Revision focuses on getting a handle on what your writing is about, where you want it to go. Generally speaking, revision is when you are still dealing with changes that could be as large as entire paragraphs, how your argument is organized, developed. It means asking questions such as: What else? What’s next? As we discussed with reference to Joseph Harris: you revise arguments, ideas, paragraphs, essays; you edit sentences. Revision is rethinking, rereading, expanding, developing; editing is tweaking. This is what we will be doing through Wednesday or Thursday of this week.
Revision and editing can sometimes blend. But for the sake of our efforts in this course, I suggest that editing is what you do toward the end of a project. Editing concerns how your essay communicates to a different set of eyes and ears than the ones which wrote it. How it reads to a reader who is not in your head. This is what you will be focusing on Friday.
Therefore, a good strategy for editing is to become more self-conscious about the sound and shape of your writing–something we take for granted. In order not to take it for granted (since you have been working on this essay and it probably makes sense to you), we need to defamiliarize it.
- Read it aloud–hear the writing. Have a peer read it aloud or read it aloud yourself. Read it backwards, paragraph by paragraph or sentence by sentence: listening for places where the expression/communication (the how of the writing, the mechanics, the style) is not matching up with the idea. Usage errors would be one way expression and ideas get crossed.
- Workshop: in your writing group, select a paragraph you want to focus on for editing–want to improve. Have someone else read your paragraph aloud. Then discuss for a few minutes what you hear and see–suggestions for what you might need to do or want to do with the paragraph.
- Verbs, Nouns, and Actions. Richard Lanham’s Paramedic Method (from Revising Prose, 5th edition, Pearson 2007): one strategy to pay better attention to the way your “voice” is informed by the machinery of sentence length, verbs (active vs passive), nouns, and the actions we want to emphasize in our sentences. These are not ‘errors’ but choices you make in presentation. We will be returning to this in later editing workshops. For today, let’s focus on the issue of crafting and clarifying the action of our sentences.
1]Circle the prepositions
2]Circle the “is” forms.
3]Find the action
4]Put this action in a simple (not compound) active verb.
5]Start fast–no slow windups. [the passive construction is often connected with too-conversational kinds of beginnings:
“One of the things that I think about reading is that reading is engaging for the mind.” vs.
“Reading engages the mind.”
Or a sentence where the actor is buried or hidden, and therefore the action that is the focus of the sentence is also unclear.
“It was the main point by the author that I didn’t really agree written throughout the book that a reader reads alone in a room.”
“In The Gutenberg Elegies, Birkerts argues emphatically for reading as an act of solitude and privacy. I disagree for these reasons…”
focus today on 1-5: the issue of using active verbs and active voice [also discussed in the “Revising Style” chapter, the problem of nominalizations.
Another useful digital resource for identifying the potential clutter in our sentences is the Writer’s Diet Test.
- Some formal/presentational features to consider and not neglect at the end:
- Title? I will be crushed to see an essay titled ‘paper #1’
- introduction/conclusion: how do you bring the reader into your story? where do you leave the reader? A strategy to consider: start in with the narrative, or in the middle of an experience, before pulling back to more general set-up. And conclude by circling back to your beginning. [these are tricky–will continue to work on this in later workshops]
- Transitions: are there effective signals through the essay, toward the beginning of each paragraph (usually first sentence), to lead the reader and identify the focus at each point?
- Go back through the draft to recall/find sections you might have left unfinished, intending to get back to. [for example: a section that has something like “add quotation here”]
- Have in mind a few of the mechanical/surface errors you tend to make and will need to clean up–punctuation, spelling, wrong words.
- You can use this list of the 20 most common formal errors that can be edited–list provided by the Writing Center.
- Become active in getting a better handle on the grammar/mechanics/sentence-level issues you need to work on. I will focus on a few in workshops; but the point is for you to get used to using a resource like the Guide to Grammar and Writing to practice and correct on your own.
- Proper citation format for any works you cite (which means directly quote or paraphrase). Consult Purdue OWL as a useful resource for citation basics.
