Writing Exercise: “In Defense of ‘Moist'”

ENG 326 Writing Poetry: Intermediate
University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Fall 2017

8/15 Writing Exercise: “In Defense of ‘Moist’”

  1. Read the poem “In Defense of ‘Moist’” by Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib and discuss.
  2. Recall your favorite or least favorite word from the Introductions handout. If you selected your favorite word, title your poem “Against ‘[the word]’”; if you selected your least favorite word, title it “In Defense of ‘{the word]’.”
  3. Draft a poem as an argument against your favorite word or for your least favorite word, after Willis-Abdurraqib.
    1. You may write this poem on the back of the Willis-Abdurraqib handout and add it into your writing journal later.
    2. Try not to let your critical, editorial part of your brain enter into the drafting process, as this will only limit you.
    3. Your skill level is irrelevant, as we’re all asked to draft right here, in the moment. We’re all on the same page, in terms of the poem’s parameters, and this ongoing writing and sharing in class will help us all improve, not to mention try something new in our work.
  4. Share with the class and, in doing so, we’ll begin to discover ways we can best provide and receive feedback on poetic works.

Camp ArtWorks Exercises and Lesson Plan

I spent last week teaching at Camp ArtWorks, a writing camp through Elizabethtown College and their Bowers Writers House. Each day I taught four sessions, each with 3–4 participants aged 13–17. For the first two days, we focused on sound in poetry; the next two days, we explored the lyric essay; and, finally, the last day we held a wrap-up and Q&A session that allowed the students to share.

Below, I’ve included the descriptions of each experience and the writing exercises the campers completed under them. My full lesson plan for the week, including the in-class reading list, is available on my teaching drive.

Making Poems Sing
How do poems move? How do they flow? In this class, we’ll learn how to make original poems that, through their rhythm and music, sound great read aloud. Throughout the experience, we’ll use our voices as much as our pens to compose. (No singing talent required.)

Writing Exercise: “Possibilities”

Write an imitation of Szymborska’s poem “Possibilities.” In doing so, try to imitate the structure and form of the poem, retaining the anaphoric construction of “I prefer” throughout your poem, but create your own images and actions that are the objects of the “I prefer” statements.

 

Going over all the fancy words
Students brainstormed about the effects of repeating sounds

Writing Exercise: “Tuning Fork”

Free write four lines on any subject. Your only parameter is that for every noun you use, you must select one that has at least one sound similar to the previous adjective, verb, or noun. This will create a “chain” of similar sounds that allow your poems to sound good read aloud. Let’s look at some examples together:

“The river flows like a bow and arrow, taut / As a tamed tangle”

From Rosal, a similar technique: “I rolled twenty-two deep, every / one of us lulled by a blade / though few of us knew the steel note / that chimed a full measure if you slid / the edge along a round to make it // keen.”

Share your lines with the group, and let’s talk about the effects of your sound chains in relationship to the subject matter and the reader’s perception of the poem’s emotion and tone.

What Has the Head of an Essay, and the Body of a Poem?
The Lyric Essay, that’s what. In this class, we’ll uncover the riddle of this new genre, and we’ll tell our stories through it, borrowing ideas and techniques from personal essays and story-poems. Bring your best stories, and a sense of humor.

Writing Exercise: “Memory2”

Pick a memory that you don’t quite understand or an experience that bothered you in some way. You could have been embarrassed, or you might have been too young to understand the consequences. Share with the class.

Write a paragraph in prose about the memory, as if you were to write a personal essay.

Re-write the memory in poetry. What details get left out? What language arrives? How is the telling different? Do you use any other strategies?

Discuss.

 

Figuring out the lyric essay
Break it down!

Writing Exercise: “Finding a Way In”

Re-examine the memory you chose for the “Memory2” exercise, and create a list of 5–7 objects, details, and images from that memory. For instance, my childhood memory of seeing a man hit a boy in the Target and then witnessing my mother chase the man recalls red, my mother’s purse, the toy aisle, fluorescent lights, the rings on the man’s hand, etc.

Start with the object most distant from the action and event, and describe everything about the object, from its appearance to your vantage upon it, in one paragraph.

