My Teacher, Mr. Hill
The best teachers I've had are all variations on Mr. Hill, who taught as if he were still figuring out his subject, and who graded my papers on “Summer is a-cumin in” or Margaret Atwood or W.D. Snodgrass with a green Flair pen that left soft-edged marks on the page. He would sometimes write enigmatic stories in the margins, too, about banjos or robins or apples, that weren't directly related to what I was writing about. When I got the papers back I would read and re-read what he wrote, studying as much how to be an adult as what he was getting at. He seemed to be talking to me as much as he was assessing my analysis or my writing, and I took a lot of pleasure in the exchanges (they felt like exchanges).
He told all of us that his job was to make himself irrelevant, and he compared what he did to the "lost wax" method, in which hot metal is poured into a mould formed by wax. The metal melts the wax and replaces it, and once it cools the object is made, and no one knows about the wax. Is that like a teacher, to form the mold and disappear?
Often when I’m getting ready to teach a class I think about Mr. Hill and the lost wax. I think of his pleasure in those marginal exchanges as a way of thinking about the basic goal of a story on a kind of green line that the student can feel his or her way onto. I’ve never taught a class, anyway, in which I didn’t learn at least as much as the students.
I am the Program Leader for Film at Cornish College of the Arts, a radical arts college that was home to John Cage, Merce Cunningham, and, among many others, Saint Genet.
Before this I taught literature, creative writing, and film in many different places and settings; these are some of the places and some of the classes:
English Literature from Blake to the Present
American literature (Emerson to James)
American literature (Pound to Ashbery)
T.S. Eliot seminar
University of Washington