Friday, February 23, 2007

Book Arts: The Physical Side of Literature

Recently I've been learning the skill of bookmaking or book arts. It's been a lot of fun, since I like making things a lot, but also it's been interesting because of my academic pursuits. I'm an English M.A. student, and I plan to pursue my Ph.D., meaning a lot of time is spent reading books. So how cool is it that I can also make books? "Literature" is lumped into the ream of the intellectual and the mental world, but we sometimes forget that it has to come to us in a physical form, i.e. a book. Words on a page.

Increasingly in the postmodern era (beginning in the modern), authors have started to think about that physical aspect: Joyce was concerned with how his words would look, physically, when laid out on a page for publication. Other authors were affected by the more concrete side of writing--getting paid--so they would write in such a way that would sell. For example, publishers liked to create books that were three volumes in length to get more money from both people who bought books and people who "rented" books through subscription libraries. Publishers would thus pay more for a book that could be three substantial volumes. Some authors would be paid per page, so they would either write more (like Dickens) or write huge amounts of short dialogue to have as much white space on a page as possible, like Edgar Rice Borroughs.

Thus, the physical form of the book can be just as interesting as what's inside. Those lovely leather bound editions of our favorite books appeal to that. Thus, my bookmaking.

Here is one of the first books I made:

It's a buttonhole binding style--that red thread you see on the spine is how it's sewn together. I gave it to Lance's mom as a birthday gift--it's a simple but beautiful book.

Here's a close-up of the spine:

Here's some cute little accordion books--the book has no "spine", and the pages fan out like an accordion:

Here is the Japanese stab-binding, which I mentioned in an earlier post:

It's a neat book because you can use varied colored ribbons and cool beads on the spine:

As you can see, there's a lot of versatility when it comes to bookmaking. I'm going to save some of the other books for another post.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Poem: Oh, Hat

Oh, Hat.
You've plagued me longer than I like--
The child of a whimsy, flimsy promise
That returned to bite me for a year
(and a half).

Oh, Hat.
Look, you have been created,
The bastard child of circular needles,
wool yarn, online pattern, and my
Own imagination.
(And hands).

And there you are, your creation
Completed. You are warm, you are
handsome, you are a good Hat.
I take pride in you, pride in your
Workwomanship, Lovely Hat.

You are the first Hat,
Thus the best one always,
Bearing the fondness of
A First. And as a
Proudly-Worn Love-Gift.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Professing Literature: Poetry Lesson Plan

If I had to teach a poetry lesson, I'd teach John Donne. Partly because he's a wonderful writer, partly because he was the first poet I really "got", but mostly because he seems so teachable. I had fun picking out which poems I would teach--I selected "The Good Morrow" because it's one of my favorite poems ever, and two of the "Holy Sonnets" because they're a good mix of religious passion and the physical world. That's part of the beauty of Donne; he is able to use concrete, physical images to approach complex ideas, such as our relationship to the Divine, love, passion, etc.

Our assignment was to come up with a lesson plan on poetry for one class period. Without further ado, I present my lesson plan:

Jenn Miller
ENGL 5803
David Jolliffe
February 21, 2007

Poetry Lesson Plan: John Donne

Prior to class: Students should have read the poems and responded to them in a journal. The journal is a one page piece of informal writing that asks the students to address the poems in terms of elements that struck them particularly, whether it interested, bored, called up strong emotions of love or distaste, etc. The point of the journal is for them to engage the text. Any lines or elements they did not understand are also good journal material. The journals are an out-of-class assignment to help generate discussion within class.

Focus: To begin class, I will recite “The Good Morrow” from memory, as dramatically as possible. I will briefly touch on personal experiences with the poem’s meaning, introducing the way poetry written almost four centuries ago can still be relevant to a reader, and the way elements in Donne’s poetry can capture a reader’s imagination, intellect, and emotions.

Purpose: By the end of class, students will recognize characteristic elements of Donne’s work: the “metaphysical conceits”, Donne’s use of metaphor (especially his use of concrete, physical images—the metaphysical aspect), his combinations of erotic love and religious passion, his complex and innovative structure, and the reflection of his personal circumstances on the nature of his poetry. Students should also be able to recognize poetic devices such as line breaks, pauses, word choice and other elements that are effective in enhancing the meaning in Donne’s work.

