Her excellent command over the subject brought a new perspective and rekindled my interest in poetry; which I had regrettably lost over the years after graduating. She was very organized in every segment and always striving for something extra. I find Miss Coffin admirable almost instantly.
I have known Lyn as a teacher for more than thirty years. I first became aware of Lyn’s exceptional abilities in a poetry writing tutorial when I was a sophomore at the University of Michigan. I recall marveling then at her extraordinary instincts and insights into words and language. She could immediately see a word or line that was not quite right, and work with me to improve it. The approach was never critical in a way that made a young student nervous or unsure. It felt, instead, like a happy collaborative exploration of all the joys of language. She was open and warm in a way that made me, and would make any student I believe, comfortable and relaxed.
I think it was Lyn who first taught me the importance of getting the thing right – of making sure that words were not glibly used when they did not fit. I had written a poem about a memory of sitting on a beach in Spain when I was quite young, watching fishermen in a small Spanish village bring in their catch of octopus. The line I wrote had something about the octopi dying on the sand and something about the bones of an octopus. “Does an octopus have bones?” she asked, and immediately reached for a science encyclopedia.
I have asked myself versions of does an octopus have bones over the years when I realized something in my writing was jargon, false, or, sounded the wrong note because… words matter.
The early deep impression of Lyn’ s abilities was only underscored and strengthened over the years. An undergraduate in English at the University of Michigan, I took a different career path after college (Yale Law School), but continued to write over the years, and turned to Lyn for feedback when I planned to submit a set of stories to a competition many years ago. I remember, especially with the last, how gracious and generous she was with her time. She responded almost right away and had, as always, great suggestions. She has a facility with language that, in my view, is nonpareil. She understands language on all levels – from a word in a sentence to the structure of a story as a whole – that has continued to amaze me. I think her unerring instincts with language and narrative are akin to a violin prodigy’s ability to play music with an ease and talent that is head and shoulders above the rest.
I believe that Lyn Coffin is exceptionally well-qualified for any creative writing position. Future writing students would be lucky to have a teacher like her.
The collaboration with Lyn completely flipped my approach to all of my classes. I saw how some students who had been too shy or unsure of themselves in some of our discussions begin to sparkle as they shared their short plays and poetry. This year, one typically reserved student wrote a short play which his classmates performed for another class. His eyes were bright with pride as he directed the others in their blocking and line delivery. Lyn brought in examples of different drafts of one of her poems so students could go through the thought process with Lyn about her writing choices. They really began to understand that a polished piece comes only after quite a bit of work which was truly an “a-ha” moment. During many of our discussions of poetry analysis, for example, students would ask whether an author “meant to do that.” While I had told them that, as readers, we needed to trust that each word is deliberate, being able to ask a professional gave students a kind of “insider knowledge.”
Many students in this class are exceptional students. They are able to express the subtle nuances in work they read and have become accustomed to constant praise for just about everything they have done. Often times, students get frustrated when their work is not up to their standards of perfection with the first draft. Working with Lyn has helped my students approach their work in a more gentle way; they see that even professional writers must struggle through many drafts of a piece of writing before arriving at a finished piece.
I wanted to tell you all of this because I really do feel indebted to you for all of your support. Four years ago, I didn’t know that I could accomplish any of this. Thank you for all of the long talks about the philosophy of the short story (among many other things!); thanks for the in-depth edits and advice; thank you for telling me about your experiences as a writer. You helped steer me onto a path that excites and fulfills me.
I can’t tell you how much money I would pay to be in a classroom with you again. You were by far my favorite teacher ever!
who knew poetry culd b fun??
poetry can be fun… if u have a great and fun teacher like Lyn Coffyn… she rocks!!!