Friday, October 26, 2012

The Progymnasmata and The Modern Essay

Early this morning I wrote a response to a client wondering how to "sell" the Progymnasmata to parents interested in preparing their students to write "modern essays."  Below, in its email-y roughness but edited a bit for this post, is my response to her:

I have been very pleased that the Progymnasmata actually turn into some modern essay types with a bit of stylistic spin (and sometimes without it). For example, Frank D'Angelo (Composition in the Classical Tradition) uses a modern magazine essay, a eulogy or remembrance of Ralph Ellison, as an example of encomium/praise, and it's amazing to me how much the magazine piece follows the classic form.
Ultimately a student is supposed to use the smaller tools of the Progymnasmata in any way his rhetorical needs call for, and a student who can rattle off a quick proverb amplification knows just what to do when a typical quote-based SAT prompt comes around. The typical modern essay calls for perhaps definition (easy to use the amplification principles of proverb and anecdote to explore that), description (the principles if not the form of the classic exercise are appropriate here), comparison (there's a Progym for that, though more focused than the generic essay needs), thesis-support, and so forth. I think the speech-in-character is beautifully brilliant for a creative spin on a book report. Any student who can do what the Progym call for is well equipped to do high-level college essay writing, though some practice with the usual forms is not a bad idea, so students can make the leap.
I'm currently about to finish the book Racing Odysseus: A College President Becomes a Freshman Again, about a college president (not really a scholar but an administrator) who takes a sabbatical to go to St. John's College, the Great Books college in Maryland. He explains that St. Johns students go from the very old-fashioned, literally antiquated, Great Books curriculum there into all manner of jobs and graduate programs, including in the sciences, medicine, and so forth. I can see how they could, though I want to talk to my husband, a physics professor, about that. :-) In my experience the students who have done well in the Progym are over-prepared for whatever college writing will bring to them. Dorothy Sayers says in "The Lost Tools of Learning" that deep study of any one discipline can teach one how to study any other, and thus she champions Latin as the gateway to all learning. Memoria Press is grabbing hold of that principle in its curriculum, though I'm a little wary of it for those interested in the sciences and math.
For the modern essay as most of us know it, I can recommend Lucile Vaughan Payne's classic The Lively Art of Writing (Mentor Series)
I was dubious when Veritas Press Scholars Academy wanted me to use it for the Composition II course I developed (with a co-teacher and friend), but I'm in my third year of working with it and think Payne has some great principles for students needing to learn how to build a thesis-support essay. The instruction in this cheap little book (or portions of it) could be of great use as a supplement to the Progymnasmata.
How's that for a pep talk?

Friday Fictioneers: "When?"

Welcome again to my entry for Friday Fictioneers. We've had a change of administration (Thanks for previous service, Madison, and thanks for taking over, Rochelle!), so I'm not quite sure how to handle the links, but here goes anyway.


It’s nigh unto noon and still we haven’t started outside. The dog needs a bath, the flower bed needs weeding, the birdbath needs mucking out.  But still we sit here, and I’ll have to peel my forearm off the tablecloth when I do get up.

The coffee in the pot is treacly, just at the start of the scorching dregs.

That little tree needs to get planted, too, probably out near the road, where one day it will bud and flower and glow and flame for the cars driving by.

But who will live here to enjoy it from this side?

101 words

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Friday Fictioneers: "Day Trip"

This week's Friday Fictioneers adventure is just plain silly, but a little creepy silly.  Enjoy, and click that link above to join us!  (You may need to enlarge the photo to see my character.)

"Day Trip"

“Wuhl now, ma’am, I done brought my chicken snack from KFC, like they told me in this here paper, and I’m a lookin’ for’ard t’ seein’ that there Jefferson Starship thang. But whut I don’ quite recollect is whether I shoulda brung a backpack and sit-upon like this here little lady behind me has got. I thought it was s’posed to be just a afternoon outin’, and we was gonna be back in time fer our reg’lar evenin’ routine at home.

“Could you tell me if I’m proper equipped to go see them friendly ET’s? Heard ‘bout ‘em nearly all my life!”

102 words

Friday, October 12, 2012

Friday Fictioneers: "Oasis"

It's time for Friday Fictioneers again!  I like to take a look at the photo prompt when it comes out on Wednesday and then just meditate on it a bit.  On a walk yesterday I imagined a setting in Mexico with a chihuahua and a cat and a bird, but by this morning when I looked again it became something different.

As always, I welcome feedback, including suggestions and impressions and approbations. :-)


Hard-baked, blinding white, chalky air, throbbing heat. Where has she brought me, my archaeologist love? She promised Rome on the way, just one day—we scattered pigeons on the square, craned our necks in the Pantheon as rain misted down on us, and I gasped at the art.

Now in Tunisia it is only the oppressive heat, never mind that it’s almost easy to kick up a Roman coin on one of the old roads. But I have a plant on the roof, and I found a can of blue paint for the door, so I’m sheltered here.

99 words

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Friday Fictioneers: "An 'Experience' "

Here's this week's attempt at a 100-word story based on a photo prompt for Friday Fictioneers.  I have gone over the word count significantly the last few times and decided to go spare this time. Please join us if you'd like!

An "Experience"

I was dubious about the lighthouse for our next B&B. The last was a comfy pink Victorian with a creaky fan and a claw-foot tub, crowded mantels, and tasseled velvet.

But here the seagulls screamed and swooped, and the spotlight high above us groaned. Our hostess, flecked with iridescent scales, thumped down the platter of fresh boiled fish, gestured to the lump of butter and the bottle of hot sauce by the tureen of hot grits, and grinned at us, arms akimbo. A sticky gust of bright wind blew open the shutters as we scraped back our wooden stools.

99 words