- Final Abstract: You will be turning in with your final version the final version of your abstract–the one with the latest, most refined statement of your argument. Remember the basic structure for the abstract or summary of the argument: identifies given/problem/response, identifies keywords, and provides a basic map for the evidence:
- [Given] Change and transformation are all around, and many people celebrate the rapid changes that digital technology have brought us, including access to information. [Problem] However, few people are paying attention to the effects these changes in the electronic age have had on our more fundamental ability to read, and the problems that accompany the shift from page to screen. [Response] This book argues that the meaning of reading fundamentally changes in electronic format; moreover, this fundamental change has consequences that go beyond literacy, since it affects our sense of self and even our soul. [Brief map of the evidence that will be brought forward] The author draws evidence for these consequences from his own experiences as a reader and reviewer of literature and from examples of changes in the experience of literature in the larger culture.
Strategies for Revising
In Chapter Five of Rewriting: How to Do Things With Texts, Joseph Harris suggests several ways to think about revising based on the concepts he develops in earlier chapters: Coming to terms, Forwarding, Countering, and Taking an Approach. Below is a summary of the strategies he offers on pages 108-121.
Coming to Terms with a Draft: What’s Your Project?
Create an abstract of your draft: An abstract is a brief summary (usually around 150 words) that sometimes appears at the beginning of an academic article. Once you’ve finished an initial draft, try summing up the entire piece in just a few sentences, making sure to include all the most essential points. Doing this will help you identify key words that might help you focus your draft, and it will help you clarify the real purpose of your paper. You can build this abstract upon the foundation of your Given/Problem/Response. Here is a basic abstract for the argument of Gutenberg Elegies:
[Given/Context] Change and transformation are all around, and many people celebrate the rapid changes that digital technology have brought us, including access to information. [Problem] However, few people are paying attention to the effects these changes in the electronic age have had on our more fundamental ability to read, and the problems that accompany the shift from page to screen. [Response] This book argues that the meaning of reading fundamentally changes in electronic format; moreover, this fundamental change has consequences that go beyond literacy, since it affects our sense of self and even our soul. [Brief map of the evidence that will be brought forward] The author draws evidence for these consequences from his own experiences as a reader and reviewer of literature and from examples of changes in the experience of literature in the larger culture.
Create a sentence outline of your draft: In the margins of your draft, try to sum up each individual paragraph in one sentence (or two at most). The result will be a kind of outline that shows how you move from one point to another in your paper. Reading back through the summary sentences by themselves will give you a quick version of the draft you’ve written, and it should also point out moments where ideas aren’t connected or logical moves need to be strengthened.
Revising as Forwarding: What Works?
Highlight the strengths of your draft: Look for the moments that you consider to be the strongest in your paper and consider ways that you might bring those moments forward and give them greater emphasis. Also, think about how you might replicate those strong moments in other weaker spots in your draft.
Revising as Countering: What Else Might Be Said?
Identify questions that a reader might have: As you look back through your draft, think about moments where a reader might question you. This strategy might simply make you aware of spots where you need to go into further detail, or it might open up a whole new line of thought for you. As Harris describes it, this process is more than just playing “devil’s advocate.” Instead, it’s an opportunity to look for alternate lines of thinking your draft might open up.
Revising as Looking Ahead: What’s Next?
Look at your final paragraphs to see how you’ve expressed your main idea: When we’re drafting, it often takes several paragraphs (or pages …) for us to “warm up” and begin doing our best writing. Often, the clearest, most articulate statements of purpose occur at the end of a rough draft rather than at the beginning. Take advantage of that by looking at your final paragraphs to see if some of the language there can help you to shape and refocus the earlier parts of your draft.
Look ahead to see the implications of your draft: Once you’ve reached the end of an initial draft, you might think about what the implications of your ideas are. Your conclusion should suggest why your ideas matter and what they suggest for further study. Harris suggests the questions “What’s next?” and “So what?” That last question is particularly powerful. Why should your reader care about what you’ve said, and why does it matter? Those are tough questions, of course, but they’re an essential part of making an interesting point.
