Posted in human nature, Mothers, teaching, writing

Caught

Le-faux-miroir
The False Mirror, 1928 — Rene Magritte

It was a Friday, not just the end of the term, but the end of the academic year, and the day of the final exam in Intro to English Literature. Final papers were due on Monday. Many of the students decided to give me their papers early, thinking they’d have a nice weekend, and put the papers on my desk before picking up copies of the test.

It wasn’t a problem for me. I never particularly enjoyed reading papers, and was happy for the chance to get through some of them while the students were busy. That’s when I discovered the plagiarism—whole paragraphs lifted from a work I knew well, with only a word here and there either omitted or changed—by one of my best students.

Because the writer was one of those rare people whose best work was extemporaneous (essays written in class were far more insightful, elegant, and beautifully reasoned than those written at home), I couldn’t imagine how he would have found this “writing” acceptable. I read and re-read the paper and simmered.

When he handed in his exam, I looked into his eyes and said, as quietly as I could, “You. Outside. Now.”

My family has told me that my face changes when I’m about to breathe fire. They call it the “Look of Death.” I know the expression. I’ve seen it often enough in my life.

Apparently, so had this young man. And as I pointed out the parts that had been plagiarized, and he kept trying to explain, defend himself, I stopped him short.

“No.” I gave him the paper. “You don’t get to talk. I talk. You listen.”

His eyes widened. He closed his mouth.

And then I launched into the speech my mother would have given me had I tried to get away with such an act: “I can’t believe anyone with your intelligence would be satisfied with work so shoddy and dishonest. Don’t you realize what a disservice it is to your gifts? Moreover, that it’s an insult to me? Did you honestly think you’d get away with it? That I wouldn’t recognize it?”

He tried to answer.

I wouldn’t let him. I said, “Enough. The paper’s not due until Monday,  so, I’m going to pretend that doesn’t exist. If you’re half as smart as I think you are, you’ll do the same, throw it right in the trash, because that’s where it belongs. You have three days. I suggest you think very carefully about what you’re going to write.”

And then I added, “I’ll be around all weekend. You have my number. If you have any questions, call.”

He did call. The next day. And he read a portion of what he’d written. It was thoroughly original and as brilliant as the work he always did in class. I told him to keep going.

On Monday, when he gave me the paper, he apologized. He had told his mother what had happened, and she must have looked at him with either the same “Look of Death,” or that “How could I have had a child so dumb?” face mothers get when their kids do something really bone-headed. He said she told him to thank me, which he did, because, as she said, “That teacher could have given you an ‘F’. Instead she gave you another chance.”

Mothers.


Writing doesn’t come easily to me. Oh, maybe it was easier years ago, but in recent years, with six decades behind me, the words are less accessible, the ideas seem less fresh. Worse, when they do come, the ends appear before the beginnings, the sentences are disordered so that paragraphs are incoherent, and I will frequently over-describe a scene or person. When I finish a draft, editing is a kind of relief, the chance to fix, refine, polish. That is where the art is. And I agonize over it, sometimes for years.

While the work that makes it to the public may seem fluid, hopefully, effortless (after all, that is the goal), I know how hard-won, hard-wrought it was, how many hours, days, weeks, months, years it took to get it that way.

That is why plagiarism will never be trivial to me. It is an insult. It is shoddy. It is theft.

(Related reading: “Plagiarism, Fraud, and Predatory Publishing are Polluting Science”)

Posted in writing

Emilie

Cover of THE LAUGHING LUTE (Chat Noir Press 1963)
Cover of THE LAUGHING LUTE (Chat Noir Press 1963)

“Never look back
Or you’ll be caught back there
In a circling woods”

(From “The Red Pom-Pom” by Emilie Glen)

…but I have looked back.

You don’t forget people who were kind to you, who encouraged, inspired, taught you to observe through a squint, or prism, or mist, who made the world new.

Emilie Glen was one of those people.

