A screed against artificial intelligence creating “art” …

I’m getting mighty sick of reading “poems” and “stories” and “monologues” that are supposed to be created by young adults but are instead compiled with a click of a button. Ugh! This shit is soulless. It ain’t art, my friends. I’m tired of workshopping for machines.

while all about it reel shadows

my “friend,” why do you keep using artificial
“intelligence” to compile your “creative” writing?
i’m tired of reading machine-based poems, mono-
logues, stories … weary to the bone, i tell you.

you think you’re clever? that i’m impressed by
shadows, shells, word houses constructed overnight
out of toilet paper? robotic writing tastes like
watery oatmeal, sounds like elevator music

you’re too young to recognize, smells like brain
washed sidewalk. are you that terrified? to loose
even one authentic fragment of yourself onto paper?
even when you’re in the room, you’re absent —

a body in its seat, a mind shut off, lips sealed,
a ghost floating somewhere in the machine.

Back on top for the moment

Like the weather, I think I’m a collision of beauty and terror, love and revenge.

The Blood-Dimmed Tide

recedes now into the calm breath
of a living universe, each 

atom expanding and contract-
ing with a heartbeat louder than 

love, more infinite, enduring. 
Here on the mat, molecules fall 

back into place . . . impatience, rage, 
frustration, and grief subside, settle, 

float downriver like yellow leaves 
on their way to eventual

resurrection, a string of word-
less prayers, seeds for future trees.

Twenty Three

Sad Boy's Sad Boy

I ruin my hats and all the mat slides glad 
I hop my girls and all is skip again 
I jump I run you up inside my truck 

The car goes looping out in dark and light 
And yellow hat slides in 
I run my mats and all the girl slides glad 

I hoped you skipped me into luck 
And jump me black, ruin me glad 
I jump I run you up inside my truck 

I jump my slopes and all the dopes slide glad 
I glide my luck and all is slip again 
I jump my hopes and all the rope glides sad 

I skip you jump the way you said 
But I run old and sigh your name 
I ruin my mats and all the girl slides glad 

At least when luck hops it skips back again 
A rune my mats and all the girls slide glad 
I jump I run you up inside my truck 

                     After "Mad Girl's Love Song" by Sylvia Plath


Sad Not Sad Song for Missing Amy

God, I miss you, honey, and your little red car,
the bumper sticker I'd Rather Be Reading Bernstein --
& your joyful laugh. We don't know where you are.

Remember how we'd meet for poetry & coffee
in that ill-fated place across from Linda's? 
God, I miss you, Amy darling, and your little red car.

Life fucked you & you fucked it back, baby, hard.
Made 2 kids, & poetry & bird baths & children's books 
& your joyful laugh. Now we don't know where you are

because you're "dead" but I know in my bones 
you're just transformed, your energy into sun & wind
& wildflowers & God. I miss you, woman, your red cars,

those mornings of poetry & dirt dishing & friendship,
evenings with wine & poetry & above all else your giggle, your
joyful laughter. We may not know where you are now

exactly, except everywhere & inside us &
& in poetry, & memory, & stories, your family & 
God, & red convertibles, & all this missing you, lovely,
& your joyful laugh -- don't know where you are, dear,

but you ARE. You go on. & that's all that matters.

Getting excited!

Tomorrow is the day to write my first official April poem.

Today in Poetry Workshop, 4 young poets shared their poems — and all 4 of them really reached out from the page to grab their readers/listeners by the eyes, ears and hearts. I’ve seen so much growth in them since the start of the semester. They’re turning what’s inside outward, throwing poems up like lifelines to the rest of us, like something for us to hold onto.

It reminds me that I think of poems as prayers, as mindful reconnections to what matters, as the embodiment of the love and light that we forget surrounds us. Is us.

Backwards Poetry Revision: Process and Reflection

There’s something soothing about revising a poem (imho). It’s a meditative process, a recursive journey that weaves together the past, present and future. I think it might be the closest that I can come to prayer.

Somewhere along the way, I learned from someone a revision exercise called something like “Backwards Reconstruction.” Or was that “Deconstruction”? Whatever. I’d like to show you the process, using one of my slush pile poems, and then reflect on what the process has done for the poem and for me.

