Twenty-four hours after sitting in a university classroom feeling as if I might not be such an incompetent fool after all, I sat in another classroom feeling like a bigger incompetent fool than ever before.
Week one of the 2011 spring semester at Penn State was three days old. With the exception of Stats 100, none of the syllabi had seemed overwhelming. Now I sat in the once-a-week Wednesday evening class listening to Amanda explain the syllabus for English 050: Creative Writing. She initially gained a few bits of credibility by telling us to call her Amanda and explaining that she was an adjunct instructor and saying, “Really, I’m just a young poet struggling to make a living.”
Those few bits of credibility drained away immediately though when I read her syllabus and listened to her explain expectations and outline her plans for the class.
Now it’s true, I thought, no one forced me to register for ENGL 050 and I had carefully and painstakingly scrutinized each word in the paragraph describing the course on Penn State’s schedule of courses. I knew I would be required to “practice . . . the reading, analysis and composition of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry writing.”
The fact that poetry was part of creative writing was what scared me silly. It wasn’t the idea of exploring the “genres of nonfiction, fiction, and poetry” that scared me; I could handle exploration. It was the latter part of that paragraph, the statement that we would be writing “personal essays, sketches, scenes, and poems.” Especially the writing of poetry.
The one redeeming factor in my decision to select this course was that it offered a section designed specifically for adult learners and was held from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. once a week. I’d decided that having only two weekly on-campus courses was far preferable to any threats of writing poetry.
Now I wasn’t so sure. Sitting in that classroom staring at the words on the syllabus I’d been handed was like trying to read a foreign language. Particularly when I read—or attempted to read—the section about poetry.
I figured my Amish brain could handle words and concepts such as plot, point of view, setting, character, theme, metaphor, simile, and symbolism. It might even, eventually, grasp the concepts of imagery, tone, connotation and denotation. But, poetry? My brain balked every bit as stubbornly as one of my dad’s horses!
Even the thought of rhythm (is singsong a rhythm?) or alliteration or assonance or haiku or sonnet or meter (isn’t that a unit of measure?) or foot (that’s the thing at the end of my leg, right?) or iambic pentameter, trochee, villanelle, and scansion, had the wild beast of panic clawing at my throat.
“Who do we know that could tutor me in poetry?” I blurted to my long-suffering husband as he met me outside the south entrance of the Willard Building after class.
“Well, ah-h,” he stammered. “I don’t know. Is it as bad as all that?” Then he continued, “And besides, do you really have to get it all figured out tonight? You can surely take it one step at a time, can’t you?”
“Yeah, you’re right,” I sighed. “And to be fair, it wasn’t all bad. We ended the class with what is called a ‘free write’ so that was fun.”
“A free write?” he echoed. “What in the world is that?”
“Oh, that’s where you write whatever comes to mind. Tonight we were supposed to spend about fifteen minutes writing a little bit about ourselves then sign our names and hand them in. The instructor said she’d read them so she could get to know us. That was the fun part because I can always find something to say about my favorite subject,” I laughed.
My dear dyslexic husband, however, ruefully remarked, “Rather you than me. I can’t imagine having to write anything for fifteen minutes.”
“I can’t imagine having to read all that handwritten stuff,” I said as he maneuvered us off the University Park campus and headed east.