Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Tatting! Time to Learn Something New!

A Collection of Tatted Doodads, by Amy Lynn Hess
I learned about tatting ten years ago or so as I sat in a waiting room with my grandmother.  A woman sitting near us was tatting, and when my grandmother noticed, she struck up a conversation with her while watching her tat.

My great grandmother and great-great grandmother had been tatters, but my grandmother had never learned, so it excited her to see someone doing it.  A few weeks ago I came across two tatting shuttles with some of my grandmother's crafting supplies, so she must have been inspired to try tatting after our chance meeting with the tatter in the waiting room. 

Shuttles in hand, and always looking for something new to learn, I decided to give it a try, too.  It's always a great idea for teachers to be a bit humbled by the learning process.

Getting Started: Tatting as a Beginning

I began looking for basic information where most of my students start: I searched the Internet and started following along with some of the videos and tatting instructions by TattedTreasures.  The videos are both on YouTube and on the TattedTreasures blog, so I could read and watch all of the great how-to information in either one of those places.  I also found tatting videos by mytattingplace on YouTube to be very helpful once I finished the video series by TattedTreasures.

My first attempt at tatting yielded knots, but my second attempt produced a cute little ring.  One ring lead to two, but then I got cocky, jumped ahead thinking it was easy, and ended up with another string of bad knots.  I tried again.  I continued to follow along with videos and instructions online,  but I felt I needed to see more diagrams and patterns.  I was fatigued by over-searching online and not finding what I wanted, so I ordered a book called Learn to Tat by Janette Baker.

Tatted Rings, by Amy Lynn Hess

Tatting Terminology

So far, I think the videos online have been the most helpful, although having the book gives me an idea of what terms to search online.  For example, searching "tatted hearts" brought me to a whole host of things I didn't want to see, but I did eventually learn to search "dimpled ring" or "dimpled Yorkie," which uses a tiny "picot" or a "mock ring" technique.  A "double knot" is not the same as a "double stitch," which is the same as a "hitch knot," but not a "lark's head," and making a "split ring" with a needle is not the same as making one with with a shuttle or two shuttles.  Joining a circle of rings back to itself requires a very careful join, and some recommend the "folded join," but others do not. 

In other words, via trial and error, and with a lot of time spent searching, watching, reading, and tatting little doodads, I'm getting there.

Beginning Tatting, by Amy Lynn Hess

The Learning Process

As I'm learning, I have noticed that the types of mistakes I'm making are changing.  At first, I didn't know what to call the mistakes I was making, but after I was able to identify the mistake, I stopped making it.  It's also very true that having the right tool for the job is essential, but first I had to know the tools that are available, both learning tools and the tools and techniques for tatting.  Most importantly, slowing down and covering the basics until the basics are learned has ensured that my forward momentum doesn't, both literally and figuratively,  end up in knots.

As stated above, it's always a great learning experience when a teacher can truly learn something new from the very beginning.  It not only, in this case, has taught me the very satisfying art of tatting, but also has reminded me about the learning and teaching process; something I can take back to the classroom with me.

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the writer for permission to republish the text or images on this blog.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

I Hate My College Classes! Help!

An unengaged student sleeps on a desk next to a pile of newspapers.
Bored in Class?  Image by Cristiano Betta
I admit it freely.  I am a terrible student. 

I inadvertently make faces while professors are lecturing.  I doodle or stare at the clock.  I judge and compare professors' teaching abilities.  I lose patience when they repeat themselves or tediously beat the deadest horses.  I become Socratic, and I ask questions beyond the scope of the lesson to alleviate boredom.  I am guilty.

However, because of my past sins, I have learned a few ways to get through even the dullest or worst-taught courses.  There are three secrets to getting though a bad college course: show up, show off, and show initiative.

1. Show up!  Yes, even to the most tedious of your classes.

Showing up to class is of the utmost importance.  If the class or professor has disappointed you, the best thing to do is to keep showing up and giving him or her the chance to be redeemed.  Additionally, although you may not like the professor's teaching style in the classroom, showing up to class gives that professor a chance to get to know you, which makes him or her much more likely to help you out during office hours.  Trust me, students who skip class all semester and ask for help in the eleventh hour aren't going to make it.  Students who come to class every session and pop in to see the professor during office hours as the semester progresses are going to get the help they need.

2. Show off!  I'm not talking handstands; I'm talking papers.

If your knowledge base is beyond that of the majority of the other students in your class, chances are you are bored with the class.  Or maybe the topic is boring.  Well, the truth is you're going to be bored with jobs, people, circumstances, and situations throughout your entire life, so it's your job to find a way to get over it.  You can get over it by spending more time in your head, considering advanced concepts and planning your papers.  Take excellent notes during class that include not only key concepts from the lecture, but your own ideas.  Jot down potential thesis statements or hypothesis for investigation.   Create your outline and begin an annotated bibliography.   Find a way to make the research topic relevant to you.  Leave regurgitation and book reports to the masses, and use your papers as an opportunity to show off, stretch your knowledge base, and challenge yourself.  Would you be working on your paper if you weren't in class?  No?  Then go to class, take notes, and work on your original, inspiring, super-wow paper.

3. Show initiative!  Lead group projects and discussions.

Picture this: You've been furiously working on your thesis statement up in the first row when suddenly the room gets loud.  You look around.  It's not time to leave, but students are moving around.  It's time for group discussion. Instead of heading for the bathroom or hiding under your seat, take the opportunity to participate.  Really participate and put your leadership skills to the test.  It's something new and different, so it may wake you up.  You also get a chance to share your ideas with the group and get feedback.  Someone may say something insightful that changes your paper.  You might get an opportunity to explain or teach a concept.  Don't be bitter about it, and certainly don't get pompous.  Just help your classmates.  They need you, and it's a learning opportunity for both you and them.  Saying something or explaining something to someone out loud is much different than just simply knowing it "in your head."  Group discussion questions are great practice for essay questions on exams hint hint.

