Drawing Out My Language Biography

For my senior-level Advanced Composition class today, students and I had a section on ethnopoetics in FieldWorking by Sunstein and Cheri-Strater.


My students are writing a series of ethnographic papers on a subculture they’ve selected, and now we are studying the role of insider language. ┬áThe authors of FieldWorking argue that ethnopoetics (that is, the process of converting an informant’s language into verse) can be a productive way of focusing on the rhythm, the vocabulary, and the emotional timbre of a subculture.

Because I wanted to have students practice ethnopoetics in class today, and because I begin each class meeting with an in-class freewriting exercise, I asked my students to warm up a bit by writing informally about their relationships with poetry.

As I was writing along with them, I sketched out the image below in an attempt to capture my relationship with poetry.

My Relatiionship with Language

 This sketch helped me reach back into my language biography to recognize

1. how my family (particularly my father, uncles, and cousins) contributed to my early enjoyment of language via jokes, puns, and wordplay;

2. how my college years helped me develop an interest in metaphor and drawing;

3. how through my ongoing practice in poetry, I’ve focused on writing concisely and with constant concern for the order of words and lines as they fall down the page;

4. how, finally, all of these aspects of my language biography show up in the cartoons I now draw.