Overview: We’ll begin class with a discussion of journal writings. Afterwards, I’ll lecture briefly on Donne’s life and characteristic elements of his work, using “The Good Morrow” as an example. We’ll then break into groups to review the two remaining poems, and then come back together to discuss them.

Business: Class business, if any, conducted at this time. (Attendance, picking up journals).

Short discussion: what about the poems struck the students as being distinct from other poems they’ve read? Were there elements that confused the students? Did the poems elicit any strong emotions? Were the students able to identify with the speaker in any of the assigned poems?

Brief lecture: The purpose of the lecture is to give details of Donne’s biography and the time period that he lived in, placing him in his historical context (following Shakespeare, writing before Milton, etc) and alerting the students to certain historical conditions (the anti-Catholic nature of England in his life, etc). I’ll use “The Good Morrow” to help define certain terms (metaphysical conceits, etc) as well as demonstrate characteristics of Donne’s poetry, such as his use of broken lines, language, and metaphor. “The Good Morrow” uses the conceit of a world to describe the power of love, which helps the reader access the poem’s meaning.

Group work: Break the students into groups by poems, perhaps two groups to each poem, depending on the size of the class. They will be examining Donne’s use of language, the metaphors he uses in his religious poetry (the two Holy Sonnets), and other elements from the lecture earlier in class. Walk around as they discuss to monitor and offer assistance as needed. After sufficient time, ask each group to share with the class what they’ve discovered within their poem.

Closure: Review what I hope the students have learned about Donne’s work and poetic elements as a whole. Ask the students to continue to think about what makes effective poetry (for perhaps a creative writing assignment later, or an essay). Remind them of any work coming up for the next class period (including journals).

Assigned Poetry: John Donne[1]

“The Good Morrow” (1633)
I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I
Did, till we loved? Were we not weaned till then,
But sucked on country pleasures, childishly?
Or snorted we in the seven sleepers’ den?
‘Twas so; but this, all pleasures fancies be.
If ever any beauty did I see,
Which I desired, and got, ‘twas but a dream of thee.

And now good morrow to our waking souls,
Which watch not one another out of fear;
For love all love of other sights controls,
And makes one little room an everywhere.
Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone,
Let maps to others, worlds on worlds have shown:
Let us possess one world; each hath one, and is one.

My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,
And true plain hearts do in the faces rest;
Where can we find two better hemispheres,
Without sharp North, without declining West?
Whatever dies was not mixed equally;
If our two loves be one, or thou and I
Love so alike that none do slacken, none can die.

From Holy Sonnets

Batter my heart, three-personed God; for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurped town, to another due,
Labor to admit you, but O, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captivated, and proves weak or untrue.
But dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betrothed unto your enemy,
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again;
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.


Since she whom I loved hath paid her last debt
To Nature, and to hers, and my good is dead,
And her soul early into heaven ravished,
Wholly on heavenly things my mind is set.
Here the admiring her my mind did whet
To seek thee, God; so streams do show the head;
But though I have found thee; and thou my thirst hast fed,
A holy thirsty dropsy melts me yet.
But why should I beg more love, whenas thou
Dost woo my soul, for hers offering all thine:
And dost not only fear lest I allow
My love to saints and angels, things divine,
But in they tender jealousy dost doubt
Let the world, flesh, yea, devil put thee out.

[1] All poems taken from The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Vol. 1, pgs 1236-1276.

Monday, February 19, 2007

I'm Back!

After recovering from a bout of either the flu or the sinus infection (it was diagnosed as the flu, but I suspect that it might not have been), I've returned. Everyone else I read posts much more frequently than I do, so sometimes I feel pressured to put up a post, even if it's not talking about my self-proclaimed blog topics.

I sometimes feel the need to specialize and organize my life to the nth degree--I actually starting a crafting blog, and then decided that I was getting a little too neurotic about categorizing. So while this is still my "academic" space, I think I'm going to expand it to a bit more (so I have more to talk about).