I met her in 1962, when we were both members of an off-broadway theatre company that performed children’s plays. I was studying at Juilliard prep then and had just started writing poetry. I had no idea who she was; nor was I told anything about her background. She was just a lovely adult in the cast, always friendly, always helpful. As often happened in those days, because my mother was curious about everyone, and the kind of person everyone liked, and also because behind my back, my mother was my greatest admirer, my mother and Emilie became good friends. When my mother found out that Emily was not only an accomplished actress and musician, but also a published poet, my mother asked if she would read some of my poetry. The result was that Emilie became my first literary guide and mentor.

Unfortunately, a couple of years after I left the company, life’s progress and challenges shifted my interests, my mother’s attention, and we drifted apart, lost contact.

When I started writing poetry again, a couple of years ago, after almost twenty years away from it, the first person I thought of was Emilie. I searched for her, expecting to find her as celebrated as other poets of her generation, but saw she was not. More dismaying was the fact that she had passed away in 1995. How had I let her fade from my life? And then I quickly spotted Poets’ Press, and its publisher, Brett Rutherford, who had already published two volumes of her writing and was interested in publishing more. He had a list of chapbooks he had not been able to locate. One was “The Laughing Lute,” the chapbook she had given to me as a gift. I contacted him, sent him scans, and I’m delighted to say these wonderful poems are now in the third volume of her work, which was just released.

I’m so pleased her work has a champion.  Thank you Mr. Rutherford. And thank you, Emilie, for being “willing to take a little chance” on a little girl.

Read about Emilie Glen here

Buy The Writing of Emilie Glen Volume I

Buy The Writing of Emilie Glen Volume II

Buy The Writing of Emilie Glen Volume III

Visit Poets’ Press

 

Posted in Uncategorized

Discovery

Screen Shot 2018-01-14 at 1.59.50 PM(

From Beyond Willow Bend, January 31, 2013)

My example reappeared—a video I’ve been longing to share.  Once, I blinked and it was gone, and now it’s back, which is fortunate because it perfectly illustrates the kind of moment those of us who love to teach cherish.

Of course, I could rely on a story about the the time I was teaching an Intro to Lit class, and a student upended my interpretation of a piece of fiction by positing a brilliant one of his own. I could leave you with the fact that it took a few minutes to gather my wits—for they weren’t ready for the sheer brilliance of his reasoning—before I let that student guide the class through his analysis of the piece, even though every bit of imagery had already recrystallized for me and fallen into place accordingly.  And I could conclude by saying that the discussion which ensued energized everyone in the room.

But I’m not sure relating the experience will have the same impact without the video.

I can’t remember exactly when I saw it, but I believe it was within the past year or so. I was looking for a performance of Chopin’s Ballade #4 in F minor, and was drawn to one by Arthur Rubinstein.

Because I liked his interpretation better than most of the others available, I searched for more of his performances. Among the many lovely recordings—some of which I’d heard before, and, in fact, owned, were several videos made of master classes he’d given in Israel. The first two were of him coaching a talented young man through Chopin’s Ballade #1 in G minor, which is still available, and well worth seeing, especially for anyone who plays.  The third video was of him listening to another young man, named Ephraim Laor,  play the end of Beethoven’s piano sonata in E minor, Op. 90, first movement, and the beginning of the second.

As you watch, look closely at Rubinstein’s face, the changes in his expression as he listens.

I can easily imagine how Mr. Laor felt. Students want their teachers’ approval. When the teacher is a legend like Rubinstein, that approval is like a blessing from God.

But for the teacher, a moment like this is rejuvenating.  It is so easy for us to  fall into ruts, standing in front of  classes term after term. It is far too easy to become complacent and self-satisfied, to become numb.

That’s why I’m delighted that this masterclass video is back. It’s one thing to hear a retired teacher describe the effect an exceptional student has on them, but quite another to see one of the greatest pianists in history experience it.  Occasions like these are revelations. They break us out of our routines, and inspire us. They remind us how great a thrill it is to learn.

(For more about Ephraim Laor visit his web site)