Rubric: Think of the rubric I will be using as a guideline/checklist for revision. It identifies important terms and characteristics of effective writing (logic, rhetoric, grammar). I will be looking for them; and so you can also look for them in your writing as you revise.
Another revision strategy we will use is Peer Response, the kind that you can also seek in the Writing Center. Here are the guidelines for the response that you will provide to the peers in your response group–and a rubric for how I will assess it.
Guidelines for Peer Response:
These are the questions your peer response should answer. In addition to providing your response in the comment box at the side, you can also identify specific moments on the text (using the insert comment function) that direct the writer to elements of your response (for example: this section here is a strength; this section is an example of where I think the draft needs to elaborate the argument, etc.) I will expect to see all four of these questions addressed in order to receive full points.
- What’s the project? What does the focus/argument seem to be at this point? Report back as best you can what you take the argument to be (a brief abstract of the draft).
- What’s working? How can the writer build on the strengths of the draft? Identify one or two strengths, with specific reference to (or marking of) the draft.
- What else might be said? How should the writer acknowledge other views/possibilities for the argument? Where might the argument need to be clarified or complicated? Point to a specific location, raise a question, suggest a counter-perspective.
- What’s next? What are some implications that the essay might work towards in its conclusion? What does the writer need to do to get there?
Rubric for Peer Review (5 points)
5: peer response is thorough and thoughtful, responding to all questions/categories as assigned, providing the writer guidance with what’s working but also what else might need attention
3-4: responds to most questions/categories, providing sufficient guidance to the writer, with room to expand the response and explain further what’s working and/or what else needs attention
1-2: limited peer response provided, only general comments that don’t address the questions
0: no peer response
Rubric for the Draft you submit (5 points)
4-5: draft is at least 2 pages, submitted on time, in paragraph form, with sufficient argument (terms) and text (quotations, examples) that the reader can respond to
3: draft is submitted on time, but limited, barely 2 pages or less, not much for reader to work with
1-2: not submitted on time or very limited
0: not submitted
Putting it All Together: The Rhetoric of Creative Reading
Revision, as we have emphasized in each of the writing projects this term, is not so much “fixing” our writing and reading as taking it further. In that sense, writing represents a continual feedback loop of experimentation and recombination. There is more we can do, or might do, or should do, or would do–if only we had more time. The final project obliges you to take that time. This is your final exam. The components are:
- Essay: You will write a 5-7 page (double-spaced, standard 12pt. font, etc) essay that revises and expands upon something you have already begun in one or more of your previous writing projects.
- Learning Focal Point: Revision. Your task is to revise this essay: go back and go further with your reading, your thinking, your writing. The revision should reflect substantial development and change, not merely editing. Revision involves taking a risk with your thinking and writing.
- Presentation: Further Reading. To guide your revision, you will update your to-do list and propose a revised abstract for the final project revision and identify a writer from the course who you select as a mentor. You will also identify one key rhetorical or logical element of your writing and one grammatical or stylistic element of writing that you will revise and improve. To conduct this further reading, consult resources such as Guide to Grammar and Writing, Purdue OWL, and others listed on right side of this blog. To identify these rhetorical, logical, and grammatical elements of composition, refer back to our Rubric . You will post to your blog a proposal (250-500 words) that includes the following:
- revised abstract of your argument + indication of which writer from the course (anyone we have read) you select as your writing mentor, and why: what aspects of writing do they demonstrate that you would like to develop?