So, to begin.  Here’s a poem that I wrote in April 2015, during a “poem a day” challenge:

Waiting for It

I’m waiting for the poem to come to me,
looking out the window into slow moving
clouds over the gently waving branches
of a still-leafless tree, marking two pelicans
as they dive from the white into the blue,
flapping in tandem, tracing big circles
across my vision.

The birds this morning 
shouted from the bare trees, promising
warmer weather, the eventual arrival of
summer: silky hot skies, flowering shrubs,
the hiss of cicadas stretching the air wider.

I'm waiting for the poem to come to me,
stretched out on my chaise under two
layers, skin still vaguely chilled by the
retrograde weather, the crisp wind,
frozen mud flavored by yesterday's
mocking snowflakes.

I'm waiting for it
to burst onto the scene with trumpets
and tiger lilies, with explosions of leaves
and clusters of cottonwood seeds borne
in puffs across the river trail, with dandelions
like punctuation marks across every lawn --

 I’m waiting for the naked summer poem 
 to arrive and demand we strip off all these 
 heavy clothes, run across hot sidewalks, and
 dive into each other with sweaty abandon.

 April 1, 2015 


I should have typed the poem here instead of cutting and pasting it. But that’s what I did. Lazy.

But now I am going to physically rewrite the poem, line by line, moving backwards. And, for the sake of this exercise, I’m going to eliminate punctuation and capitalization and stanza breaks:

 dive into each other with sweaty abandon
 heavy clothes run across hot sidewalks and
 to arrive and demand we strip off all these
 i’m waiting for the naked summer poem
 like punctuation marks across every lawn
 in puffs across the river trail with dandelions
 and clusters of cottonwood seeds borne
 and tigerlilies with explosions of leaves
 to burst onto the scene with trumpets
 i’m waiting for it
 mocking snowflakes
 frozen mud flavored by yesterdays
 retrograde weather the crisp wind
 layers skin still vaguely chilled by the
 stretched out on my chaise under two
 i’m waiting for the poem to come to me
 the hiss of cicadas stretching the air wider
 summer silky hot skies flowering shrubs
 warmer weather the eventual arrival of
 shouted from the bare trees promising
 the birds this morning
 across my vision
 flapping in tandem tracing big circles
 as they dive from the white into the blue
 of a still leafless tree marking two pelicans
 clouds over the gently waving branches
 looking out the window into slow moving
 i’m waiting for the poem to come to me 


Okay. Time for the real work to begin.

I’m going to revise/edit this “new” poem so that it makes syntactical sense, and in the process cut away anything that’s flabby, redundant, imprecise, vague, off, or just stale (imho).  I’m also going to rethink line and stanza breaks.  My goal is to “resee” the raw material. 

In other words, I’m going to rewrite the ever living shit out of it.

(20 minutes pass)

Waiting for It 

Let’s dive into each other with 
 sweaty abandon,
 throw off heavy clothes, run across 
 hot sidewalks and
 arrive at the
 naked summer poem,
 its commas and dashes in 
 drifting cottonwood puffs across 
 the river trail, its periods in 
 dandelions and ellipses in
 tiger lilies, its leafy 
 explosions exclaiming.
 I’m waiting for it,
 waiting with mocking snow
 over frozen mud flavored by
 yesterdays, and crisp wind
 and layers of
 chilled skin,
 waiting for the poem to come
 with a hiss of cicadas 
 to stretch the air 
 silky hot over 
 azalea and rhododendron,
 dogwood, magnolia, snap-
 dragon and peony, 
 pansies and petunias,
 waiting its delayed arrival, 
 the promise of it 
 already bird-shouted from 
 bare maple trees, and
 traced across my slow windows 
 by pelicans diving two by two
 in circles from wispy clouds 
 to incisive blue --
 exclamation points 
 naked branches!
April 22, 2021 

My revision process took about 20 minutes (that seemed like far fewer) and involved at least three passes through the poem.

The project of going backwards to retype the poem really slowed me down. I was able to see that it was about — at least right now, today, this morning — capturing that feeling of frustration and anxiety and hope I get when I’m waiting for spring to arrive in Green Bay, waiting for that definitive turn toward summer. It was about that feeling of suspension (limbo) and “oh wait, no, I take it back” kind of bullshit cold weather we get all through April and sometimes May that drives me crazy but also pokes me with hope.