Write a single paragraph about each object, working your way toward the action at hand. (For example, I would begin with the color red in the store, then maybe talk about the fluorescent lights, then talk about my mother’s purse that she dropped on the floor, and then describe the man’s rings.) At the end, you should have 5–7 paragraphs and the beginnings of a lyric essay that tells the truth but tells it slant, after Dickinson.

(Note: You may use some of your language from your previous exercise, if it works here.)

Students shared their exercises
Students shared their exercises
Students shared their exercises
Mapping ourselves on the Poetry to Prose spectrum
Mapping ourselves on the Poetry to Prose spectrum

Summer, Online Intro to CW Writing Exercise: “Guess Who”

Writing Exercise: “Guess Who”

Writer Jean Kwok uses a Character Sketch Table in order to better develop and, subsequently, understand her characters. Whether or not she ends up using all the information in her final creative work, it helps her consider the ways that her characters move (and have moved) in the world. Prior to completing the following exercise, review this document and consider what sorts of information you would need to know about your characters. To begin the exercise, follow the next steps:

  1. Create two characters who identify as the same gender and use the same pronouns. Note: If you choose to create a transgendered character, please honor the gender and pronouns they have chosen, not those assigned at birth, e.g. Dan, a cisgendered man, and Colin, a trans man or Maria, a cisgendered woman, and Jamila, a trans woman, would be grouped together here.
  2. Create a quick character sketch in which you identify them by at least: name, age, occupation, interests/hobbies, life goals, and an old embarrassment. If there’s anything else you think your reader should know, you may also include it here. Avoid stereotyping based on race, sexuality, gender, ability, region, culture, religion, appearance, or age toward a complex person that’s more than any one of these identifiers.
  3. Write a paragraph-long description of a short interaction between only one of your characters and someone else—barista, boss, what-have-you, as long as it’s not your other sketched-out character. The only caveat is that you must only use this character’s pronoun and never identify them by their name or specifically identify their occupation.
  4. Read your peers’ pieces and try to guess which character appears in their scenes.

Summer, Online Intro to CW Writing Exercise: “Code Switch”

Writing Exercise: “Code Switch”

  1. Read a little bit about the linguistic concept of “code-switching.”
  2. Now, let’s apply it to your creative writing. Create a dramatic situation in which a first-person narrator has to switch between two different types of language in her narration and in her dialogue, e.g. her dialogue with her best friend is informal but, in telling the story to a wider audience, she uses proper grammar and more meditative language.
  3. For an added challenge, you can add in a third act of code-switching, i.e. your narrator might talk one way in her narration, one way to her best friend on the phone, and one way with her mother while they are out to lunch.

 

Note: Please take care to avoid cultural appropriation with this exercise in code-switching. To do so, you might try taking on acts of code-switching that are familiar to you and your discourses.

Summer Online Intro to CW Writing Exercise: “Nothing Amiss, Nothing Missed”

Writing Exercise: “Nothing Amiss, Nothing Missed”

Your first writing exercise asks you to draw upon the concepts of concrete language, significant details, and mood-inducing setting from Chapters 2: Image and 5: Setting. The exercise is multi-part, so make sure not to miss a step.

  1. Take a pen and paper (or laptop, if you’re more comfortable typing) into a space in which other people (preferably strangers) are interacting with one another or objects. Grocery store, coffee shop, doctor’s office, cemetery, public park—wherever you like. Feel free to do this exercise on a regular errand, if you can squeeze it in. Once you are in the space, I would like for you to set a timer on your phone or watch for a set time between 10–15 minutes. Without pausing to consider or edit, write down in a paragraph or list every detail from this space that you possibly can. This is called automatic writing, and it should allow you to efficiently take in your surroundings as quickly as possibly.
  2. Please select one mood from the a list and one genre from the b list in which you’d like to rewrite your setting:
    • overjoyed, despondent, apathetic, devious, hopeful, grief-stricken, afraid, or something else
    • fiction or nonfiction
  3. As we learned from Burroway, a concrete, significant detail means that the specific image appeals to at least one of the five senses and suggests an abstraction, generalization, or judgment. In other words, that detail reveals something more than just that object’s there-ness. It comments on something within the story or reveals something about the point-of-view character. We may also find that what a character selects to tell us about a setting is very revealing of their personality or mental state. Burroway writes: “Our relation to place, time, and weather, like our relation to clothes and other objects, is charged with emotion more or less subtle, more or less profound. It is filled with judgment, mellow or harsh. And it alters according to what happens to us.” As a very simplistic example, imagine that character A and character B walk into the seasonal section at the grocery store. A’s excited about the sale on the industrial-sized, Banana Boat suntan lotion that smells like pina colada, whereas B’s gravitate to the adult-sized arm floaties. These two things, although related and present in the same setting, reveal very different things about the needs, wants, and personalities of the two characters. We might concur that A’s interested in spending a lot of time in the sun and getting a tan, meaning that they are concerned about their looks, how they are seen. B, however, cannot swim (or swim well) and may even be afraid of the water. In this way, each of these objects are significant because they reveal something about the character. With all of this in mind, you will:
    • rewrite your description of the setting through the twin lenses of the character’s mood and the genre, being sure to only select those details that seem to reveal the character and the mood you want to cast over this place while leaving out incongruous information, but be sure not to tell us what mood you’re trying to portray
    • and then read your peers’ attempts at the exercise and guess what kind of mood they were trying to portray through the details they chose.

