Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Marginally interesting

I've often said that stamping out ignorance is what we do--and it's a good thing ignorance is a renewable resource or we'd all be out of a job. But here we are, another semester, another brand-new group of students submitting drafts of papers, and another opportunity to insert the same old marginal comments, including yes, you have to put quotation marks around the quoted material and also cite it even if it came from the dictionary, but on the other hand, starting a paper with a dictionary definition is not the best way to lure reluctant readers. 

This week I have pointed out (repeatedly!) that what my students like to call "slave times" ended well before 1929, that not every poem by an African-American author deals with slavery, and that a poem composed of rhyming quatrains is not by any stretch of the imagination considered "free verse." Also, poems are not novels and short stories are not poems and essays are not novels and plays are not stories. And saying a poet "uses diction" is certainly true but no more interesting than saying my body "uses oxygen," which is why I don't go around saying "Look at me! I'm breathing! How about a great big round of applause!"

By far the most common comment this week, though, goes something like this: We're doing literary analysis here, not literary summary, and it is not possible to analyze a work of literature without including specific evidence from the text. Like, for instance, words, metaphors, elements of form, details about structure. Analysis--it's what we do.

I get really excited when a paper comes along that launches out into risky territory and makes me look at a text in a new way, but alas, those papers are as rare as watermelon in the Mojave. Instead, I write a poem is not a novel or why no citation? or here's how to use an apostrophe to indicate possession, and then I give examples. 

Stamping out ignorance, one student at a time. It's what we do. Yee-haw.

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