While I was revising, I hooked on a couple of motifs. Punctuation, flowers and trees, and the idea of looking from the inside (house) out.  Also, the idea of summer being naked and winter being covered up. When I started with the naked summer instead of the layered winter, I moved from ecstatic to bound. And I decided that if summer is about joy and running naked, it’s about exclamation points and dashes, and winter’s punctuation is a bunch of periods and parenthesis and comma after comma after comma. (Forget the semi-colon.)   

Also, I thought that enjambment worked for the feeling of dislocation I was going for, and shorter lines.  

Finally, I wanted to celebrate all of the specific flowers and vegetation that I love so much, god, I heart the fuck out of them, because they’re the signs of warm weather, clear sun, naked skin, and (to be honest) utterly useless beauty (we can’t eat them).  

The process of revision, and of writing this reflection, has left me feeling refreshed and hopeful. It’s reminded me that the act of writing poetry is a worthy end in and of itself. Publication, the madding crowd’s acclimation, love from hordes of strangers — who needs all that? When you have poems to be writing, word by word, line by line, stanza by stanza, silky petal by silky petal. 

Oh, and here’s something: this is the first time in … maybe forever? … that I’ve used an exclamation point in a poem!

Going Remote & Staying Connected

Dear friends,

I hope you’re doing okay with the new “normal” (I keep telling myself that it’s fine as long as zombies aren’t involved) and finding ways to not only survive the current moment but to thrive in it.

I’m sure you’re wondering what will happen now that we’re taking our courses out of the classroom. Will you be able to meet your learning goals? Will you be able to keep students focused and present? Will social distancing end in disconnection?

I keep reminding myself that we’ve had valuable time to establish face-to-face community in our classrooms, which is a luxury that fully online courses don’t have. So we’ve got that rapport banked and we can draw on it as we finish the semester in our separated seats.

The internet is brimming over with good advice from every quarter on how to approach remote learning. It can be chaotic, trying to sort through all of that information without succumbing to anxiety about the future or regrets about the past. Here’s some of the gist that I’ve picked up in the last weeks:

Take time now to reflect. Decide what matters. What are the most important learning goals for your courses? What goals are icing on the cake? Rethink existing assessments, such as timed tests, and brainstorm ways of reshaping those assessments for the new environment. You might want to revisit your rubrics and evaluation methods as well. Above all, invite students to participate in this reflection, and in reshaping your courses. Work as a team.

This is a chance to practice higher order thinking. If you’re working with students as a team, it’s a good time to rely on metacognition. Make it a habit of explaining what you’re doing and why you’re doing it — before, during, and after the process. Encourage students to do the same as they learn. Transparency is one of the best ways to empower students to engage in deep learning, and using metacognitive strategies coaches students in their individual learning processes as it shows them how to learn on their own.

There’s a lot we can learn from our students, too. When we’re in crisis mode, we’re forced to be creative, to come up with solutions to new problems. They might have some good ideas about innovative ways of showing what they’ve learned and how they can apply it —  multimodal presentations, “translations” of course content for audiences outside the academy (like younger siblings learning from home, interested family members, or the general public).

Whenever possible, make yourself available, and invite students (and colleagues!) into authentic conversations. By “authentic,” I mean talk about what matters to us right now. I hope we can discuss not only course content and learning, but also their intersection with our lives, perceptions, values and goals. You can hold virtual office hours using Google Meet, Zoom, or any other video-chat service. I’ve discovered that Google Chat works, too, especially for shy students who would rather not show their faces on screen.

In fact, it’s probably a good idea to communicate often and in a variety of modes. Join in whatever class discussions you’re having, especially if they’re in writing. Pose open ended questions and encourage a variety of answers. Use positive reinforcement to validate contributions that enhance the discussion, add a new point of view, or reveal a student’s growth. 

Allow some space for silliness, too, whether it’s coming up with a class “lockdown” playlist, gathering and sharing cat memes, watching YouTube videos, or creating “listicles” ala BuzzFeed. We all need to blow off steam.

What it comes down to, finally, is human connection. So share your stories. I know that not all of us are comfortable laying our lives on the table, but you don’t have to go all in to foster trust and connection. You can create assignments that call for personal touches (photos, videos, etc.), or set up a Google Folder to collect “show and tell” artifacts. If you’re comfortable with it, you can use social media such as Twitter, Facebook or Instagram to do the same thing.  But be sure that you also participate in these assignments.

