All my years of teaching creative writing and I have never bumped into this before... how to respond when a student submits, in effect, a dirty joke?
I was flummoxed and weirded out when I read it. The student is middle-aged, pleasant, well-meaning, innocent or even naive, a beginner at creative writing. From a tough blokish lad affecting cynicism I'd have been annoyed and angry, but not surprised. This left me perplexed and annoyed.
Had to ask myself -- am I just being a prude? It's a silly and fairly good 'dirty joke' -- so why do I feel sullied? I dunno -- I am surprised and insulted. Or maybe challenged (is someone testing or joking me? Oh no, I'm paranoid too!) It's not what I expect from any student and especially not from this one. It's simply totally out of context.
I just have to assume it is a matter of naivety. So, what did I do next? Treat it carefully and solemnly. I emailed (in reponse to the student's suggestion it could be read out in class and get feedback) to say we would not do this for two reasons:
Genre: the class is for prose fiction and non-fiction, and this piece is (self-described by student) comedy-drama. It is a joke, which is a different genre. I suggested trying a comedy writing course.
Content: the content is not appropriate in the context of this class. (This made me stop and weigh up -- why not?) In part, it's to do with genre. Writing in this (or any other) creative writing class may include strong language, references to sex and body parts and marital squabbling, but these would be set up in prose story-telling mode with more depth and meaning to the situation than given in this piece.
So that was to explain in advance, and then I did handwritten feedback with the work, as normal creative writing critique/feedback, based on the content and context of the course. Here I pointed out that the 'story' had two or possibly three elements but did not contain other key archetypal components. Testing this piece of writing against our Hero's Journey storytelling genre demonstrated that this piece was an entirely different genre, successful in its own terms as an entertaining joke.
By treating it in a respectful manner I thus managed to praise as well as criticise. Perhaps the student just meant it as a light-hearted tale... perhaps in analysing it closely for its archetypal quest elements I am a dry old academic... perhaps I am a po-faced prude!