Writing Exercise: “#Poem”

This morning I created a little exercise for myself, a prompt to keep me creative when I don’t have the time or energy (ahem, end of the semester) to keep me writing poems. I collected tweets, with some redaction and the introduction of some punctuation, from three other Twitter users with the name Emilia Phillips, and I created the found poem below. The line breaks are mine. The exercise could easily be adapted for the classroom setting, especially if you have your students search for their online name-twins.

Found Poem Made Up of Tweets By Three Other Emilia Phillipses, All Teenage Girls

Today marks the first time in history
I have ever been satisfied
with my school photo. There’s a special place
in hell for people who think it’s okay
to rip out your earbuds and eat
your food without asking. If only
emotional stress used up
calories. When I say there’s nothing
to eat I mean there’s next to nothing
I enjoy. Quit saying I wish and begin
saying I shall. Scratch that,
I hated summer when it was still
winter. Do you ever just think
to yourself what the hell
are you doing with your life. Oh,
shut up with all this
“Previously on…” crap,
I’ve already binge watched
six episodes today. Can’t do this anymore
and I don’t see why
I have to. Wow I really
like Chance the Rapper
#plottwist. I can’t pretend to smile,
all I do is think about how
my life can be better. You don’t
understand true fear
unless you walk in on somebody
using your laptop
without your permission. I just monster
sneezed all over
my phone. Lana del Ray is
queen. I spent 12 dollars on
frozen yogurt 2 months ago
and I get angrier everytime
I realize it. I don’t feel 18…
My mom is trying to explain
the patriarchy to my sister.
Ain’t nothing gonna put out
that flame — my chem teacher.

 

UPDATE 12/14/2016

I couldn’t resist trying my hand at another one.

Found Poem Made Up of Tweets By Three Other Emilia Phillipses, All Teenage Girls (II)

All I do is grumble about being bored
and tired. I’m always playing this game
called am I overly sensitive or were you
really being an ass. Politeness is becoming
so uncommon that many people mistake it
for flirting. The friend zone was invented
by guys who are friends with girls
and believe they are owed
sex for being a good friend. We all love
a nice ass. I am so stressed out. I have
way too many things to deal with right
now. My parents are literally watching
a nature documentary and narrating
the thoughts of the animals. My cat thinks
the Christmas tree is grass and keeps trying
to eat it. I actually feel shameful for having to use cutlery
to eat pizza. Braces suck. Who hurt you?
Why are you so pretty! So bored
of my hair. Ok next week I’m going
healthier. Need next payday
already. Christmas just isn’t the same
when it’s in the middle of summer. It’s awesome
how you can read a book, watch a film, listen
to music, speak with someone you love and forget
that there is a world
around you. Does anyone else remember
The Country Bears? I used to love that film.
Fucking vile creatures. They’re the spitting
image of a piece of shit. Peep this
gross pic of me. The proof is in the way
it hurts. I’m not always vulgar.
Sometimes I’m sleeping.

Craft of Prose Reading and Writing Exercise: Beautiful Sentences

Here is the writing exercise my substitute will do with my Craft of Prose class on Thursday, when I am in Chicago. I have redacted my students’ sentences, which are necessary to complete the writing exercise portion, in order to protect their creative work.

