Friend Lynne teaches poetry on Monday nights from 5pm-8:20pm; her students are for the most part junior and senior English majors, with a couple of other majors thrown in. Lynne is a published poet herself, and was an early reader and commenter on Good Daughter, Good Mother.
I went to the class after a long day of travel, but whatever energy I lacked was compensated for by the sharpness and curiosity of the students. This was an informal discussion rather than a reading, which will happen in classes beginning on Wednesday and for which I have prepared. Open discussion means the students got to ask me anything. They were curious about what the College was like in the 1960’s, about the structure of memoir — they are, after all, studying the structure of poetry — and about the stories. Many of them — there were 14 in the class, 13 young women and one young man — had read all or part of the book, copies of which I sent ahead of time.
The College just went co-ed this year, after 100+ years as a women’s college. The freshman class has better balance, but junior and senior male students are apt to be transfers and could be, as in this case, a one-of.
As daughter-in-law Amy’s aunt and regular reader Joyce pointed out, people of this age who read the book are apt to come at it from a different perspective. I think that was true. College, for most, is the first real step into adult independence, the first opportunity to begin to define mother/daughter or mother/son in adult terms on both sides. Even if the relationship is a good one, it’s never easy and the transition into adult/adult is rarely smooth.
Some of their questions were writer-to-writer, like “How did you come up with the title?” Some were deeply personal, like “Do you consider yourself a good daughter?” I was completely honest in my responses, as writing always calls me to be. And they were honest in their reaction to my answers. Our time spent together was deeply satisfying to me, and I hope to them.
I love being with people who love writing, of any age, and with people who are good at poetry especially. My writing is spare rather than rich with images, although one of the students very kindly said she found my writing poetic and read me the specific passages that made her think so. That made my day. I think my writing would have benefitted if I’d studied poetry more, and earlier.
Meeting with Lynne’s class was an excellent start to my week here. I’ll see some of these students again in other classes later on, and I expect their thoughts and mine to have evolved. I look for even more satisfying discussion to come.