Friday, April 17, 2009

Reading, Writing, Teaching

If I am less prolific here lately, it is because of limited internet access. At the moment, I am at the mercy of internet cafes charging one real an hour. But locals staring at the gringo, that comes free of charge. Everywhere.

This has been a strange week. On the one hand, I have had to put up with guests in the apartment, in-laws. But the past few days have been quiet, the in-laws staying with another relative, and we have enjoyed an empty, cool apartment with a big office, tons of space to pace around in. That is how I get a lot of thinking done, by pacing around like a lunatic. Been that way since I can remember. Gets the blood going.

This morning was especially idyllic. Woke up, made some toast for breakfast. Girl already had the coffee going. Laughed and talked through the meal, then took my coffee to the office. Stayed there going over drafts until it was lunch, making minor corrections and revisions.

Spent most of yesterday emersed in various critical essays, and Ciardi's translation of The Inferno, which I am rereading for the first time since college. I also have his translations of The Purgatorio and The Paradiso, which were not taught in my undergraduate survey course. It will be interesting to take the rest of the journey with Dante.

I used to be intimidated by this most welcoming and genial of poems. The subject matter, of course, is not welcoming, as is forces even the modern reader, I think, to come to terms with the worst of his sins. But to paraphrase Ciardi's comments on the task of translating it, Dante's language is the common language at its perfection. Thanks to the generous notes, I am able to catch a few levels of the allegory, but the poem would be enjoyable--and the importance of enjoyment mustn't be scoffed at--even on its basic level of denotion. There is pleasure, too, in revisiting the poem after a span of years.

I mentioned Boethius in an earlier post. I caught a reference to Boethius that the editors of this Dante did not mention, and I gave myself a pompous pat on the shoulder. Figuratively, of course. I don't want dear reader to get an image of the author alone in his room, patting his own back. Too late, I guess.

I have been teaching for a few weeks now, maybe a month. I am loving it. Last night I was especially on a roll. It was a conversation class. The conversation classes I teach are a lot less structured than the other classes, which rely on a series of drills and listening exercises that must be painstakingly broken apart, explained, and repeated. Those classes are very fun in their own way, and allow for moments of fruitful discussion. The students with the most English, of course, they have multitudinous questions. Conversation class is a great time for them to ask those questions, and I have ample time to turn those questions into conversations, getting them to pull up more words and phrases from their learning. The challenge of the class is that there is a mix of skill levels--some of the students are in the early stages of the course, others more advanced. But even then, I sometimes get the advanced students to help out the beginners.

I also spend a lot of time talking, myself, and I am trying to do less of that because the goal is to get them comfortable speaking themselves. But I can't help but list tons of phrases, informal and formal, for their use. Kind of like Homeric epithets, those little cliches that have so much cultural cache and provide a fast rhythm to our verbal conversations. "Bring it back in one piece," for instance. A student asked if the word "wicked" always carries negative connotations, and I got to briefly talk about the idiosyncracies of Bostonian English. Last night, I think, struck a fine balance between class participation and teacher running his mouth. The students left with tons and tons of phrases scribbled in their notebooks, and I think everyone was happy.

I felt very high after the class, and a fellow teacher (who is taking the class herself) told my girl that I was really energized and "on" this time. I just had to give myself a big pat on the back.

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