How I Learned to Write By Writing

How I Learned to Write By Writing

Trust yourself enough to speak your inner truths. I was an English major long before I learned how to write well. From early childhood through K-12, I read a lot and always participated in language and writing activities — spelling bee champion in elementary school, creative writing and newspaper class in jr. high school and AP English in high school. But I didn’t start out as an English major. I wanted to be a veterinarian or a sports medicine doctor.

I was an English major long before I learned how to write well. From early childhood through K-12, I read a lot and always participated in language and writing activities — spelling bee champion in elementary school, creative writing and newspaper class in jr. high school and AP English in high school. But I didn’t start out as an English major. I wanted to be a veterinarian or a sports medicine doctor.

A ‘B’ in Anatomy class — which I deemed not good enough! — changed my mind and I jumped to the familiarity of English class, prompted by Professor Louis Owens, a literature professor who gave me some encouragement.

Enter Mr. Goldman

In my sophomore year of college, I was playing catchup with requirements. I took Introduction to Poetry with Professor Goldman. Professor Goldman was old. He shuffled when he walked and was stooped. He wore an old 50s style hat and green checkered suits. He always had an unlit stub end of a cigar in his mouth. He was gruff and impatient in class. He had a deep voice, made gravelly from cigar smoking. And we heard rumors about him.

“I heard he is in his 80s.”

“I heard he once was the chair of the department.”

“I heard he’s dying of cancer.”

This last was true. Professor Goldman was dying of cancer.

New Criticism — criticism in a bell jar

Professor Goldman loved poetry, especially the Romantics — Keats, Shelley, Wordsworth, any of the lyric poems that could be analyzed well with the New Critical approach that was popular at the time.

The New Critical approach separated a poem from its place in history and looked at the poem qua  poem. That is, it looked at the imagery and tensions that were internal to the poem and sought to understand the poem without recourse to its historical background or the biography of the author. It was like looking at a poem under a microscope, contained in a glass jar, within a vacuum.

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