Derek Beaulieu’s ACAD Classes

Derek Beaulieu won the 2014 Robert Kroetsch Teaching Award with the projects below.

For the last 3 years I have instructed at the Alberta College of Art + Design (ACAD) teaching experimental writing, theory and creative writing. ACAD’s classes are intimate and focus on making. Studio courses are balanced with lectures and seminars, enabling students to apply theoretical stances within a creative, hands-on environment.

For 2013–14 I foregrounded student opportunities through guest speakers, student-led initiatives and discussion groups. My students regularly interface and workshop creative work though Facebook chat-groups, twitter discussions and email lists.

  • ENGLISH 216: Literature and Community

For this examination of contemporary Calgarian writing, I coordinated guest lectures from almost every author studied in class: Christian Bök, Helen Hajnoczky, Paul Zits, Eric Moschopedis, Mia Rushton, Caitlynn Cummings and Natalie Simpson. Each author donated their time. For their final, students interviewed members of Calgary’s art community. Interviews were published as PRY, a student-created chapbook. PRY was produced in an edition of 75 free copies—and is deposited in the ACAD library for future research. PRY was launched with a public event organized, catered and promoted entirely by students. Students created subtle interviews each probing what it means to be a member of an artistic community—and celebrated their own work.

  • ENGLISH 315A: 21st-Century Canadian Literature

Class centred on the discussion and hands-on creative interaction with such works of the Canadian avant-garde. The students’ final project was to create a piece of sound art in response to Decomp. Those projects were gathered on a CD entitled (Re)Verb launched with a 4-hour long event accompanied by a reading by Vancouver poet Jordan Scott (Scott’s attendance was funded by Toronto’s Coach House Books). The event was coordinated and promoted entirely by students and was attended by ACAD students, staff, administration, and by members of the Calgarian community. All CDs were given away. Local media covered the event and student performances will be archived online at Coach House Books. I was astonished by the considered variety with which students treated Decomp—lush sound collages, field recordings, readings of Decomp as recorded through handcrafted glass vessels—every piece was beautiful. This course emphasized creative responses to creative writing and the students consistently excelled.

  • ENGLISH 214: Creative Writing

Typewriters in the ClassroomIn a semester-long experiment, ENGL214 students create all their assignments on portable manual typewriters. Using typewriters donated by the local community, students study the role of technology in 20th and 21st-Century writing practices. Augmenting theory-driven seminars, students use typewriters to create a body of gallery-ready work. Assignments will be grounded in the work of exemplars such as dom sylvester houèdard (a Benedictine monk who created delicate concrete poems on an Olivetti), Jen Bervin (an American fibre artist who creates weaving patterns on a manual typewriter), Charles Olson (the American poet who argued the typewriter allowed poets a performative “stave and bar”) and Darren Wershler (the Concordia-based author of The Iron Whim: a Fragmented history of typewriting). Crowd-sourcing typewriters has resulted in local radio and newspaper coverage and discussions with members of Calgary city counsel and the mayor. ENGL214 is over-enrolled with students clamoring for additional sections.

 

These endeavors were accomplished without financial or organizational aid from my department or my institution—they demonstrate what is possible with a shoestring budget and grassroots organization.

I ask students to visualize hypothetical maps of what they define as poetic and what they feel they could potentially accomplish as authors. At a course’s end, the students and I add territory to those maps, pushing against the undefined spaces where previously there were only boundaries.

Creative writing students are our peers. They are members of a larger community of writers who inform the discursive nature of our practice. As a writer and instructor I strive to enhance my peers’ work though conversation and mentorship always with an eye to making the quality of the writing, and the conversation, better.

Derek with TypewritersAuthor of eight books of poetry (most recently a volume of his selected poetry entitled Please, No More Poetry), four volumes of conceptual fiction (most recently the short fiction collection Local Colour: ghosts, variations) and over 175 chapbooks, derek beaulieu’s work is consistently praised as some of the most radical and challenging in contemporary Canadian writing.