Radical Pedagogy: Modernist Poets in the University

This last semester Karis Shearer was an affiliated scholar at the University of Alberta’s Canadian Literature Centre, where she is working on a book project called Radical Pedagogy: Modernist Poets in the University. She is conducting research on poets and writers who were hired as professors to teach literature before creative writing was taught at the university level.

“What I’m interested in is what their attitudes were towards creative writing and creative production. How did they see creative writing in relationship to their job as English professors? [I am also curious about] if and whether they fostered creativity amongst their students with in context of the English literature classroom,” Dr.  Shearer says.

At UBC Vancouver creative writing didn’t become a degree-granting program till 1965. Dr. Shearer is collecting recordings, lesson plans, assignments, anything that gives us a clue to how writer-scholars taught before 1965. She is also looking at how (or if) they fostered creativity in the class room. Her book focuses specifically on Louis Dudek, AJ M Smith, Irving Layton, Earle Birney, Jay Macpherson, Sheila Watson, and Willford Watson.  Sheila and Willford taught at in Edmonton, and the archives of their classes drew Shearer to the University of Alberta to conduct research.  Her goal is to trace the radical pedagogy was and whether they saw a need for creative writing programs in the university. As she says,  the project is “not a history or a complete study of the development of creative writing from its origins to now but [rather] a spot light focus on different writers as negotiating the [professor-poet] relationship.” 

 But Dr. Shearer’s work with modernist poetry doesn’t end with her Radical Pedagogy book.  She is also developing Poetry Okanagan Sound Archive (POSA). The POSA project focuses on the archival recordings of Professor Warren Tallman,  who taught at UBC from 1960 to 1970 UBC. He interviewed many  of the poets that are at the heart of the Radical Pedagogy book project. He recorded his interviews and some of his classes, which Dr. Shearer and her research assistants, are using to create the digital online archive. In the coming months, she hopes to augment the original recordings by interviewing some of the poets that Tallman had talked to or taught. The POSA project’s focus to take recording and make them accessible on a website.