Creative writing students harvest carrots at Old Soul Farm. (Courtesy of Jeff Casey.)

Or, what you may not know about English class

So, you probably think we read books and write papers in English class, and you’re right. After all, most English professors are passionate about the written word. (My bookshelves are piled high with books of all shapes, sizes, and topics.) But, if you think that’s all we do in English class, you’re missing a lot.

For example, in the Introduction to Creative Writing class I taught last fall, sure, the students read and wrote poems, short stories, screenplays, and creative essays. But we also explored writing through a field trip. Early in the semester, under the perfect late-summer Vermont sun, we drove to Old Soul Farms in Barre. The students explored the farm. They picked radishes and carrots, and gathered eggs from under roosting hens who pecked at their hands. We supped on fresh vegetables from the garden. (The students talked all semester about how delicious the cherry tomatoes were.) Then, the students wrote responses to these experiences. Drawing on sights, sounds, and tactile sensations, they composed vivid, strange, and beautiful poems and stories. For example, one student wrote, reflecting on the experience of pulling carrots from the ground:

The dirt felt cool, moist, and smooth,

Smooth like a sheet of marble.

You can mold it in your hands,

Form it like you’re God.

It all crumbles like an abandoned city.

Then there is my technical theatre course, in which students explored the new Mack Auditorium and worked on the backstage aspects of our fall musical, Cabaret. Students built sets, hung lights, and programmed sound and light cues. Yes, we read and researched plays, and, yeah, students learned technical terminology and design principles, but the course was also hands-on. For two weeks, we built and painted theatre flats (those flat wood structures used for scenic backdrops). Students carefully measured out the 1-by-4 pine planks and cut them to size with a saw. They assembled and screwed together the frames, and, later, learned techniques for painting the flats. Some weeks, the roaring saw, the clouds of sawdust, and the high-pitched scream of drills reminded me of a shop class—except, rather than building trinkets that would be thrown away at the end of the semester, my students were building durable, professional-quality scenic elements that were part of our fall production.

And here’s the thing: it’s not just my classes. In most English classes, students do much more than read books and write papers. They practice job-interview skills, learn public speaking and how to write a résumé, design websites and social media campaigns, make short films, explore the university archives, and so much more. Come by sometime and see what we’re up to. You might be surprised.


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