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Mapping the Line: Poets on Teaching Paperback – February 28, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Bruce Guernsey is Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Eastern Illinois University where he taught Creative Writing and 19th Century American Literature for twenty-five years. He has also taught at William and Mary, Johns Hopkins, and Virginia Wesleyan where he was Poet in Residence for four years. He was awarded seven faculty excellence awards for teaching at Eastern Illinois, and in 1992-93, was selected as the State of Illinois Board of Governors’ “Professor of the Year,” the highest award in that state system. He has also been the recipient of two Senior Fulbright Lectureships in American Poetry to Portugal and to Greece. His poems have appeared in The Atlantic, Poetry, The American Scholar, and his most recent book is FROM RAIN: Poems, 1970-2010 (Ecco Qua Press, 2012). He is a former editor of The Spoon River Poetry Review.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 196 pages
  • Publisher: Penyeach Press (February 28, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0972947817
  • ISBN-13: 978-0972947817
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,724,863 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Elise on March 17, 2013
Format: Paperback
A practicing poet and avid reader of poetry, with dreams of teaching a poetry-writing class myself some day, I've often wondered, How does one teach the writing of poetry these days? And I don't mean in the general sense of Is it possible to teach people how to write? I mean in the sense that a lot of poetry in the current journals (even in those purportedly "the best") and on the daily poetry websites makes no sense. The "poems" are incomprehensible gibberish. Somewhere along the way, a lot of people got poetry-writing mixed up with dream-recording (and not very interesting or well-written dream-recording); and somewhere along the way a lot of editors, publishers, and teachers got hoodwinked. I'm always astonished to read on the daily sites the credentials of the writer of an incomprehensible poem: a number of books published, many grants and awards. And usually the writer is also a university-level teacher of poetry-writing. So, how does one teach the writing of poetry these days, when so often the words don't seem to matter, or the order of the words, or the form, when brief prose (often bad prose) has passed itself off as poetry for a long time now?

To the rescue is Mapping the Line, a collection of 20 instructional essays by poet/teachers who include David Baker, Wesley McNair, and Pulitzer-winner Claudia Emerson, with a foreword by former Poet Laureate Ted Kooser. Here are 20 classroom-tested exercises for the teaching of poetry-writing in any age, exercises designed to dispel students' fears and long-held notions of poetry, to help students distinguish between poetry and prose; exercises that address the issues of line-breaks, metaphor, revision, tone, and music; that give students a reason for writing poetry besides simply getting published and winning contests.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Dawn L. Potter on March 18, 2013
Format: Paperback
In the intro to his anthology, "Mapping the Line: Poets on Teaching," poet and teacher Bruce Guernsey describes his approach, which he honed while editing the feature "Poets on Teaching" for Spoon River Poetry Review:

My plan was to ask the many fine poet/teachers I know across the country to contribute an essay per biannual issue. The requirements were simple: a practical assignment that had been class-tested to work, one that another poet/teacher could take directly to class and use. No jargon, no theory--just a straightforward exercise of about a thousand words.

The twenty essays in Mapping the Line follow this simple, efficacious pattern. The authors include Claudia Emerson, Betsy Sholl, David Baker, and many other well-known and not-so-well-known poets, and the book could function, as Guernsey points out, as "the basis of a whole semester's work" or be equally useful for those "who have been writing on their own or have been wanting to."

I am always thrilled to discover new ways to approach the teaching of poetry. It is also wonderful to be reassured that the jargon of poetics is unnecessary and obtrusive, that shrieking Schools of Thought have nothing to do with the private task of learning to place one word after another after another, that sarcasm and cynicism and belittlement are walls, not windows.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Miles D. Moore on October 19, 2013
Format: Paperback
In "Mapping the Line: Poets on Teaching," poet and creative writing teacher Bruce Guernsey invited 20 of his poet-teacher friends to write about the assignments they give their students to tap their creativity and improve their writing skills. He arranges their essays in this book, in approximate order of difficulty from simplest to hardest. In the first essay, Baron Wormser tells his students to write a short poem modeled after "The Long Rain," a deceptively simple but marvelously evocative poem by the late John Haines. In the last, Betsy Sholl assigns her class an end-of-semester project: a poem of 60 to 100 lines. "Having practiced using varieties of syntax and diction, having worked with sonic devices and experimented with several forms, the students are ready to try putting these elements of craft together by working on a longer poem," she writes.

In between, the teachers devise all sorts of ingenious and imaginative assignments for their students. Kevin Stein has them write about the details of their workplaces; Todd Davis, about the details of their homes. Diane Lockward assigns them extravagant love (or hate) poems; Claudia Emerson sets them to writing elegies. Robert Wrigley has them analyze the syntactic and idiomatic transformations when they translate their poems via Google Translate into a random foreign language, then back into English. One of my favorite assignments is Guernsey's own: he has his students write poems using only the names of cities, towns, counties and rivers on the map. "I want them to be listening to the vowels and consonants and the rhythms that result, and to break their lines for reasons of sound," he writes.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Curious Reader on March 23, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"We should be appealing as much or more to a student's unconscious mind as to the conscious one," writes Doug Sutton-Ramspeck in his chapter on "Accidental Writing." He goes on to say, "I am now convinced that, for most students, conscious effort is the enemy of invention. . . . Again and again I have watched students lift the quality of their work when they stop trying so hard to do so.. . . . I want them to envision the endeavor as more like lying on your back in a fast-moving river and letting the current carry you." Author of four poetry collections, Sutton-Ramspeck teaches at Ohio State University.

Still, in his foreword to this book, entitled "Beyond the Classroom Walls," former U.S. poet laureate and teacher Ted Kooser cautions, "If we want to help our students find readers for their work, readers in the greater world, that is, we need to encourage them to write with that world in mind." Kooser deplores "obscure or obfuscatory" writing.

To me, the interesting exercises in the book deny neither of these wishes and can be of great help to experienced and inexperienced poets alike. The writing tone used by the various authors is friendly and welcoming to readers at any level including one like me, who is a very late-blooming aspiring poet.
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