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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Mid-Quarter with Avocados, Peaches, & Tomatoes ...


It's the middle of the term where I teach at Bellevue College, so that means:

in my college composition class students are presenting in their Powerpoint slide shows about food poems such as Terrence Hayes' "The Avocado," Li-Young Lee's "From Blossoms," and Pablo Neruda's "Ode to the Tomato." The presentations have been amazing so far; they have taught me well how it pays to look deeply into a piece of writing and to grapple with how the images coalesce to make a thematic statement ... leaving the reader not only more informed on a subject (the abolitionist movement, for instance), but more able to forge connections between things as seemingly remote as an avocado and a slave, or a strawberry and the dark hands of the farm worker who picked that red fruit so you could eat it with your morning bowl of cereal.

I never cease to be amazed at how well they do on these poetry presentations. I wish I could invite the entire campus to come and see what they're up to--how successfully they bring these poems-on-the-page to life. Their slides are full of fresh peaches, beckoning strawberries, bright green apples. And their bulleted lists reflect the close reading they've done to get to the poem's heart.

It's so gratifying to watch and listen as they bring poetry to life, forging a silent thing into it a full-blown sensory experience, their voices (or the poet's) booming out with the words of the poem, then the images brought to life on the screen, and sometimes a chance to hold a pomegranate, or a mango, or a plantain in our hands as they explain its significance in their presented poem.

AND

this also means that in my Advanced Composition class my students are reading Michael Pollan's Food Rules, choosing a rule or cluster of related rules and writing a paper that either supports or refutes that rule. Paper topics include: the case for growing your own food (or buying it direct from a farmer), the case for eating an Asian or other traditional diet, the case for not eating foods that contain unpronounceable artificial ingredients.

It's a busy time, but also in many ways the sweet spot--mid-quarter--when we are starting to get to know each other, to feel more like a community than a bunch of disparate individuals sitting in a room together.

Let the chilly weather arrive--I will be cozy with a pile of essays about how to nourish and sustain ourselves as individuals, while also eating in a way that is just and sustaining for all.

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