Beautiful Sentences

As a class, listen to each of these sentences and discuss in depth why they are — or might be considered to be — beautiful. Are there sounds you’re reacting to, e.g. rhyme, similar consonant sounds (consonance), similar vowel sounds (assonance), etc.? Does the sentence contain repetition? How does the form of the sentence, the syntax, support or deny the content?

“How wild it was, to let it be.”
—Cheryl Strayed, Wild

“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.”
—Zora Neale Hurston, opening of Their Eyes Were Watching God

“That great grand plosive second syllable. Quite the motherfucker, that.”
—Colson Whitehead, Apex Hides the Hurt

“There, in front of us, where a broken row of houses stood between us and the harbour, and where the eye encountered all sorts of stratagems, such as pale-blue and pink underwear cakewalking on a clothesline, or a lady’s bicycle and a striped cat oddly sharing a rudimentary balcony of cast iron, it was most satisfying to make out among the jumbled angles of roofs and walls, a splendid ship’s funnel, showing from behind the clothesline as something in a scrambled picture — Find What the Sailor Has Hidden — that the finder cannot unsee once it has been seen.”
—Vladimir Nabokov, ending of Speak, Memory

“I milked the cows, I churned the butter, I stored the cheese, I baked the bread, I brewed the tea, I washed the clothes, I dressed the children; the cat meowed, the dog barked, the horse neighed, the mouse squeaked, the fly buzzed, the goldfish living in a bowl stretched its jaws; the door banged shut, the stairs creaked, the fridge hummed, the curtains billowed up, the pot boiled, the gas hissed through the stove, the tree branches heavy with snow crashed against the roof; my heart beat loudly thud! thud!, tiny beads of water grew folds, I shed my skin…”
—Jamaica Kincaid, “The Letter from Home”

“Old lovers go the way of old photographs, bleaching out gradually as in a slow bath of acid: first the moles and pimples, then the shadings.”
—Margaret Atwood, Cat’s Eye

“It was a fine cry—loud and long—but it had no bottom and it had no top, just circles and circles of sorrow.”
—Toni Morrison, Sula

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
—F. Scott Fitzgerald, ending of The Great Gatsby

“It sounded suddenly directly above his head and when he looked it was not there but went on tolling and with each passing moment he felt an urgent need to run and hide as though the bell were sounding a warning and he stood on a street corner in a red glare of light like that which came from the furnace and he had a big package in his arms so wet and slippery and heavy that he could scarcely hold onto it and he wanted to know what was in the package and he stopped near an alley corner and unwrapped in and the paper fell away and he saw—it was his own head—his own head lying with black face and half-closed eyes and lips parted with white teeth showing and hair wet with blood and the red glare grew brighter like light shining down from a red moon and red stars on a hot summer night and he was sweating and breathless from running and the bell clanged so loud that he could hear the iron tongue clapping against the metal sides each time it swung to and fro and he was running over a street paved with black coal and his shoes kicked tiny lumps rattling against tin cans and he knew that very soon he had to find some place to hide but there was no place and in front of him white people were coming to ask about the head from which the newspapers had fallen and which was now slippery with blood in his naked hands and he gave up and stood in the middle of the street in the red darkness and cursed the booming bell and the white people and felt that he did not give a damn what happened to him and when the people closed in he hurled the bloody head squarely into their faces dongdongdong….”
—Richard Wright, Native Son

“A legion of horribles, hundreds in number, half naked or clad in costumes attic or biblical or wardrobed out of a fevered dream with the skins of animals and silk finery and pieces of uniform still tracked with the blood of prior owners, coats of slain dragoons, frogged and braided cavalry jackets, one in a stovepipe hat and one with an umbrella and one in white stockings and a bloodstained weddingveil and some in headgear of cranefeathers or rawhide helmets that bore the horns of bull or buffalo and one in a pigeontailed coat worn backwards and otherwise naked and one in the armor of a spanish conquistador, the breastplate and pauldrons deeply dented with old blows of mace or saber done in another country by men whose very bones were dust and many with their braids spliced up with the hair of other beasts until they trailed upon the ground and their horses’ ears and tails worked with bits of brightly colored cloth and one whose horse’s whole head was painted crimson red and all the horsemen’s faces gaudy and grotesque with daubings like a company of mounted clowns, death hilarious, all howling in a barbarous tongue and riding down upon them like a horde from a hell more horrible yet than the brimstone land of christian reckoning, screeching and yammering and clothed in smoke like those vaporous beings in regions beyond right knowing where the eye wanders and the lip jerks and drools.”
—Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian

“His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”
—James Joyce, ending of “The Dead”

“after that long kiss I near lost my breath yes he said I was a flower of the mountain yes so we are flowers all a womans body yes that was one true thing he said in his life and the sun shines for you today yes that was why I liked him because I saw he understood or felt what a woman is and I knew I could always get round him and I gave him all the pleasure I could leading him on till he asked me to say yes and I wouldnt answer first only looked out over the sea and the sky I was thinking of so many things he didnt know of Mulvey and Mr Stanhope and Hester and father and old captain Groves and the sailors playing all birds fly and I say stoop and washing up dishes they called it on the pier and the sentry in front of the governors house with the thing round his white helmet poor devil half roasted and the Spanish girls laughing in their shawls and their tall combs and the auctions in the morning the Greeks and the jews and the Arabs and the devil knows who else from all the ends of Europe and Duke street and the fowl market all clucking outside Larby Sharons and the poor donkeys slipping half asleep and the vague fellows in the cloaks asleep in the shade on the steps and the big wheels of the carts of the bulls and the old castle thousands of years old yes and those handsome Moors all in white and turbans like kings asking you to sit down in their little bit of a shop and Ronda with the old windows of the posadas 2 glancing eyes a lattice hid for her lover to kiss the iron and the wineshops half open at night and the castanets and the night we missed the boat at Algeciras the watchman going about serene with his lamp and O that awful deepdown torrent O and the sea the sea crimson sometimes like fire and the glorious sunsets and the figtrees in the Alameda gardens yes and all the queer little streets and the pink and blue and yellow houses and the rosegardens and the jessamine and geraniums and cactuses and Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.”
—James Joyce, ending of Ulysses

“Blame it or praise it, there is no denying the wild horse in us. To gallop intemperately; fall on the sand tired out; to feel the earth spin; to have—positively—a rush of friendship for stones and grasses, as if humanity were over, and as for men and women, let them go hang”
—Virginia Woolf, Jacob’s Room

More on Syntax, by Ellen Bryant Voigt
Syntax supplies language most of its…markers, and we’ve known many of them since childhood. A period marks a sentence as a discrete structure, composed primarily of moveable parts or chunks (noun phrase, verb phrase, etc.) that are processed by the brain sequentially. As soon as group of words makes tentative sense, we file it away temporarily, according to its relationship to the fundament, and look for the next one. In language as in music, repetition—whether lexical (the same words) or grammatical (the same function for the words) or syntactical (the same arrangement of the words)—also marks phrases or chunks. As in music, these units can also be grouped into even larger chunks, paragraphs or stanzas, to form astonishingly elaborate but comprehensible structures….Like the engine of a train, the fundament may appear almost anywhere in the sentence, pushing some of its boxcars and pulling others

Revision Exercise: Beautiful Sentences

Select one of the following sentences you wrote, offered to you anonymously in a hat, and begin the exercise.

  1. Read the sentence you drew, and answer the following questions in your writing journal:
    1. Is this sentence grammatically correct?
    2. Is it clear? Do you know what’s going on?
    3. Read the sentence aloud. Is it a beautiful sentence? Why or why not?
  2. Get your bearings on the sentence’s style:
    1. Is it in the active or passive voice? Would it work better if it was revised to address the voice?
    2. Is it in the past, present, or future tense? What tense would make the sentence seem more immediate and exciting?
    3. What is the point of view of the sentence?
  3. Interrogate the sentence further:
    1. Is there any cliche language here?
    2. Is there any redundant, excess, and/or unnecessary language here? Example: “I successfully catch the ball” could be revised to “I catch the ball,” and it would still mean the same thing.
  4. Revise the sentence so that it is beautiful! (5–7 minutes.)

After everyone has finished revising the sentence, each person should write their revised version of the sentence on the board. Once all of the sentences are on the board, each person should read the original sentence they drew as well as their revised version. The class will vote on whether the original or the revised sentences is more “beautiful” and why it is so.

After everyone has shared, the class should vote on the top three revised sentences on the board and discuss why these, out of all of the sentences, are the most beautiful.