I keep looking for the silver lining in the current situation. I think I’ve found a few threads of it. First, we have a chance to slow down. Incorporate time for contemplation into the course schedule (shared prayers, beholding an inspirational image, YouTube yoga breaks, a moment of silence at the start of a synchronous meeting, freewrites, an assignment to take a leisurely walk around the block, paying attention to all the signs of incipient spring). Allow for the silences that will happen in your online meetings. Remind yourself and your students that it will help if we appreciate what’s happening right now instead of worrying about what might happen in the future, or ruminating on what used to be.

In the process, be compassionate — with yourself and your students. Make room for (even celebrate!) mistakes. They’re learning opportunities, after all. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and encourage your students to do the same. 

And as hard as it is, acknowledge and allow time for emotions. Fear seems to be the most toxic virus going around right now. We will all be distracted, again and again, by anxiety and rumination.  Emotions will always play a crucial part in the teaching dynamic, and now more than ever they’ll be a distraction if we don’t somehow incorporate them into the learning process. 

You don’t need to be a therapist to be a good listener. You just have to be present. You don’t have to fix your students’ fears or solve their emotional problems. Sometimes it’s enough to allow them a voice. When people say we need to “go with the flow,” I think what they really mean is that we need to go with the flow of emotions as opposed to against it. 

Okay, friends. This is my last thought on the subject (I promise): Model resiliency and cautious optimism, even if you don’t have these qualities. Model these qualities especially if you don’t have them. Fake ‘em until you make ‘em! We will come through this challenge with confidence and connection if we strive to learn, laugh, live and love together.

Yours in the flow,


Brave New World?

So this has happened. I mean, the coronavirus brewhaha. We’re all scrambling to “work remotely,” some of us with verve and ambition (not to mention self-confidence) and some of us with fear and loathing. We’re learning new tricks, freaking out, getting stir crazy, and treading in liquid fear.

In my role as Director of Faculty Development, I’ve been tasked with helping my colleagues and students to transition to this new mode of interacting. All the pundits say that online teaching is only good with lots of preparation and experience, both of which we don’t have in supply right now (along, apparently, with toilet paper).

I propose that we stop thinking about what we’re doing as “online teaching” and instead think of it as working “remotely” — and that we admit to ourselves that it won’t be as good as face to face. And it shouldn’t be.

That said, we need to make the best of it. We need to use this opportunity to rethink what we’ve been doing, backward (re)design our courses in progress to figure out what’s essential and what we can let go, and focus on maintaining our health, sanity, and learning in this difficult emergency situation.

To that end, I’ll admit that I’m on the same steep learning curve as most of my colleagues, switching to Google Hangout Meets, asynchronous classwork, and altered modes of communication. I’m a little wigged out, too. I anticipate problems. I live in the uncertain future, rather than in the here and now.

So I’m going to revisit this space as a place to connect with you, dear readers, and to try to make sense of what I’m learning at light speed.

Remote Work Uniform

Open Letter

Dear students friends,

Yesterday I typed a long ramble about writing assignments in introductory literature courses, and in the process of that I went off into at least five directions, none of which really pertained to my point.

What you need to know about me, right now, before we get started, is that going off onto multiple tangents (and sometimes tangents within tangents within tangents) during a conversation or discussion or writing workshop is a signature move for me as a teacher human being. It’s how I think. It’s what my creative process would look like if you could jack into my brain. (Please don’t. You’ll get in the way of the hamster on her wheel.)

We might begin the hour talking about Marissa’s characterization of a young journalist in her first job and end up laughing about mink farms, after an odd detour into sexual revenge and a few YouTube video shares. (No, this never happened. That I remember.) Or we could be focusing on the idea of work, and work relationships, and find ourselves cataloguing all of the crappy bosses we’ve had the misfortune to work under, in the process forgetting about Marissa and her semi-formed journalist, notepad and ideals in hand.

Most of my tangents involve stories. That’s another thing you should know, up front. If you say something like “The narrator of The Yellow Wallpaper sounds kind of crazy,” I’m going to think about how I felt right after my daughter was born: freaked out, lonely, desperate for adult human companionship, and trapped in my house. A prisoner of motherhood. And I’ll want to tell you that story. I’ll want to tell you so badly that I will just do it — interrupting whatever flow you thought we had going in the discussion. And my story will of course provoke your stories, make them pop up out loud, spawning their own associated stories, ad infinitum. The next thing you know, it’ll be the end of the hour and you’ll think yourself no more enlightened about Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s story or characters than you were at the start of this wild outburst of associations.

