This morning, I had a thought. And despite my title, it wasn’t about starting a typical book club. As the first day of classes looms and work on syllabi is delayed by work on finding classrooms for face-to-face classes where they can be socially distanced and other unusual tasks that have occupied the summer and set me behind on my normal work, I was thinking about how to shake things up in my poetry workshop. In my online graduate class, I usually assign a certain number of pages from a poetry collection every week, and I may still do that, but this morning I’m thinking about how to organize it more like a book club. For instance, one of the first discussion topics I may assign is to tell about their favorite poetry books that they’ve read in the past year or so. Most of my students will have had poetry classes recently, so they should at least have read something fairly current. I might allow them to discus poetry magazines they’ve read, too.
But I might also make some changes to how and when they discuss the books I’ve assigned. I might open those discussions up early, so they can read the books they want in the order that they want to read them. They do this anyway, so why not let them write comments as they are reading. Then we can be looser in our discussion of the books and possibly incorporate more of what they’re reading in our discussion of their poems, both in terms of what they’ve written and in terms of what they’ll write going forward.
In relation to my previous post on Whole Writer Workshops, I’m thinking about ways to make the workshop less about revision of what has been written (always important) and more about what else might be written that semester or even after. A good workshop is always about discovering new things to write about and new things about how you write and what is possible, and it is not just about refining what has already been written. Treating one part of the class like a book club may be one way to move in that direction. I’m not sure how much I’ll change about the class structure that generally works pretty well, but it might be a good time to try out a few new tactics.