So, the next time you find yourself edging toward being a terrible student like me, just remember there are ways to turn it around.  Always show up for class, use what you can from class to complete original research that interests you, and take opportunities to get involved when they come your way.  It'll make your semester go by that much more smoothly.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Ars Poetica: When a Poet's Fly is More Than a Fly

Visceral details and figurative language doesn't have to be pretty.  Take flies on a fly strip, for example.  The image isn't pretty; it's just the most apt.
Like a Fly, "Like a Little Rock"
Image by Maggie McCain
Ron Riekki's poem "Marquette Branch, Oct. 26, 2009" published in his poetry chapbook Leave Me Alone I'm Bleeding, is an exceptional example of Ars Poetica, a poem about how to write poetry.

What is Ars Poetica?  What Does Ars Poetica Mean?

The term Ars Poetica stems from Horace, who wrote a poem entitled "Ars Poetica" “sometime between 20 B.C.E. and 13 B.C.E.” (Academy of American Poets, 1997, para. 1). In the original, Horace offers advice to other writers about how to write good poetry. Over time, the term Ars Poetica has come to be used to describe any poem that offers advice about how to write poetry.

There are many famous examples of Ars Poetica, including poems by Billy Collins, Emily Dickinson, John Keats, and William Carlos Williams. However, none are better at explaining the poetic concepts of concrete diction and metaphor like Ron Riekki’s "Marquette Branch, Oct. 26, 2009." In this poem, he teaches the reader that in a poem, a fly can be much more than a fly.

Teaching is the Essence of Ars Poetica

In Riekki’s poem, the speaker of the poem is teaching prisoners how to write poetry. This situation makes the poem an obvious example of Ars Poetica. What makes it such an effective example is that the poet has seamlessly integrated his advice for the prisoner-poets into a dialogue form that allows for the prisoner-poets to learn from the speaker. Simultaneously, this allows the reader of the poem to learn from the poet.

The two specific elements of poetry this poem teaches are the concepts of concrete diction and metaphor. The lesson hinges upon a hinge device the poet uses in the final stanza. The final stanza of this poem contains an ironic hinge: The speaker has a realization about poetry while having a dialogue with one of the prisoners. That hinge device draws attention to the lesson presented to the readers, the lesson that concrete diction and metaphor are essential concepts in understanding poetry.

Seeing the Everyday Tangible is the Essence of Concrete Diction

Concrete diction is a literary term that refers to words and phrases that name material things, tangible items, things that can be touched (Shakel & Ridl, 2008, pg. 1612). 

By offering advice and examples, the speaker teaches the prisoners and readers the definition of concrete diction. The first piece of advice the speaker offers the prisoners about concrete diction is in the first three lines of the poem: “First, I tell them not to write the obvious./ Don’t say that they’re prisoners./ Show that they’re prisoners” (Riekki, 2010, pg. 14). The speaker encourages the prisoners, in very accessible language, to move beyond the stereotype or cliché of “prison” and to find new ways to present the life they lead every day. This “showing” the speaker advises requires the use of concrete diction, a tangible piece of their everyday lives.

In the second stanza, the speaker offers the concrete, tangible example of “this fly strip” that “looks like it hasn’t been changed/ in eight years” (lines 7-9). He goes on to describe “all these flies” (line 14), and a “hard” (line 17) fly that is “like a little rock” (line 18), which are all example of the type of concrete diction required for effective comparison.

The Surprising Comparison is the Essence of Metaphor

A metaphor is a direct comparison that surprises the reader, and perhaps makes the reader think of something in a new or surprising way. A poet uses metaphor when he or she finds points of comparison between two things that are often thought of as dissimilar (Shakel & Ridl, 2008, pg. 1618).

At the end of Riekki’s "Marquette Branch, Oct. 26, 2009," the idea of concrete diction that was established early in the poem is used to teach the prisoners and readers the effective use of metaphor when one of the prisoners compares all of the prisoners to the “rotting” (Riekki, 2010, pg. 14, line 15) flies on the fly strip.

With a simple, “That’s us” (line 19) and “We’re those flies” (line 21), the prisoner, Troy, teaches the real lesson about poetry to both the speaker and the reader. Riekki’s prisoner, Troy, doesn’t say the prisoners are “like” the flies. He opts for the more poignant use of the metaphorical direct comparison, thereby demonstrating for the reader the use of metaphor as an effective literary device. Alongside the speaker, the reader has his or her realization about the use of effective metaphor. Excited by the realization, the speaker replies to the line, “We’re those flies” (line 21) with “Right, I say,/ exactly,/ if you understand that, you understand poetry” (lines 22-24).

Ron Riekki’s "Marquette Branch, Oct. 26, 2009" is an exceptional example of Ars Poetica, a poem about how to write poetry. Through the careful use of dialogue, irony, concrete diction, and metaphor, the poet teaches not only the meaning of these devices, but offers poignant examples.

Want to read more about poetry?  Try

Create a Poetry Chapbook
Publish Your Own Poetry Chapbook
The Shoe as Image in the Poetry of Amy Lowell and Charles Simic


  • Academy of American Poets. (1997). Ars Poetica: Poems about Poetry. Retrieved from http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/20035
  • Riekki, R. (2010). Leave Me Alone I'm Bleeding. Tucker, GA: GypsyDaughter.
  • Shakel, P. & Ridl, J. (2008). Approaching Literature: Writing, Reading, Thinking. (2nd ed.). Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin's.

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the author for permission to republish.