- rhetorical/logical element of your writing you will develop: with guidelines, examples to explain; provide a link/citation to the resource
- grammatical/stylistic element of your writing you will improve: with guidelines, examples to explain; provide a link/citation to the resource
- in a brief (5 minute) presentation in class, you will teach us what you have learned and how the rest of us might learn from your further reading
- Preface: Your preface is an expanded abstract and self-reflection, serving as the introduction to your portfolio. After providing the abstract of the argument in a short paragraph (as you have done with each writing project), you will reflect on the work that went into the revision–what you have attempted to do with the essay, why and how you revised it, what you believe you have achieved with this writing. You should pinpoint 1 or more of the key aspects of the revision you have pursued. The Self-Reflection should also reflect on your progress and achievement as a writer and reader this term overall–what you have worked on (that to-do list I keep talking about), what you have achieved, what you want to keep working on in the coming semesters at Washington College. In other words, what does this portfolio represent of the work you have done this semester and the writing and critical reading you plan to continue in the coming semesters?
- As always, your final version of the essay should include proper citation format for any references and include the statement of the Honor Code.
This final project in revised reading and writing tests your progress with the three main objectives of this course (remember those?): developing critical reading; developing thoughtful writing; developing effective writing. Those objectives, of course, are ongoing; but your final project should demonstrate your development in those areas–in contrast, say, with the last ‘paper’ you wrote in high school or the first essay you wrote in this course.
The project also provides an opportunity for publication–what we do and want to do (in different forms and forums) as writers. For example, you might consider submitting this essay for consideration by one of the numerous publications on campus that highlight student work–and include critical writing, are not limited to fiction or poetry. Those publications include The Medium, The Collegian, and The Washington College Review
The projects also provides an opportunity for you to put to work the rhetorical focal points we explored and practiced with each project. In a preface to a final project, a former student wrote this review of those focal points, informed by Joseph Harris’s terminology and our use of his book Rewriting:
When Coming to Terms with a text by another writer, I then make three moves:
- Define the project of the writer in my own terms,
- Note keywords or passages in the text,
- Assess the uses and limits of this approach
In Forwarding a text, I begin to shift the focus of my readers away from what its author has to say and toward my own project:
- Illustrating: When I look to other texts for examples of a point I want to make.
- Authorizing: When I involve the expertise or status of another writer to support my thinking
- Borrowing: When I draw on terms or ideas from other writers to use in thinking through my subject
- Extending: When I put my own spin on the terms or concepts that you take from other texts.
Countering– Three main ways of creating a sort of critical distance:
- Arguing the other side: showing the usefulness of a term or idea that a writer has criticized or noting problems with one that she or he has argues for.
- Uncovering values: Surfacing a word or concept for analysis that a text has left undefined or unexamined.
- Dissenting: Identifying a shared line of thought on an issue in order to note its limits
Revising-My aim is instead to describe revising as a knowledge practice, as a consistent set of questions you can ask of a draft of an essay that I am working on:
- What’s your project? What do you want to accomplish in this essay? (Coming to Terms)
- What works? How can you build on the strengths of your draft? (Forwarding)
- What else might be said? How might you acknowledge other views and possibilities? (Countering)
- What’s next? What are the implications of what you have to say? (Taking an Approach)”
Student Sample: For one example of how you might extend your revision work, and extend the medium of your writing (in the senses of Marshall McLuhan), consider this digital version of the project produced by Caitrin Doyle, a former student in the class. This digital project offers an extension of what the author submitted, which was itself an extension of her third writing project. One of the areas that the author extended in the revision focused on the forwarding and countering of critical perspective. Here is a sample of the extended discussion that allows the author to take her own approach, while clearly responding to and effectively building upon the work and ideas of others (in this case: Murray, Birkerts, Carr, and the hypertext poem “Faith”).
