J.D. Isip, Graduate Student in English
J.D. Isip is in his fourth semester of his Master of Arts degree in English. As a part of his degree program, he is also teaching his second semester of College Level Writing, English 101. He led efforts for CSUF’s first Creative Writing & Composition Conference, an idea he had for the English Department’s participation in the annual Humanities & Social Sciences Week. Since his first semester in the program, J.D. has had many of his creative and academic pieces published, and he has spent the last two semesters narrowing the scope of his final project, a teaching guide for creative writing teachers at the high school and college levels focused on the art of poetry. His adviser is Dr. Irena Praitis.
J.D. Isip is in his fourth semester of his Master of Arts degree in English. As a part of his degree program, he is also teaching his second semester of College Level Writing, English 101. He is currently putting the finishing touches on CSUF’s first Creative Writing & Composition Conference, an idea he had for the English Department’s participation in Humanities & Social Sciences Week, an annual event for the College of Humanities. Since his first semester in the program, J.D. has had many of his creative and academic pieces published, and he has spent the last two semesters narrowing the scope of his final project, a teaching guide for creative writing teachers at the high school and college levels focused on the art of poetry. His project adviser and mentor is Dr. Irena Praitis.
J.D. writes: “I just finished reading Ezra Pound’s Pisan Cantos and a couple of great plays by Ben Jonson.” One of the benefits of grad school is the namedropping – and I do it all the time! I thought I had read a lot as an undergrad – and I did, but nothing close to what I get to do as a grad student. I challenged myself to try to expand my scope when I got into the program a couple of years ago – back then I was an avid reader of the “classics” which, from my point of view, included Walt Whitman, Shakespeare, Chaucer, and the Bible – what else could there be? Then I got to read (more name dropping coming…) Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Samuel Beckett, Bertolt Brecht… and on and on. And my world has changed – and so has my writing.
Most folks I meet tell me that they “want to be” a writer. I already am a writer. That’s not an arrogant statement – it’s just a fact, a fact that I think more grad students need to get used to. We enter into our programs because we are passionate about our fields of study, so as soon as we take our first class we are already part of the conversation; as soon as we turn in our first research paper, we are already contributing to the field. We are not “becoming” scholars – we are scholars. And it is pretty awesome. I worked in corporate America for fifteen years before I decided to come back and get my degree, and I know that I am now where I belong.
So what does it really feel like here in the trenches? It is a little after 1 AM and I am just finishing up a book for a book review. I spent my weekend grading a stack of student papers from my English 101 class, and I woke up this morning to an email letting me know that one of my poems had been accepted to a journal. I am constantly juggling – and I am one of those lucky grad students sans a child or a fulltime career. It is not for the faint hearted, but I can say that most days I wake up excited to get to my classes, get to my students and get to my writing. I feel very blessed to have such a full schedule.
Every October and March I spend an entire weekend sending out packets of my poems – some through snail mail, but most through email and online “submission pages” (which are pretty nifty). And I mean the entire weekend – 6 AM on Saturday to 11 PM Sunday, with some time for food and church. So far, I have published a handful of poems, one short story, one play, and a few academic articles. Depending on who you ask,
I am either way ahead of the game or I am pathetic – I choose to believe the more positive feedback. Submitting your work is soul-crushing, but you have to have a thick skin and you have to be persistent. I hear so many people complain about not being able to publish but then I find out that they maybe sent off a poem or two or entered just one contest and then just gave up. When you think about it, some people put more thought and effort into deciding where they are going to have dinner. The wonderful thing about my studies is that they actually inspire me to write. Take, for example, those Ezra Pound poems I was talking about. To tell the truth, the guy has always kind of bugged me – he was a fascist and during WWII, he spoke against American troops. I used to be one of those troops! Well, I’m not that old, but I was in the Air Force and I can just imagine some poet talking smack while I am trying to save his tail. Anyway, I was never a big fan of his – but one of my professors, Dr. Erin Hollis, challenged me to take a look at these particular poems. I dug in and they are extremely difficult, and maybe I don’t get all of them, but they made me think and, more importantly, they made me write. I wanted to respond to him – so I took pen to paper and started. I was at it for a day – all day. When I finally put my pad down, I had a poem. Whether it is a good poem or not or whether or not it gets published is not important at this point; I simply had a poem. Thanks to Pound. Thanks to my professor. Thanks to grad school.
Don’t get me wrong – I wish my life were some bohemian dream world where I just dreamt up poetry all day and recited it to other so-called intellectuals at coffee houses all night. But most of the time I am combing the stacks of books in the Pollak Library or scrolling through pages on JSTOR and MLA, trying to find ways to say something unique about works that have been around for hundreds of years. Or I’m working some special event to raise money for the half dozen clubs and organizations I have found myself affiliated with at CSUF – among them, the Creative Writing Club, the Acacia Group, the H&SS Inter-Club Council and, to sound extra snooty, the “As You Like Shakespeare Society” (c’mon – you know that is a snazzy title!). And, yes, on occasion I get to live out that poet life and “do a reading” (I have a big one coming up at the Pollak Library on April 28th!).
My graduate project is based on the practice of teaching folks how to write poetry. I am mainly concerned with the use of the workshop model made popular through the Iowa Writers Workshops. I am not a huge fan of asking novice poets to come together and comment on one another’s works without the slightest idea of what they are talking about. Students deserve more – and that is where my research comes in. My graduate adviser, Dr. Praitis, has helped me carve out some systems to suggest in place of the current popular model of the workshop (because we should never forget that it is not enough to ask for change, we should always come to the table with a couple suggestions/solutions in mind). I am focused on teaching poetry the way that other “arts” are taught – using fundamentals, practice, modeling, etc. This isn’t revolutionary – just sort of forgotten. My proposal for my project got glowing reviews and a few professors even told me that they actually look forward to seeing my final product. It is always nice to be noticed – but, when it comes to research you are excited about, it really makes you feel like maybe you are onto something.
Look, grad school is sometimes extremely difficult – it’s nearly 2 AM and I still have a few things to get done before I call it a night! – but I can honestly say that my life is already better because of it. It’s better not only because I can “name drop” a poet or two, but because I know them – like I’ve known them all my life. Cheesy as it sounds, the literature and the theory and the writing has all become an intrinsic part of who I am. Hmmm… maybe I should write a poem about that.