours, and outstanding contributions to thesis
and dissertation committees. Yet, my accessibility also has its flip side: high standards. My feedback goes
beyond the concerns of a particular draft that a student might fix or discard, publish or otherwise be done
with, to discuss what the poem is trying to do in comparison to exemplary pieces of published literature
models students can keep aspiring towards throughout their writing lives. On a related note, with my
advanced students, I do speak to their publishing and professional concerns. That is, in the morning, in
my office, I gladly see the lines of students seeking advice on submissions, the job market, and
fellowships and awards. But in the afternoon, in my classrooms, I direct the focus above hiring seasons,
submissions deadlines, and trends to enduring texts themselves.

My teaching style yokes together the sometimes divergent pulls of offering expertise and inviting
interaction. In a typical undergraduate class meeting, I begin by giving a short lecture on a common text
and then facilitate a discussion based on a craft topic such as diction, syntax, the line, stanza, tone,
closure, etc. I have students submit critical responses to our assigned reading the morning prior to every
meeting via an online classroom so I can come prepared with personalized notes to address their
questions or call on them to contribute their most insightful comments to discussion. To close a class, I
give a writing prompt that, for instance, may ask students to investigate the syntactical strength of an
imperative poem by using its structure as a scaffolding. (This involves replacing the adjectives, the verbs,
and then the nouns with their own, using close reading as a way to start generating an original poem.)
For workshops, everyone prepares written commentaries and discusses their peers submissions
descriptively (without using qualitative phrases such as I like). I may also use creative activities such
as having students subscribe to and analyze a literary journal as an avenue for investigating contemporary
literary movements; cook meals together and volunteer in community gardens in a course on food
writing; install (harmless, removable) guerilla poetry in places where non-traditional audiences will
discover it to encourage enthusiasm for the form; or compile their own mini-anthologies as means of
considering the span and limits of a canon. In short, my courses combine a respect for published texts
with the suggestion that students can understand and aspire to write great works themselves.
Drawing on my background of more supposed oppositesserving groups ranging from Appalachian
tobacco farmers to digital media artists in a previous career with nonprofit groups; living in Latin
America and all over our country while feeling great fidelity to my particular home place; and attending
public school in an impoverished district and then thriving in academic institutionsI am able to reach a
wide audience. Im equally able to help brothers in the Greek system organize a reading at a fraternity
house or a trans-gendered student negotiate the changing pronouns in her body of poetry, and an offensive
lineman struggling with grammar or a PhD candidate developing a reading list for an ambitious
independent study. My teaching aims to expand the thinking of students who are already gifted, as well as
to captivate the attention of students who are unsure of how literature and writing are relevant to their
The Los Angeles Review rightly called a book of mine A stubbornly-rooted first collection of impressive
insight and craft. Yet, I must add to this that regionalism is most valuable, to my mind, not when it
functions as a limiting allegiance, but as a lens, a way of looking attentively and intimately that, once
learned, can be applied to any subject. And so I admire how the South is home to literature that shares
idioms and stylistic traits yet spans from the mountains to the bayous, or a country can be as small as
Poland and produce so much significant writing. But it is the end effect of poetry, creating something
slightly unknowable but universal, that most interests me. This stance extends beyond the issue of
regionalism I have taken as an example to all the ways that poetry can make our vision bigger.
Zagajewskis criticism of lesser poets who develop a snail-like tendency to take refuge in a hut, a shell,
to escape contrary winds, contrary ideas, to create miniatures rings true, as does Wrights statement that
she cant restrict herself to just one place because, My ear has been licked by so many other tongues.
Reading immerses us in diverse viewpoints and so, in addition to a work ethic, beyond serious beauty, I
believe the study of creative writing can teach empathy and expand understandings. I select readings that
represent many nationalities, genders, ethnicities, and perspectives. My courses texts give voice to stories
that might otherwise go untold and so inspire students to learn to articulate their own thoughts. I hope
many of my students will become successful writers. And I hope all of them will find my teaching offers
approaches that can serve them in their broader communications and contributions to our culture: rigorous
standards for their own words and generously given attention to the work of others.