WRITING BY WRINGING
This morning, thinking of my students’ struggles with their current essay assignment, I took my copy of Keats from the shelf and went back to this phrase from “Ode to Psyche”: “… wrung / By sweet enforcement”. I guess I was led to those words because it does seem like my often convoluted and scholarly assignments often require words to be “wrung” from the students, somewhat like my grandmother used to wring the moisture out of freshly washed clothes before hanging them to dry. I recall watching her send the wet clothes through the “wringer” to press the water out, and as I thought about my anxious students toiling over their sentences, I pictured them sending their ideas through mental wringers in order to twist out a few good words. It’s true that there has to be a bit of squashing, smashing, pushing, compressing, and crushing when young writers (or any writers) attempt to force their unfettered and undisciplined thoughts into comprehensible paragraphs. It’s not easy to wring out a presentable essay. It requires some sturdy “enforcement” by my students, but the good news is that the enforcement can be “sweet”, as Keats puts it – can be as easy on the students as the old-fashioned wringer was on my grandmother’s delicate blouses. She watched the wringer carefully to make sure the pressure was distributed evenly, and the students must regulate the pressure they place on themselves as they slowly roll out their essays. Not too much, not too little – just the right amount of sweet wringing to produce paragraphs as sparkling as washed clothes.