I'm dreadfully behind in my studies: working full-time puts a damper on the amount of time I have to procrastinate before finally settling down to read. I'm taking two classes this semester, so if I relax a little after work or go for a run, then I don't have enough time to do my homework. Then I get stressed, and my boyfriend chides me for taking on too much, since that's what I do. But I also enjoy that other stuff, so I guess I should cut down on the procrastination time...

I'll post more soon about my next assignment in Professing Literature, the horrible book I'm slogging through for Literary Theory, the hat that I made, and bookmaking. That should give me a few posts...

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Color Swap Questionnaire

Well, though I haven't heard from my pal yet, I've decided to go ahead and post the questionnaire...

Favorite Color Swap Questionnaire

1. What are your top three favorite colors?
Let's is my top favorite color, but I love other bright colors too. The colors I wear a lot are in the pink family (anything from coral to magenta), green (not kelly green, but paler greens), and red.

2. What crafts do you really enjoy?
I LOVE to knit. But I've also recently taken up bookbinding and jewelry making. I'm really loving the bookbinding--its so much fun!

3. What products do you really covet?
Bamboo knitting needles under size 7. And bamboo circular needles...

4. What other activities do you enjoy besides your favorite crafty things?
I'm an avid runner, and I also enjoy yoga, reading books other than books for class (I'm a Masters student in English), and music. I'm always on the hunt for new music.

5. Is there anything you collect?
Ummm...not really...unless you count books.

6. What is your zodiac sign and/or Chinese zodiac symbol?
I'm a Leo/Dog

7.What are your favorite…

I like clean scents. Floral scents can be good. Fruits (Like citrus) are usually okay, but I really don't like overpowering smells or wearing things that smell like food. Strong perfumes or incense kinda make my nose itch, so...

…types of music and/or bands?
The Decemberists are currently my favorite band, though I also really enjoy Franz Ferdinand, Lucinda Williams, Phish, Jack tastes are pretty eclectic, and I always enjoy discovering new music.

Ha! Can I sooner choose a favorite star from the heavens? Well, okay, if you insist...I enjoy J.R.R. Tolkien (I wrote my thesis on him), Jane Austen, Sir Walter Scott, Ursula LeGuin. See, I told you I can't really pick a favorite...

I like all sorts of critters, though if pressed, I would have to say I love horses and cats.

…places to shop?
I really enjoy Target, but also local boutiques--they're so much fun, and you never know what you'll find!--thrift shops, and craft stores. Let us not forget the craft stores...

Fall. Definitely fall--the colors are gorgeous, the weather is lovely...

…yarn/fabric/paper/other craft supplies?
With the bookmaking, I've been building a good paper supply. I'm always on the outlook for new, cool papers, and also yarn. Can't get enough of that yarn.

…candies or goodies?
Dark chocolate (the good stuff!) and peanut butter M&Ms. Mmmmm. Ginger is pretty good, and I love cranberry. I'm a coffee and tea drinker too...

8. Do you have any wish lists?
Not at the moment...

9. Are you allergic to anything?
Ah, perhaps cigarette smoke and incense.

10. Do you have any pets? What are they?
One cat, Rory, who is a brown/black tabby kitten. I've had her for almost two months now.

11. Please include anything else you would like your secret pal to know about you- anything that would be helpful in finding you little gifts that you will really enjoy.'s always hard to think of things...I guess if you want to know anything, just let me know!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Literary Missionary

This was an assignment for my Professing Literature class, the subject of which was "On Me as a Student of Literature."

I easily could have been a non-reader. After all books—through available in my home—were not cherished by anyone in my family. I was not read to, encouraged to read, or given books to promote a reading lifestyle; I was merely left alone with access to a shelf full of books that my parents had acquired with the vague notion that owning literature was good, similar to the concept that families should attend church or own a family Bible for their moral well-being. Out of five children, I alone read voraciously, wolfing down books as fast as I could gulp. I clearly remember my first reading experience: Morris Goes to School, a book about Morris the Moose, well, going to school. I was in kindergarten and not “supposed” to be reading yet, but there I was enjoying this book. My first chapter book was Charlotte’s Web, a book that we later read as a class in third grade, and a book that got me accused of not actually reading because I was able to read it so quickly.

