Friday, April 27, 2018

Bent Double

by Jean Roberta

“Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.”

These are the opening lines of “Dulce et Decorum Est,” an anti-war poem by Wilfred Owen, a British soldier who was killed in a gas attack a fortnight before the Armistice that ended the first World War. The title comes from “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” (It is sweet and fitting to die for your country), a line from a poem by the Roman poet Horace, which schoolboys were taught in the early twentieth century – and of course, ancient Roman patriotism translated easily into “modern” British patriotism.

Why am I quoting this here? Because this is one of the poems I taught in the winter semester which just ended. With virtual piles of student essays (sent on-line) still waiting for my attention, I feel as if I am trudging towards my distant rest.

In reality, the semester officially ends on April 30, which means that all my marks have to be submitted by then.

And of course, May 1 is the deadline for Twisted Sheets, the multi-partner erotic anthology that our Lisabet will be editing for the Erotic Readers and Writers Association, and for which I hoped to revise a story. At this point, I don’t see how this could be done.

May 1 is also the deadline for a call-for-submissions from Lethe Press for “The Decadents,” historical gay-male stories. I don’t often write about male-on-male, but I discovered the thinly-disguised gay sensibility of Oscar Wilde as a teenager, and loved it. I had a good (IMO) idea several months ago for a story based on the actual acquisition by the British Museum of a large fragment of a statue of Pharaoh Ramses II (also called Ozymandias, his Greek name) in 1816. (This event inspired Percy Shelley to write a sonnet.) I haven’t had time to write this story, though I still have the notes.

And I’m still coughing like a hag, which is an unflattering term for women of my vintage.

Last week, I was diagnosed by a doctor with Influenza B, which kept me in bed, exhausted, while the secretary of the English Department supervised one of my exams. I’m feeling better now, but the tickle in my lungs won’t go away.

So far, I’ve discovered two plagiarists among my students. The standard protocol is to send proof of the plagiarism to the Associate Dean, who hands down a sentence (usually a grade of 0 for the essay). Today I have to bring the second student’s essay and the book review he plagiarized to the relevant office.

At the other extreme, I had a small, intimate class of talented young writers for Expository Prose (non-fiction) in the Creative Writing program. As much as I enjoyed their company, their work is demanding in its own way. They wrote a lot, and they deserve more advanced editing than do the unwilling first-year students who hated having to write anything. I’m tempted just to give all the creative writing students top marks and say “Excellent!” on all their essays (files), but this would be unfair to those who want to know how they could improve – and I think all ten of them do.

The creative writing class had a workshop format, so they all critiqued each other’s work. So I already know that one of the major projects is by a disabled student who wrote about contemplating suicide, regularly, in his teens, and why he ultimately decided not to do it. This piece is emotionally demanding.

Thank the Goddess (or Whomever), I have no classes scheduled for the spring or summer, though the head of the English Department is following the advice of a Dean in “volunteering” me for more committee work because apparently I don’t do enough for the university!

So I feel as if I’m trudging towards my distant rest in a smoky landscape. I’ll report back from there the next time it’s my turn to post.


  1. Dear Jean -- please remember that if you do not have your health, you can't do anything else! The flu is no joke.

    With regard to the Twisted Sheets anthology, I am not the sole editor. All of the Storytime editors will contribute.

    For the Lethe antho -- maybe you could contact Steve Berman to get an extension.

    And for your talented young expository writing students, why not give them all A's and promise them more detailed, unofficial critiques later?

    Hang in there!

  2. Thank you, Lisabet. Re Twisted Sheets, I'll see if I can do anything by May 1, and I will contact Steve B. to ask for an extension. You're right. I can't do anything if I get sick again, so I just have to demand time and rest. (There is a flurry of events at the LGBT club this weekend, for which Mirtha & I are expected to clean the place, plus a wiccan Maypole dance & potluck supper, plus the AGM of a native-youth org that we were invited to, plus a play that a friend of ours is performing in -- but I've already started saying no, no, no.)

  3. Lisabet's advice looks sound to me.

    I'm reminded that I once taught Shelley's "Ozymandias" when I had a summer internship after my junior year in college at a program for a group of advanced (and rich) high school students. The experience on the whole didn't persuade me to go into teaching high school students as a career, but if anything came close, it was seeing how the poem blew their minds and opened their eyes to what poetry can be.

  4. Continue to say "no" until you feel recovered. Sad but true that us older folks take longer to fully recover from whatever we catch. I used to call my kids, when they were younger, "viral amplifiers," since they'd be sick for a couple of days, then be up and running just about the time I was dying from what they'd passed on to me. Teachers have to put up with that also. Be kind to yourself and rest up!

  5. Thank you for commenting, Sacchi and Fiona. I've finished grading for the semester! However, I think my story for Twisted Sheets is a lost cause, especially since the deadline for that antho has already been extended. I can't do everything.

  6. Wow, Jean! Good luck going the distance on all these things you're trying to accomplish!

  7. Plagiarism really is an ever-increasing problem for academic institutions, hopefully today we have technologies to detect it.

  8. We do have technologies to detect plagiarism from on-line sources, but they aren't perfect. It's still possible for students to get English-major friends to edit their work, or plagiarize from print sources, and those are harder to find.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.