Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Are We Encouraging "Poetic Writing"?

Rebecca Williams Mlynarczyk tackles the tough question of whether (and how) to incorporate personal writing in an academic writing course in "Personal and Academic Writing: Revisiting the Debate." As Dr. Cadle mentioned in class, Missouri State tends to incorporate some personal writing but not let it be the focus of the course. My class begins the semester with a memoir and incorporates reflections on the subjective research process in their I-search, although this semester I'm trying out letting them choose to write a formally objective research paper instead. Even the memoir isn't totally personal, though, because it is thesis-driven, about a life-changing event in the writer's life.

Mlynarczyk's use of James Britton is helpful here to distinguish between different kinds of writing. Britton divides writing into poetic, expressive, and transactional (Mlynarczyk 6). Expressive writing is the most natural, self-centered writing, and because it is so natural, we try to tap into these abilities before asking students to totally take on academic discourse. Transactional is communicative and includes academic writing--this is what we're training students to write for the rest of college. But we still value the poetic, or literary, writing. Unless our students are writing majors, they won't be doing a lot of poetic writing, but we like to read it. It is very tempting to grade the memoir as a piece of literary writing, to see it primarily as a story, or a work intended more for entertainment than information or persuasion. This probably isn't totally wrong, but might we be leading our students down one path, only to expect them to go in a different direction for the rest of the semester? Mlynarczyk notes that Peter Elbow says that choosing between personal and academic writing makes him "feel as though [he is] trying to walk toward two different mountains" (qtd. in Mlynarczyk 11). By assigning the memoir first, which utilizes expressive writing but often veers toward poetic, are we pointing our students toward a mountain that we won't let them approach? Perhaps Mlynarczyk's approach of assiging journal entries (you know, like these blog things we're doing) is a better approach, because it utilizes expressive writing to transactional ends without the temptation of poetic writing.

Works Cited

Mlynarczyk, Rebecca Williams. "Personal and Academic Writing: Revisiting the Debate." Journal of Basic Writing 25.1 (2006): 4-25. Communication & Mass Media Complete. 27 Feb. 2007. <http://search.ebscohost.com>.


bluegypsy said...

You bring up an interesting point. Now I have new questions to mull over!

TW said...

While this might cause some confusion regarding expectations--that's a big part of learning to write. So in a way, by providing them assignments with very different purposes, audiences, and/or expectations you are preparing them for real-life academic writing experiences where one professor might assign--oh, I don't know--a blog writing assignment and then a book review. They need to understandt that what is acceptable in one context is not necessarily going to fly in another.

Reader1 said...

I think that creative writing (even in the form of memoir) is essential, in a small form, to the entire learning curriculum. I guess it doesn't matter which classes the assignments are from. Although you're correct, they will probably come from a creative writing course.