Mike Rose at the CCCC

The photo was taken right before the session. Mike Rose kindly agreed to have his photo taken and invited me to be in the picture, too but, no, I have camera allergy. What an honestly nice man. The session began with an introduction from Cheryl Glenn, who apparently wants a poem from Mike Rose (a well-respected poet as well as an advocate for student writers) entitled “To Cheryl,” only this time for her. A common wish, I’m sure. Microphones were placed in the aisles for audience questions, a rarely done strategy and a welcome one. Rose gave a more formal than usual talk that was measured into three parts: community, public writing by students, and public writing by academics. He may have used different terms, but these concepts are close.

The first part about communities centered on personal narratives and community writing projects that involve personal narratives and histories, including when they are compounded into a group, creating a layered sense of place.

Next, Rose discussed public writing, which gives students a concrete way to gain rhetorical knowledge through their own writing. Drawing on one’s own experience and knowledge in order to write for a public audience (the classic op-ed, 800 word magazine-type writing) leads to a crossover effect; the op-ed writing helps student writers work out the kinks with their more formal, academic writing as well. By noticing the differences, both genres are enriched.

Public intellectual writing (Mike Rose’s blog, Michael Berube also)) meshes a look at politics and knowledge; add linking to the mix, and it becomes even more powerful, more engaging. In this context, Rose also brought up the rural/urban country boy/city slickers dichotomy, which tend to not work well for either side of the equation, The main example given was Obama and the McCain campaign’s consistent use of this divide in a very public way, i.e., Obama as “professorial.” The professorial label was deadly–and was intended to be so.

Other cultural conflicts–practical knowledge vs book “larning.” There can be plenty of ridicule on both sides, but more power, much more cultural energy exists on the practical side. Other biases still exist though against those who work with their hands, who may be seen as ignorant, as thought physical labor negates the mind, which of course is very much not true.

Rose is not a bullet-point speaker, so summarizing his talk is problematic. However, he is a good speaker, one who circles gently around a point until not only he gets there, but the audiences does as well without overly laboring the point. A worthwhile session.

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Author of the poetry collection The Tethered Ground and Professor of English at Missouri State University. Contact me for readings or for workshops on writing/publishing and on teaching writing online.

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