[…]Sadly, however, hypertext literature has been confronted with just as much skepticism as its conduit. According to people like Sven Birkerts, hypertext literature cannot be considered “true” literature and therefore cannot be worth reading because it lacks the depth present in classic literature; but that simply cannot be true. While beauty is in the eye of beholder, it is widely believed that art–and literature as a facet–are successful only if they evoke something in their audience; some emotion, a hard-to-describe feeling, anything. And the hypertext poem “Faith”, written by Robert Kendall, does exactly what Birkert’s claims it is incapable of: it inspires. Kendall’s poem garners its very meaning from the use of technology. With the use of coding and magic, Kendall guides and inspires his readers through a step-by-step journey of his own writing process. In fact, without the use of movement on the screen–entirely credited to his use of the tools that these new technologies have provided–the poem would not have been nearly as poignant. I got so much more out of this poem by physically watching it unfold word by sentence by thought then I would have had I simply read it in its entirety printed on a page. Kendall uses technology to take his readers on an adventure from the birth of his idea to the final executions of the language he uses to shape, flesh out, and express it. The problem with a lot of poetry is, after all, that the author’s meaning, what he or she actually set out to express, often gets lost in the muddied interpretations of its readers. With this multimedia poem, Kendall’s true meaning rings out loud and clear. This poem is not read, it is experienced. Multimedia literature–as made evident by this poem and by thousands of others like it–provokes as much thought, evokes as much emotion, and involves the audience as much if not more than any classic literature I have ever read. And by meeting those standards, set out by perhaps hypertext’s most vigilant critic himself, it proves itself worthy.
However, my personal experience with multimedia literature doesn’t do much in the way of convincing, and as Murray points out, “The birth of new medium of communication is both exhilarating and frightening. Any industrial technology that dramatically extends our capabilities also makes us uneasy by challenging our concept of humanity itself”, and that seems to ring especially true with the opponents of hypertext literature. But what everyone seems to be conveniently forgetting is that technology is what started it all, especially when it comes to literature. The printing press was invented by Johannes Gutenberg in 1439, decades before even the American continent was discovered. At the time, thousands of people were wary about the infusion of literature into the everyman’s experience, as literacy tended to breed uprisings and all kinds of problems for the ruling class. But what no one could have predicted, however, was the absolutely enormous influence the printing press would have. It changed every single aspect of life for the people of the world. All of the sudden, entire populations were learning how to read, expanding their minds, inventing, exploring, discovering, creating, and all in the active pursuit of knowledge brought on by easy accessibility to the printed word. The invention of the printing press sparked the Age of Enlightenment in Europe, and led to so many countless new technologies, theories, and efficiencies that I couldn’t even begin to name them. This is the natural progression of our species; we sit and think on some problem for a great long while, we finally make some solution happen, nay-sayers and worshippers alike cry out, and then, often regardless of the public’s reaction, that new technology makes a shift in the world. Eventually, those changes have all proved to serve us and to improve our quality of life. The internet and hypertext, multimedia literature are simply in their “outcry” phase. I believe that once the dust settles, we will be left with a tool just as mighty and powerful as the printing press before it, we are simply following in the footsteps of our own ancestors before us.
All that being said, there are probably hundreds of thousands of people who are still unsettled by the shift occurring in our world right now. And to be entirely truthful, those concerns are not completely unfounded. For example, Nicholas Carr, a kind of spokesperson for the healthily open-minded and skeptical, believes that if we make efficiency and immediacy our priorities with literature, we “may be weakening our capacity for the kind of deep reading that emerged when an earlier technology, the printing press, made long and complex works of prose commonplace”. And he’s got a point; the types of long, verbose novels that have come out of the invention of the printing press are definitely getting a little tougher to swallow. But I think the cause of that problem is a lot simpler than it may at first appear: just like a child’s favorite toy will inevitably be passed up for a newer, shinier version, so will it always be harder for a reader to engage in a long, complex, linear story printed on a page when they have experienced other complex worlds–co-authored by both writer and technology–that allow them to experience the same story with more than just their imaginations. Technology has made way for a way new kind of story-telling: an experience of the senses. Anyone who has embraced these new technologies has become accustomed to being completely engrossed; eyes, ears, and minds, into the worlds that are being created for them by a medium that uses multiple forms of media. Over time those changes in the way we experience our content have reflected themselves as changes even in the way our brains process new things. It makes absolute sense that people would have a hard time concentrating on and engaging with novels, because they are simply not as engaging as the new types of literature readers have been experimenting with.
