“The Bullet Surprise,” courtesy of “beta amphetamine”

My friend Beth Ann Fennelly has a new book of of poetry out, Unmentionables, which I’ve been salivating for since I finished her nonfiction book Great with Child a year ago. I haven’t ordered it yet, but I’ve been thinking about the book, so to whet my yearning I’ve picked up an old favorite, her book Tender Hooks, to browse the poems there. If “browse” is possible — it’s accidentally apt, her title, because while there’s nothing “tender” about her poems (they are sweet, but sweet the way of baker’s chocolate, sharp and honest and un-sugared), they do tend to reel me into them, to snare me so I have little choice but to read the next poem, and the next poem, and the next. She’s a hell of an angler, Beth Ann.

Anyway, in reading the next poem tonight, I found all over again a section that reminded me that this is my first week back in the classroom, teaching — what else? — freshman comp. It’s the second section of her disjointed but delicious poem “A Study of Writing Habits”:

2. It’s a Doggy-Dog World
for poets who grow up to be comp teachers
because our spelling is recked forever
so are our idioms and old wise tales

a student writes of the novel
that won “the Bullet Surprise”
it drives her “out of my mime”

It’s good to keep a sense of humor
if your name sounds like “beta amphetamine”
and you find yourself thinking
when you’re supposed to be sleeping
a bullet surprise would be fine


This afternoon, before I indulged in a Beth Ann Fennelly fix, I finished reading Robin McKinley’s Sunshine, a fascinating and well-written sci-fi/vampire novel. I liked her prose and her imagination enough to look her up online (my wife’s a HUGE fan, but I’m new to McKinley), and as I was browsing her FAQs, I found a neat little paragraph about what Anne Lamott famously calls “shitty first drafts”:

And you don’t have to think you’ve got it all right and perfect to be proud of what you’ve done. If you come to the end of a story or any piece of writing you’ve sweated and bled over, and you can look at it and say, I’ve done the best I know how to do, and really, it’s not at all bad — then you’ve done very well indeed. Give yourself a pat on the back — and then get on with the next story, the next thing.

If any of my students are reading this right now: this is what I mean by permission to screw up, permission to revise, and permission to move on.

Published by Samuel Snoek-Brown

I write fiction and teach college writing and literature. I'm the author of the story collection There Is No Other Way to Worship Them, the novel Hagridden, and the flash fiction chapbooks Box Cutters and Where There Is Ruin.

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