February Poetry Contest: Golden Shovel

Photo by Scott R on Pexels.com

I can’t wait to see what y’all write for this month’s poetry contest! There are two prize options: 1) A $25 gift certificate to the independent bookstore of your choice, or 2) A $25 donation to the literacy nonprofit, aid organization, or public library of your choice. Please see the Monthly Contest Page for complete rules (there aren’t many) and past winners. This month’s deadline is Friday, February 20th.

The golden shovel is a form invented by poet Terrance Hayes. He created it in homage to Gwendolyn Brooks. In honor of Black history month, the February contest is to write a golden shovel related to environmental or climate issues. Feel free to be creative with the source text. My friend E. Kristin Anderson has a series of golden shovels based on Ke$ha songs.

If you’re unfamiliar with this form, read the poem “Golden Shovel” by Terrance Hayes as a reference point. Notice how the line endings in both parts are made up from Brooks’ “We Real Cool.” Notice how Hayes uses the words in a more straightforward way in the first section, and focuses more on sound in the section section. (Note: you do not need to write a multi-section poem; go with what works for you.)

Email your golden shovel to allyson@allysonwhipple.com by 11:59 pm on February 20th. Please also send me the title and author of the poem or song you used as your source text. (Include a link if possible.) The winner will receive a gift certificate to the independent bookstore of their choice, or I will make a donation in their honor to a nonprofit.

January Poetry Contest Winner

After much delay, I’m finally excited to announce the winner of the January poetry contest! I received a record number of entries this month, and on top of that, I had to move unexpectedly after my landlord sold my house! It’s a relief to be getting settled in my new place and back into a routine.

Lisa Janice Cohen wrote the winning haiku. For the prize, she chose a $25 donation to the Central Texas Food Bank.

Frost flowers
A log’s jeweled heart 
Fused in glass

Thank you, Lisa! And thanks to everyone else who participated. I was especially heartened to see several entries from people who don’t consider themselves poets or writers.

Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review is Expanding Our Leadership Team

Cover art from issue 52: Los dias oscuros 99 by Octavio Quintanilla

One of my (many) passion projects is serving on the board of Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review. It’s been an honor to help keep an independent print journal going during increasingly challenging times.

Borderlands is currently going through a leadership transition. This fall, the board realized that we needed to split our volunteer Administrative Director position into three roles. The work was just too much for one person, especially with their work considered an in-kind donation to the organization. To that end, we split the role into three: Administrative Director, Development Director, and Production Director.

We are looking for people interested in serving Borderlands in a volunteer capacity to help us continue to thrive. We are a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, and we have been going strong since 1992 largely with the help of committed community members.

You can find descriptions of all three positions here. Submissions are open until February 15th, 2021. To apply, please send a resume to allyson@allysonwhipple.com (you can address your email to the Board as a whole.)

Please also feel free to pass this information on to anyone you think would be interested! Even if these roles aren’t right for you, spreading the word is a huge help. One of the best things you can do is help the right people for the job find us!

(And of course, if you’re looking for other ways to help, you can always make a tax-deductible donation through our website. It’s never too soon to work on that 2021 tax deduction.)

January Poetry Contest

First snow. Not impressed.

It’s time for another poetry contest! I can’t wait to see what y’all send me this month. There are two prize options: 1) A $25 gift certificate to the independent bookstore of your choice, or 2) A $25 donation to the literacy nonprofit or public library of your choice. Please see the Monthly Contest Page for complete rules (there aren’t many) and past winners. This month’s deadline is Wednesday, January 20th at 11:59 pm.

Write a haiku with the following theme: inside/outside. You do not have to include the theme words in your poem; explore different ways of embodying the theme through language and image. Haiku can range from 1-3 lines. 5-7-5 syllable structure is not required. Please keep haiku to approximately 17 total syllables for the entire poem.

Email your haiku to allyson@allysonwhipple.com by 11:59 pm on January 20th. Given the brevity of the form, poems pasted into the body of the email are preferred. If you have unique formatting that requires submitting as and attachment, that’s fine.

More Notes on Teaching in a Pandemic

After teaching the second half of the spring 2020 semester entirely online, I thought that I’d teach the summer remotely and return to the classroom in the fall of 2020. At the start of the fall semester, I was still teaching remotely, but figured I’d be returning to the classroom in the spring. Now I’m potentially getting back into the physical classroom in the summer. Below are additional observations I’ve made as I continue to teach remotely.

Teaching fuel

Never say never, never say always, there are always exceptions, usually. I learned that phrase from my seventh grade science teacher, Mr. Radie. It’s one of the sayings that has stayed with me throughout my adult life because I see how it plays out time and time again. For example, though ACC uses a well-resarched and tested organizational structure for all online classes, the setup and course design still does not work for 100% of students 100% of the time. While we’ve been trained to structure our classes to be easy to navigate and understand, with a focus on accessibility, there is no way to design a course that is perfect for 100% of students. We do our best and work to always get better, and yet we still have to keep in mind that there are (almost) always exceptions to the rules, and there is no one system that is perfect for every single person.

Online learning is not for everyone. Some people really do hate it. Some are showing up and powering through because they can’t or don’t want to put their degree and career goals on hold. That doesn’t mean that students won’t succeed in a classroom environment that’s a mediocre or bad fit. However, I do feel sorry for those who are trying to make the best of a bad situation and struggling because they’d be happier in a classroom.

I don’t believe that a student’s level of motivation is the reason for their success or failure in online learning. Throughout my teaching career, I’ve heard that students need to be more self-motivated than in an in-person classroom. This semester, I’ve started to doubt that. First, if being in a physical classroom could compensate for a lack of motivation, no student who came to an in-person class would ever quit. In addition, this semester, I have encountered some of the most motivated students I’ve ever encountered… and they still struggled. Students who wanted to be in the class, and even wanted to be taking online classes, still struggled. There’s more to success than motivation. Students are facing unprecedented challenges, and sometimes, the difficulties of work (or lack thereof) and family responsibilities mean a student is not going to finish the class. To chalk it up to motivation is a reductionist move that glosses over the complexities of online learning and pandemic learning.

Put information in multiple formats. This semester, I decided to experiment with making my weekly course announcements available in both email and video format. I’ve always done email announcements, but since all of my online courses were originally set up to be asynchronous, I decided it would be a good idea to give students the option to have an option where they could hear a voice and see a face. I wasn’t sure how many people would be interested. As it turns out, most students made use of both formats, and many students thanked me for giving them options.

I don’t believe that students should take course overloads during pandemics. I mean, I don’t think that students should take course overloads at any point. And I am a person who might have done so in undergrad had I been able to. But now that I’ve spent nearly a decade on the other side of the classroom, I’m seeing how intentionally overloading yourself as a student causes difficulty more often than not. Yes, some students might have compelling reasons to overload, and yes, some students can handle it. On the whole, however, I don’t think that taking course loads is a good idea, and especially not with pandemic stress. I had three excellent students who ended up really struggling in the last third of the semester, and the common thread among all of them was that their advisors had advised them to take overloads so they could graduate faster. Maybe this would have been fine for them without the stress of a pandemic, but between that and the fact that none of these students were in their preferred learning environment (a physical classroom), things did not end up working out very well. I don’t think advisors should be pushing students to graduate early with so much extra weight on their shoulders.

To all of my teacher friends out there: we’re going to get through this! Best of luck as we embark on anther pandemic semester. Here’s hoping for something better in the fall.