However, Carr is right when he points out that “never has a communications system played so many roles in our lives-or exerted such broad influence over our thoughts-as the Internet does today.” But I don’t think he’s really considering the reasons why that would be happening. The internet is a tool that can make almost every single aspect of daily life go a little bit smoother. It’s a tool that can be used to do literally anything it is programmed to do. Could I sit in the library stacks, combing through text after text, running my finger and my eyes endlessly down the page searching for that perfect quote I read once in seventh grade? Absolutely. But, do I have the time or the inclination to be doing that on a daily basis? Not at all. The internet gives us the opportunity to explore whole world if we have a few minutes to kill. I know that the argument that Carr is making here is that that all that time spent doing one thing–like reading an 800-page novel–is incredibly valuable, and I think he’s entirely right. But should that mean that people should not also spend their time finding meaning in short little poems that quite literally sing and dance their way across the page? I don’t believe so. Time spent experiencing literature is incredibly valuable, but what Carr is missing is that literature doesn’t have to be experienced solely on the printed page.
Readers who experience hypertext literature are connecting sensory memories; like sound, and sight, with their thoughts and memories. With novels, you can only have thought. If anything, these new forms of literature are opening us up to deeper levels of contemplation. Birkerts takes Carr’s argument a step further: “[Hypertext forms of literature] are not only extensions of the senses, they are extensions of the senses that put us in touch with the extended senses of others,” (224). He is concerned that the Internet’s ultimate goal is to forge connections between every person in the world, turning the individual perspective into a global one. He goes on to say “The end of it all…is a kind of amniotic environment of impulses, a condition of connectedness,” (224), but I really don’t see a problem with that. He uses the image of an amniotic environment, and I think, like Murray’s use of the word “bound” to describe the words printed on a page, that he’s chosen a really appropriate metaphor. The internet and its brain children are still so incredibly young. The symbol he’s provided for us is one of growth, and one of hope. Absolutely endless possibilities have come out of this new form of technology already, and I think it’s absolutely ridiculous that Birkerts wants to stomp it out before it has even had a chance to grow. What might be happening is a sort of social adaptation, a change that will yield a possibly better world. To give all of that hope and opportunity away to revert back to our old ways would only seem to me to be simply barbaric and cowardly. It’s in our blood to move forward, to keep ourselves rooted in the past would be to deny our always striving minds.
Our focal point in the first project was developing ethos through reflection. There are two places you can see this critical reflection emerge in an essay and think about, going into the next project, how you can continue to develop it: a strong set up of your argument, its clarity and complexity (a statement in brief form of your argument as a response to a problem, a focused and arguable thesis); strong coherence of that argument as it moves through your body paragraphs (the elaboration of the problem/response and your keywords or terms–in other words, how you support, complicate, and reiterate the argument through critical and personal reflection ).
Some examples to consider from a selection of writers from past classes; these are not the only way to do it, but they offer some good models for practice.
Clarity and Complexity of the Argument
- Keita: Note how the title initiates the “problem” that the first sentence also wraps into the given. By the end of the first paragraph, the key term “conversation” identifies the essay’s response to the problem.
- Valerie: Example of a two paragraph set up, beginning with a narrative (placing the reader in a detail from the story), then pulling back for the statement of the problem and response.
- Kassie: Note the development of reflection in the second paragraph (first body paragraph), spending time (not racing through nostalgically) a particular experience, then using a critical quotation to reiterate her key terms.
- Jacob: a good example of using a critical quotation (first Birkerts, then Graff) in a body paragraph to elaborate and complicate the argument. Take a look at the second body paragraph where he uses Birkerts as part of his conversation–both to agree initially with him, but then to take his argument toward a different view of intellectual reading. This is a good example of what we will work on in the next project–forwarding someone else’s text.
- Alicia offers a good example of developing the critical reflection to elaborate an example within a body paragraph that also supports/reiterates/complicates the argument and thesis. Paragraphs 3-5 are particularly strong–and notice the ways she uses the critics (Harris and Birkerts) to develop the personal reflection.
