Judy Slater


Irving Lite

About 10 years ago, (who can remember anymore?) when you were teaching one of your final undergraduate poetry night classes, I attended as an auditor. It was a “rambunctious”

class full of high and low humor that ricocheted around the room.  I learned a lot about revision and you helped “point up” a poem that later was chosen for Ted Kooser’s website, all this occurring in a spirit of Saturnalia. Here are some moments:

A sweet young woman reads her poem "Euphoria.”

Another asks, “Didn't you write a poem called Euphoria before?”

"No this is my first one."

Someone questions the phrase "soul tingle.”

"Oh, no, I'm not going to analyze this for you. You can all analyze it. I'm not going to say anything about it. Either you get it or you don't. I'm not going to help you with it.”

Irving reads a student poem:

[woman]takes over your mind

using the rambunctious behind

and comments “It's hard not to break up on that line.”

A woman named Fabiola (and wasn’t she just!) tells the class: You're fortunate to have me here to explain my point of view. If the poem's in the book, you just have to read it.

On a short poem

Paces shorten

Like glances

Before leaving

Irving: it's a sort of a haiku, a short one, is there a name for that? a Hi?

On an unintelligible poem

Student: I like this.

Irving: Well you can like it but do you understand it? In the best of all possible worlds, which is the world of poetry, we can have both sound and sense.

Student: I hate to agree with you. 

Irving: You'll come to like it. You won't be able to wait until you can.

Student apologetically introducing his poem:

It's not about relationships. 

Irving: Thank God.

One student carefully critiquing another: If there was a semicolon where there's a colon, I was thinking that might be cool, too.

On a long poem:

Irving: we can't read this in class; it's too long, as long as 4 students.

A defensive student after a critique of a disjointed poem:

It's not meant to be momentous.

Irving: Well, at least it should be a moment.

Irving: Should we linger over this? Should we continue to linger over this?

Irving to a student who insists on rhyming.

Take the pledge. Raise your right hand. Repeat. I, Aleisha, promise never to rhyme again. [a student asks, what's the penalty if she does?] Irving: or else I have to appear before my Maker clad only in my poor rhymes.

A young woman reads “Ghetto Love Story” that has ass in every stanza, (hoeing ass, sorry ass, bad ass, etc.) Another raises her hand in critique: I think the poem has too many asses in it. Next time, maybe put in a few tits.

Helen Conkling remembers with glee a class of yours in which everyone laughed at such length that the class had to be dismissed.

As you proceed into your next decade, we, your fortunate students and friends, salute your wit and intelligence, your warmth and generosity. May your knees and hips carry you Forward.

Best Wishes, Judy