I’m Michael. I am a writer with a couple books out (poetry and non-fiction) and one coming September: Daddy (NYQ Books), my second full-length poetry collection. I’ve taught writing for 20 years at college level, including composition, literature, public speaking and creative writing. I have taught at Hofstra University, CUNY BMCC and New Jersey City University. I’ve taught online for Gotham Workshops for years which helped me greatly in moving my classes online this year. I kept it simple as Gotham has done. Announcements, Discussion Boards, Content, Collaborate and Grade Center. Students appreciated that approach and succeeded. I prefer being in the class and miss the students. But Collaborate was helpful, and though I didn’t make it mandatory, everyone showed. I think they were bored during the quarantine. Being in the class is fun. Online avoids the commute but somehow seems like more work than face to face. But it provides flexibility. I like that I can post examples and videos and such very easily to enhance the lessons.
One thing I do in all my English classes is connect writing essays to interviewing. I ask who is afraid to interview for internships/jobs? Then I go over some of the questions, hearing answers and offering some advice. Then I compare answering interview questions with essays. Proving by example, organization, detail rather than generalization. Then we answer the questions again, using the essay techniques. The answers improve substantially. They make a connection between being a better writer and getting a job. Maybe that is transfer I have been doing. They see the class as relevant to them after that first discussion, or most students do.
I am a poet. I studied fiction writing but wrote poetry secretly. The rules of poetry, who knows. That varies from poet to poet. I emphasize compression and imagery in my poetry classes. Using an organic voice is important. Being poignant, not sentimental. Being specific, not general. Being imaginative, not cliche. Saying something. Being accessible, not simple. I learned to write poetry from Stevie Nicks. I was a kid, entranced by her style, how she conveyed emotion but cryptically. I was an expressive boy who knew he was gay, so it was hard being secretive. Expressing myself using code, like Stevie, helped me get through. I wrote bad lyrics. That became bad poetry. Now hopefully better poetry. I write about Stevie. My essay about her turned into my first book MY DIVA, an anthology about gay men being inspired by women. I have poems about her too in Daddy. Her vagueness breaks rules of poetry. Her imagery, something, carries her through.
Thank you for these reflections! I’ve also found using interviewing as a method for research and writing to be helpful for students. They actually hear their own voices and the voices of their subject, and then try to translate voices into writing, which makes them aware of language on two levels. Many first semester students also have confidence with spoken language, so it’s a way of drawing on and validating spoken language as well.
Stevie Nicks is a great muse! Using music and lyrics in the classroom is also fun and helpful. Congratulations on the forthcoming book! Talking to students about publishing a book or poems or stories can help them have a sense of possibility for their own writing efforts as well.
My friend’s friend’s friend is the son of Neil Finn, who’s currently playing guitar in Fleetwood Mac. So my friend’s friend was recently with my friend’s friend’s friend on the Fleetwood Mac tour plane. I asked what that was like and he said, “Stevie Nicks is, like, really nice.” Thought you might like to know.
Ha! So now I can say my colleague’s friends friend’s friend is on tour with Mac.
I’m glad she’s nice. She’s our fairy godmother.
This is such a sweet story. I’m wondering why you kept writing poetry a secret?
Thanks, Carrie, I think it was my secret because I didn’t know what poetry was, I just did it. And being the son of a mechanic, in a house full of people who didn’t read, poetry was just private. They didn’t look down on reading. They just didn’t do it. And they were proud when I shared stories. Poetry makes people shrivel, I think, My first boyfriend in NYC was an artist and he was so proud that I was a poet, he’d introduce me at parties: “This is Michael, he’s a poet.” I’d see them withdraw, not knowing what to say really. I told him to introduce me as a writer, not a poet. To avoid awkward pauses. Poetry can be intimidating. Even to the poet. I used to call my poems song lyrics. To make them friendlier. Fiction felt more practical.