- Strong example from Jillian–notice how she moves out from her argument with a new image/scene, but in doing so reiterates the argument. This helps send the reader from her particular argument with thoughts of other places/implications for the argument.
- We are talking about complicating our critical and rhetoric–developing the layers of our argument. That sort of complication is a good thing in our writing. In terms of grammar and style, we also want to give some attention to clarifying aspects of our sentences that might be confusing. This is something for you to consider when editing. For some useful guidance on confusion in writing and grammar, see this section of the Guide to Grammar and Writing on Eliminating Confusion.
Joseph Harris writes of “revising as a knowable practice, as a consistent set of questions you can ask of a draft of an essay that you are working on” (Rewriting 99). Throughout the course, we will be using Harris’ four questions to guide us in the practice of revision; this is a strategy for getting a better grasp on where we are in a draft, of talking/listening to our work in progress. Here are the questions:
- What’s your project?
- What works?
- What else might be said?
- What’s next?
Students often say they need to work on their organization. It is, however, not always clear to them what organization means–or more to the point, how it is stitched and structured into an essay. I emphasize organization as a matter of revision and, in many cases, of some simple stylistic choices that “thread” an argument: keywords (beginning with a title), basic transition words that signal continuation while also emphasizing–this idea, this passage, but, however. A critical essay, we know, needs a thesis; an effectively organized essay often just needs more conscious attention to its transitions and key words–to the ways the writer can move the reader through the essay. For an example, consider this review in NYTimes Book Review of Edward Hirsch poetry by Peter Campion. Here are the first few paragraphs:
Between Ordinary and Ecstatic
Contemporary American poetry is sometimes panned for being mundane. With all the splendor and terror in the world, why should we care about some guy’s memories of high school, or the quality time he spends with his cat? Glancing over it, you might suspect that Edward Hirsch’s poetry would lend evidence to this view. Hirsch will begin a poem with a line like “Today I am pulling on a green wool sweater” or “Traffic was heavy coming off the bridge.” Neither opening seems to burn with that hard, gemlike flame.
But in Hirsch’s work, things are not always what they seem. Certainly, his poems work to dignify the everyday. But they do more than that. What makes Hirsch so singular in American poetry is the balance he strikes between the quotidian and something completely other — an irrational counterforce, the “living fire” that gives its name to his new selected poems.
That phrase appears in “Wild Gratitude,” the title poem of Hirsch’s 1986 volume. On its surface, the poem seems to be about, well, a guy spending time with his cat. But as he listens to her “solemn little squeals of delight,” he begins to remember the 18th-century English visionary and madman Christopher Smart, who in his most famous poem, “Jubilate Agno,” venerated his own cat, Jeoffry. The memory leads to a chain of associations, and the poem ends in a nearly epiphanic moment:
And only then did I understand
It is Jeoffry — and every creature like him —
Who can teach us how to praise — purring
In their own language,
Wreathing themselves in the living fire.
This passage could stand as an emblem for all of Hirsch’s poetry. Literary and allusive, but also domestic and intimate, as it rises toward praise, Hirsch’s voice resounds with both force and subtlety.
One of the pleasures of reading the new selected poems is the chance to see that voice develop and then range freely and surprisingly. Most poets are hot one minute and cold the next, depending almost on the day of the week. But Hirsch is worth reading chronologically. He not only gets better with each new book; he also provides a kind of model for the growth of poetic intelligence…[goes on in the next paragraphs to review briefly those books included in the selected poems.]
Some samples to consider from the first writing project. As you reflect on your own writing process (what worked well the last time, what you want to continue for the next one, improve or change), looking at samples of what some of your peers are doing will help you experiment and develop your own writing.
- Example of a clear thesis established in contrast to a critical voice (the basic they say/I say template): Sam; Robby; Tim.
- A stronger thesis toward end–might leave there (one option for a thesis) but might also want to revise up to beginning: Nick.
- Use of title for establishing focus/thesis up front: Devin