It’s as if I’m driving a school bus into unknown territory and you’re all captives in it. As I drive, I make sudden turns and strange stops. You feel the lurch and bump of the poorly suspended vehicle and sometimes wish you had a seat belt. Your fellow passengers will be singing — loudly — songs you can’t stand to hear. You might feel compelled to shout your own. Others will be goofing off with paper footballs. Some will be staring out of the windows with abject expressions. The sun will begin to go down. You may notice that we haven’t seen any signs for gas for a good many miles, and since we’re coming out of the mountains and heading for what looks like unbounded desert, you might be — understandably — uncomfortable. Frustrated. Angry.

Where the hell is this woman going? you might think. How long until we get there? Is it a place I want to be? Or even This. Must. Stop.

The truth is that I sometimes don’t know where we’re heading or even how I’ll know where to stop. But (you have to trust me here) I usually find a place to stop that seems right, and when we look back at the road we’ve taken, we begin to see how it makes some sense.

The place we stop offers us a new perspective, a fresh vantage point on where we started. And that point of view allows us to reimagine, or understand, or connect — and this is the best verb I can think of in this context — where we started with where we’ve ended up. This connection becomes our “aha” moment. Our epiphany. What we’ve learned.

I must confess that I’m usually ashamed of myself for having taken us to this place, for having picked a road filled with strange turns, sudden stops, reversals and occasional dead ends. I leave classrooms with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, thinking So that happened.

But I’m writing this now to defend, in advance, my tendency to go off on tangents, to turn down unexpected roads that may lead to nothing more than a broken down shack or a blowing plastic bag against a wire fence. Because it’s very possible that this shack sparks in your mind the image of an old man, scratching out his life story on an warped board with a piece of charcoal, an old man who connects the story you’re writing or reading with someone important to you who you never, until this moment, fully saw or understood. That old man, writing his life story, might be you in 70 years, or your imagination at this moment, or the embodiment of the author (Melville, Gilman) in your imagination. And once you make that connection, looking back at the story we’re discussing or the story you’re writing, you’ll take your understanding of the story to the next level of intensity.

That’s when we can all get back on the bus and head back “home.” In the quiet, tired and strangely comfortable with each other now, the experience ending but still fresh in our minds, maybe the magic intensity of that ineffable connection will solidify into an idea, an insight, an action plan that you didn’t have when you got on the bus.

That’s the ideal, in any case. And it’s one of the reasons why, even though they can scare and embarrass me, I give myself permission to keep doing it — driving off into tangents again and again.

Hey Autumm, Challenge Accepted!

Still learning how to navigate the ever changing river of technology that has intersected with (and braided itself into) higher education generally and St. Norbert College particularly. To that end, I’m headed to Digital Pedagogy Lab next week, and looking forward to hobnobbing with the digital pedagogy hoipolloi. My colleague and friend Autumm Caines has thrown down a challenge: she wants us to reflect on the experience as she does in this blog:


Here’s my response:


For those of you only on the fringes of “the know” about these things, I used Screencastify to create this vlog and then uploaded it to YouTube to share it.

Dave Eggers blows my wee mind with The Circle

The CircleThe Circle by Dave Eggers
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This novel is funny — not funny ha-ha, but funny ironic and funny fucking scary, to be honest. It’s hyperbolic, yeah, on the surface, but the ideas it explores (complete “transparency”) are the endpoint of a current movement in information “sharing” and digital storage. You could believe, as does the anti-hero Mae, the novel’s protagonist, that complete transparency is wonderful. That “sharing is caring.” Or you could believe, with her ex and others, that we’re headed toward the Ultimate Nightmare.

I found myself thinking about this novel while going about my day, connecting its ideas to things like: the cloud, Facebook, Google whatever, working in “the open,” documentation, cyberbullying, our own SNC communio, mental health, contemplation, “space,” … I’m going to stop here to avoid 100% transparency. This would probably be a good novel to include in my next Introduction to Literary Studies (but I’d have to change my theme to Technighmares or something, or “Brave New World”) but I’m afraid that my readers, younger than Mae, will be as caught up in the ideology as she is, and thus unable to get any ironic distance from it.

I recommend this novel to all of my ITS and ed tech friends. Love it, hate it — I’d like to talk about it. I’d like to “share” it, FFS.

View all my reviews