Charlene began her career substitute teaching, then joining the faculty at the WIN Learning Center for adults in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Back in graduate school at Ohio State, she taught freshman composition. She was on the English faculty for ten years at Bishop Watterson High School in Columbus, where she founded the school’s literary magazine, Genre, and taught ninth grade English, Creative Writing, Speech, and Advanced Placement English.
Charlene joined the English faculty at Columbus College of Art and Design in 1987. She felt lucky to be there, pinching herself daily while walking up the ramp to Kinney Hall. For over thirty years, she sometimes chaired the English and Philosophy Department, created courses like Film and Literature, Word and Image, The Artist as Protagonist, and Road Trip! The Picaresque Novel, met many visiting artists and writers, listened to numbers of critiques, and had conversations with painters that inspired some of her courses. She enlisted the help of artists and designers when her projects veered into the visual realm. Her students were like no others anywhere with their manifold gifts.
Teaching was a huge part of her life, yet the slide into retirement has been easy, perhaps because she continues to teach occasional writing workshops and is active in various organizations. She is always learning, always a novitiate in the religion of poetry. She has a daily yoga practice, picks up her guitar every few years or so, then neglects it again, hikes and takes country drives with her husband, walks the dog forever, attends family reunions, and loves watching films, especially old screwball comedies, the Marx Brothers, French New Wave, and Italian Neo-Realism. Her favorite films are Jean Cocteu’s Orphee and Lasse Hallström’s My Life as Dog in addition to the Marx Brothers’ thirteen films.
Reading is her drug of choice. She loves the 19th Century American writers best. Whitman reminds her she is a Transcendentalist. But in truth, Charlene enjoys reading fiction from all over the world, admires many contemporary writers, and most of all the gifted makers of poems. She studies them for their ecstasy, labor, perseverance, craft: how they dance with the ineffable. Whitman is her rabbi, Dickinson her therapist. Hopkins, Celan, Hayden, Kinnell, Olds, Levine, Stern, Simic, Wilner, Moss, Forché, Hirshfield, and many many others teach and teach her.
Here is an art-school specific philosophy of teaching she wrote during her tenure at CCAD:
“My teaching philosophy boils down to this: I hope to help students develop not only their technical skills–their ability to write, read, and think, but also their sensitivity, respect, and reverence for the lives they will encounter, work for, influence, and impact with their art and design skills. Simply put and in extreme cases, I try to make it impossible for future Leni Riefenstahls to work for future Hitlers when they photograph, film, animate, advertise, sculpt, paint, draw, and design.
So I assign literary texts and films whose esthetic content and craft hold up under close scrutiny, texts that also develop cultural scaffolding, helping students grow savvy about the social, political, and artistic traditions they are joining so they will have much to engage with and sometimes push against when they speak, write, and make things. I try to assign works that will ignite a flame that will burn for a lifetime, helping them understand their own and others’ humanity, develop joie de vivre with sensitivity and the capacity for compassion and courage so they will be able, when necessary, to speak truth to power.
“I believe it is important for students to understand that they are art- makers when they write too, that in English classes they make pieces of literary art called essays and poems and stories. They need to develop a vocabulary of literary craft so they know how to manipulate the resources of this sister art in order to say what they need to say both memorably and well. I encourage and require a lot of reading because it’s the best way to develop as a writer, in addition to writing and revising. Students must sometimes counsel one-on-one with serious practitioners of literary craft, looking together closely at their writing, in addition to sifting peer critiques of their own work and articulating critiques of their peers’ work, which helps them develop as critics and editors, ultimately, of their own writing. Finally, I hope to help students discover and exploit the synergy between writing and art-making and designing.
“I try to create a classroom atmosphere that feels safe, where students are respected and free to express themselves and respond to one another. This does not mean that their assumptions and complacencies won’t be challenged, nor that the work will be easy, nor that I will patronize them with unearned inflated grades. My classes tend to raise the bar. They consist mostly of lecture/discussions and close reading of texts and films, with some drafting, exercises, group work, and student presentations. During lecture/discussions, I share scholarly information, and students help us all learn with their own knowledge, insights, and questions. It isn’t my class; it is theirs.
“I love low-tech chalkboards and use them often; I find our high tech classrooms handy for showing images and films, as do students for giving presentations. I try to monitor students’ stress, sometimes working comic relief into lectures or assignments when the doctor orders.
“CCAD, without a doubt, offers students exceptional opportunities to develop and refine art and design-making skills. The Liberal Arts, about one third of their course work, help shape and temper the human beings plying their talents and craft, and English courses, along with philosophy, the social sciences, the hard sciences, and art history are a big part of that. Without attention to minds and hearts, talent and skills may mean little, or worse.”
Charlene was involved in extra-curricular teaching both before and after retirement: Poetry workshops for Humanities in Medicine; Poetry workshops for Medicine and Arts at OSU; Workshop leader, Ashland University; Ekphrastic Workshop at the Columbus Cultural Arts Center coinciding with the Sight of Music exhibition; Workshop leader for the Ohio Poetry Association spring retreat at Malabar Farm; Featured Presenter for Buster Keaton and the Marx Brothers at the Buster Keaton Celebration in Iola Kansas 2015; Guest speaker at Writer’s Ink; Panelist, NeMLA: “Trickster: (Re-)constructing the World from its Edges;” Visiting author, (Harpo Marx as Trickster) at Upper Arlington and Bexley High Schools; featured presenter at Thurber House Literary Picnic: Harpo Marx as Trickster and poems; MAUS symposium panelist at CCAD; Harpo Marx as Trickster presentation at the Jung Haus; Harpo Marx as Trickster, CCAD Visiting Artist Series; Panel moderator, Outriders and Rebels Colorado Springs; Visiting Writer at Columbus State Community College; “Self-Censorship and Universalizing the Particular” for the Ohio Poetry Association; “Derangement of the Senses” for the National Convention of State Poetry Societies; “Fearless Synergy: Teaching Word and Image,” SVA Conference, NYC; “Teaching the Artist as Protagonist,” AICAD Conference, Sarasota; Panel Moderator: Swastika, CCAD, Fall 2001; “Jewish Poets,” Beth Tikvah Synagogue; “Women in Poetry” at the National Convention of Dominican Sisters at Ohio Dominican University 1994.
Charlene has also been a 4-H Poetry judge at the Ohio State Fair, and has judged Poetry Out Loud regional semi-finals in central Ohio; preliminary and final rounds of the Columbus Schools District Poetry Slam, and various categories for the Utah State Poetry Society contests. She was a mentor for “Future Laureates,” Amit Majmudar’s initiative as Ohio’s first Poet Laureate. Finally, she was a committee member and sometimes coordinator of The Poetry Forum at Larry’s for a decade.
Charlene has read short stories by James Thurber and Haruki Murakami along with her own poems for OSU’s Read Aloud at the Wexner Center Cafe; she served as a panelist for the Thurber Writing Academy for high school students, reviewed lectures at the Columbus Museum of Art for the Ohio Humanities Council; and helped lead a writing Residency at Franklinton Community Center sponsored by The Thurber House,
Charlene has been a featured reader of her poems at bookstores, coffeehouse, galleries, and pubs throughout Ohio, including features at the Bexley Community Reading Event and the Thurber House, even once at Echo Park Pilates & Art in Los Angeles and The Bowery in NYC. She has been at a Member of House of Toast Poets, a workshop and performance group, since 1997.
Charlene attended The Writers Hotel in New York City in 2015 where she met some wonderful poets and mentors.