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t reading. I loved the feeling I got when I read a particularly captivating book, the feeling of being absorbed into the written page, the “willing suspension of disbelief” or being pulled into a “secondary world” as Tolkien describes in his beautiful essay “On Fairy Stories”. High points, low points, and silly points were bookmarked by some literary work. I empathized with Jane Eyre when I was childishly infatuated with an older man; conversely, I finally understood John Donne’s “The Good Morrow” when I fell in love and found myself loved in return. I trailed my self-conscious girl heroes in Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown, and I grew up with Anne of Green Gables. I read great literature, mediocre literature, challenging literature, stupid literature, books that made me think, cry, hate, love, works that inspired anger and brought great joy. I always carried a book (or two) with me—I never knew when I’d need one—and my parents took away my books to punish me.

I drank in books in long draughts and thirsted for more, but interestingly I was a mediocre English student until my senior year of high school. I was one of those unexceptionally brilliant teenagers; you know, the ones who know how to take the tests and bother to do the assignments but are really only parroting. I excelled in science and wanted to teach biology or chemistry (or both), for studying literature was a dull, unending track of reading, writing, vocabulary and pointless sentences to copy down and correct in a notebook. Who cared? Certainly not my teachers.

Enter Mrs. Galligan, my senior AP English teacher. She taught me to love John Donne with unequivocal passion, delight in the beauties and intricacies of Shakespeare. She got me to read Shakespeare on my own—Twelfth Night, King Lear, A Midsummer Night’s Dream—and because of her guidance, I wrote an interesting paper (for a high-school student) about King Lear and Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres. That paper was my introduction to literary criticism and academic writing, and began teaching me a way of reading that extended beyond plot. She made me learn; she made me love, and I left to attend college as a chemistry/biology major.

Wait, as what? Yes, that’s right; Mrs. Galligan had only planted the seed of loving literary studies, but I still wanted science. (For one, it was so much more safe and certain than literature, and I was sure to get a job). It wasn’t until about half-way through my first semester that I discovered that I liked science well enough, but I loved English. I loved writing, I loved talking about literature, and I loved helping other people write better. My epiphany came, actually, while I was in the middle of peer-editing and I felt satisfaction deep in my spirit. I use the word epiphany carefully because the experience was akin to a religious moment. It was as though I was traveling down the road of Science, only to be struck blind with the light of all that English had to offer me. Like any new convert, I struggled at first with giving up the old ways—I couldn’t change my major!—but I soon settled into my new path with a contentment and passion I’d never had before.

I was therefore determined to become a literary missionary, and the goal of my outreach would be high school students. After all, had I not suffered at the hands of countless years of incompetent, uncaring English teachers? I would save others from that fate, and help them discover the truth and joy that literature could bring. Then I discovered that the majority of high school students didn’t care. Why should they? I went to my internship hours at various public schools with the growing feeling that I wouldn’t be happy teaching in a public school. There were restrictions on what you could teach; you had to teach grammar and other state-mandated curriculum topics. With a sinking feeling, as I continued on in my education classes, I realized that I would be an unhappy, potentially bored English teacher. I wanted my profession to be something that in which I could grow, develop into a better scholar, and fulfill my own needs as a passionate lover of literature, while also helping others.

I knew I was “good” at English; I made high grades in all of my classes and was praised by my professors. (I always had the vague anxiety that I was repeating the mistakes of my youth, however, simply parroting back to the teachers what they wanted to know, never creating anything new for myself). My honors thesis adviser encouraged me to think about graduate school. “You have the skills to be a good scholar,” he enthused as I shared insights on The Lord of the Rings with him each week, connecting Tolkien’s work with Aristotle, Hegel, Dostoevsky, and others I encountered. Other signs appeared before me in the forms of friends who thought I would be a miserable high school teacher, or the English department chair who listened to my passion for my studies and said, “You would be a very happy graduate student.” I scoffed; being a teacher was my calling after all, and who was I to oppose a divine injunction? Education was what I wanted to do because I could see myself doing nothing else.

