Roger the “bearded dragon” (aka pogona, aka lizard) was quite taken with James Joyce. He was particularly moved by the famous final paragraph of “The Dead,” as were Pumpkin, Maria, Charlie, BooBoo/Salem, Fred, and Lil Pete, other pets of students in my Irish Revival course. You can see in the zoom-picture how eager the animals were to discuss the story’s ambiguities.
I miss our classroom with its beautiful view; I miss the immediacy of connection possible when my students and I are face to face, and all the semiotic signals given by students’ posture and body language are visible. And I miss the wonderful women in Venture Café who make the lattes and cappuccinos: Christine, Nicole, and Lisa.
What remote teaching offers, however, is another kind of intimacy, views of our private spaces and their books, pillows, posters, pictures, and pets. It also offers a sense of triumph, the knowledge that with the quasi-miraculous aid of technology we’ve been able to continue the discussions we started in January, even though we’re far apart.
In my other class, Women Poets, the distance was even greater, over three-thousand miles, but the intimacy was still there. My students had been looking forward to meeting Irish poet Colette Bryce, whose poems we had studied for two weeks. But we were all sequestered in our homes, so Bryce couldn’t meet us on campus, shake everyone’s hands, and sign copies of her book The Whole and Rain-domed Universe. To overcome the obstacles of the times, however, we held a remote poetry reading (sponsored, like other non-remote readings, by the Marie Frazee-Baldassarre Professorship).
We saw the poet’s own living room in her house in Newcastle, Northumberland, England, as she read the poems we’d discussed and then answered questions for almost half an hour, just as she would have in our non-virtual presence. We also heard her doorbell ring. And finally, we got to view the inspiration for one of her poems, a terrifying rubber bullet picked up from the street after the 1972 Bloody Sunday killings in Derry, Northern Ireland. Bryce walked over to the shelf where it rested and carried it across the room to her computer’s camera. That direct, or almost direct, confrontation with an object that is part of political history and literary history had a force greater than PowerPoint could convey.
The photographs that accompany this account of teaching by Zoom don’t include all of my students, but to those few people left who haven’t experienced Zoom, they will convey the small rectangles through which students and professors relate to one another these days.