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CCCC 2004: Review

Review: F 36 Her Words and Ours: A Celebration of the Life of Wendy Bishop
Reviewed by: Will Hochman, hochmanw1@southernct.edu
Posted on: April 7, 2004

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Kathi Yancey opened the session after Doug Hesse helped us rearrange the room in circles of chairs. (It was ironic fun to note that past and present conference chairs could not always get room set-ups they requested. Some things about conference life will never change!) Yancey described how Wendy Bishop came to be a compositionist by reading some autobiographical writing Bishop wrote in l999. Teaching ideas, stories, options and resources configured the foundational experiences for Bishop as a composition adjunct at Arizona State University. Lad Tobin spoke next and admired Bishop’s ability to turn adversity into creative energy. After telling a few stories, he concluded by saying there was “Wendy ahead, and as always the rest of us a few steps behind trying to catch up.” Carrie Leverenz was next and read from Wendy’s journal. “Moving too quickly from one task to the next” was a concern she wrote but this meeting was all about admiring the quality and amount of achievement of so many tasks and Leverenz made it clear Wendy’s large number of accomplishments were due to her ability to multi-task and not achieved at the expense of family, friends, students, or colleagues. Leverenz went on with Wendy’s journal, selecting a passage on collage concerning Bishop thinking about how to situate her students in the “cannons in her mind.” Debra Coxwell Teague remembered her first meeting with Wendy Bishop when she began at the University of Florida. More important, she remembered losing Rick Straub and how Wendy helped her deal with the loss. Teague didn’t cry, but I wanted to cry for her. When Teague said she will miss her “colleague, friend, mentor, and one of her favorite people in the world,” she spoke for many of us in the room. John Boe spoke next, reading from “What’s Love Got to Do with It,” a selection from his journal, Writing on the Edge. Bishop wrote confessionally about not always being a good student and learning to love teaching and knowledge. Bishop’s writing made it clear she was one of those great writers who can talk academically about love—a rare and powerful feat for any writer but in academic settings, all that more incredible.

Doug Hesse moved us to the session’s writing phase by passing out “Writing With Wendy” prompts that Bishop had used in previous classes and workshops.

I chose Prompt #6 (from The Subject is Story edited by Bishop and Hans Ostrum): “It’s easy to dwell in the past, or get bogged down in the present, so that sometimes it’s worth predicting a new writing future. Looking ahead—five, ten, or fifteen years—can you see your own writing life as a grand narrative. From an imagined future, you may look back and realize that your writing life has an unrecognized promise—one might start working to tap today. To do this, compose a letter from the future you to the present you.”

Here’s what I wrote in that session:

Dear Will, remember that conference in San Antonio, that first
4C’s you attended without hoping to see Wendy Bishop? Now
Remember the very first CCCC you attended, the one where
You didn’t know you wanted to see Wendy Bishop
Until you attended her post conference workshop with Hans Ostrum?
Since then, she was always a touchstone for you. Fellow poet,
Fellow compositionist, fellow dreamer, fallen to leukeamia
Even after knowing her fourteen years long it still seemed wrong
That she had died, you know, “The good die young” even if you know
Wendy would nail you for stooping to cliché
And swooping yourself into too much sentimentality
About your own death (though this is something your future self still does).
After she died, you felt sad and at the same time
You felt strong about picking yourself up to better follow some of her paths.
You lucked out at that conference—a publisher wanted your next book
Of poems after reading a chap book you recently published,
Another wanted your text book singing the poetic electric.
Your presentations went well—and even your conference review
Really took off like a jet despite your bloated ego as cargo.
What you didn’t know was that your poems, dreams and reviews
Were only a small part of the sea of faces and word-going joy
In San Antonio, you couldn’t know how much
That particular 4C’s energy made you a better teacher
Not in still protesting and hurting from the war in Iraq,
Not in the memory of lost Alamo dead and not even
In those holy conference moments of remembering
And loving Wendy which memory now makes one
Of the most touching academic sessions you ever attended.
You have forgotten so much of what you gave to students
You still sometimes think it was all nothing. How could you know
What it means to so many that you’ve touched and known and miss
Until you die? Yes, Wendy even had to teach you that.
You may be a so called Salinger scholar and think
You know what it means when Holden ends Catcher by missing everyone,
But you didn’t really know it without Wendy
And that’s why I’m writing you now from her prompt.
The future is grim my sentence friend,
And if you don’t realize it then
Know now the haphazard meaning of life
Is living it, laughing it, and loving the zany moment
In which the future is beautiful enough if you let death focus you
Because if you let dying lovingly keep you on task Wendy might ask
How this letter turned you into something beyond all drafts?

The session ended with a few more folks remembering Wendy and their experiences with her.  We didn’t clap. We held back tears. We hugged. We cried with our hearts and minds for our loss of spirit. But with Wendy looking over us, we created a truly human and creative CCCC session that filled us with Wendy’s poetry, our own stories, and ways to keep remembering Wendy’s creative spirit in our teaching lives. The session will stand out in my 14 years of conference attendance as a great academic achievement because in the brief minutes of session F 36, we were very much thinking and writing together toward a better spirit for all in our field.


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