Yes, I still believe it’s my calling, but I began to realize I clung to the hope of teaching high school English because it was secure. I knew that I could find a job somewhere, anywhere…but graduate school meant more years of moving, living as a student, the roaming scholar who relied on the bounty of others. In my heart, though, I realized it was what I wanted. I wanted to keep pursuing learning, grasping new knowledge with both hands, absorbing ideas and theories as I read those books so long ago. It appeared to me in another epiphany: I had registered for my first semester of practicum, when I’d be taking almost all education courses and interning at a public high school, and it clicked—I didn’t want that. My friend Shannon was the push I needed because as I was talking to her about my dilemma (to teach or not to teach—high school, anyway) I became increasingly convicted that my place was in higher education. I hoped so anyway, because part of me sniggered and accused myself of being too afraid to face the lion’s den of the public school system. I thought of the satisfaction of belonging to a profession that requires its members to be both scholars and teachers. The more I thought about it, the more I realized it was what I wanted to be—a professor of literature.

I’m on my way to becoming that literary missionary in both the capacity of the wise professor wielding knowledge and the eternal student questing to know more. Of late, I’ve begun to ask But to what purpose? but haven’t found the answer to that question. All I know is that I love studying, I love teaching, and I want to pursue a field that would allow me to do what I love in a way that can (maybe) bring joy to others. Perhaps the clues lie in Robert Scholes’ attempt to have us rethink the concept of English as a discipline; perhaps my place would be in helping the profession move forward in subtle ways. Ultimately, perhaps the answer is merely that by doing something that I’m wildly passionate about, I would be a small light to others on the value of literary studies and English as a whole.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Prose: Teaching Knitting

I began my boyfriend's hat yesterday, the one that's been looming before me as the penultimate goal of my knitting career. Penultimate because obviously there will be another knitting project that is more important and watched for with greater anticipation than his hat (I just don't know what it is yet).

So I begin the hat. It's my first project "knitting on the round" or rather, using circular needles. I already goofed the joining, but the rest looks good, so I suppose I got the knack of it. I may pull it all out, or use it to make sure I'm even making it close to the right size--the danger of using circular needles being the size is a secret until you've knit for quite some time. This hat has been bothering me in the form of my boyfriend for over a year now, when we bought some yarn and he jumped up and down with glee in the aisle of Hobby Lobby when I said I would make him a hat. Every time I'd start a new project, I'd hear about how his head was cold, how he wished he had a great wool hat to keep his curls warm...

But this is not a tale of the perpetually unknit knit hat: this is a story of how I taught my boyfriend to knit. It all began with my roommate holding a set of my needles curiously and looking through my handy-dandy knitting guide (I have a small spiral bound one that I whip out to learn all sorts of interesting things, like cable cast-on or how to do an increase or decrease). She wanted to learn, so I asked, "Do you want me to teach you how to knit?" "Yes!" she exclaimed, as she was looking for a way to escape her history texts and enjoy her snow day. Lance looked at me tellingly, so I asked him to, which made him say, "Yes, me too!"

Thus commenced the knitting lesson. I made them cast-on (over and over again) until they got it down. I had to get Sarah to reverse her hands (she apparently will knit "backwards" or left-handed), and Lance quickly progressed to purling. I swear, he is the best first-time knitter I've ever seen--his practice swatch was only a little crooked on his cast-on row. He's a mechanical engineer with an amazing ability for spatial orientation--and what is knitting but a spatial skill?--and he was able to capture the big picture of what knitting does in addition to being able to creatively add to what I taught him. The knitting circle has increased by two.

Lance started planning all his projects, and asking me questions about how things are done. I had the challenge of a bright student, and as a bright student, he of course tried to overstep what he knows by asserting he could knit a circle (not a tube like his hat, but an actual circle). Ah, haha, he will learn soon enough what he can and cannot do. I felt the slight tremor that a teacher can feel when faced with a particularly promising pupil that perhaps he'll soon overtake my skill--and I'll have nothing left to teach because he will be become better than me!--but I realized that for now, I have the advantage of several years of experience and knowing how to read the charts. So I have time to reconcile myself to the prospect of his surpassing my knowledge, and time to come around to the idea that it's okay if he does because I can then just learn from him.

I look forward to more cold afternoons and evenings with my knitting pupils and watching them grow in skill and confidence as they knit toward their first projects. I'm a teacher by nature, and I love being able to pass my passions along to those around me, whether it be literature and writing, or knitting.