Craft of Poetry Writing Exercise: “Possibilities”

Note: This semester, I will share my ENG 2030: Craft of Poetry Writing Exercises as images, since they live all together within a Course Reader document on Google Drive. On the first day of class, my ENG 2030 students completed this “Possibilities” writing exercise as a supplement to their personal introduction. The questions about Szymborska’s poem likewise allow me to get a good calibration of what things they know or don’t know about poetry and poetic craft.

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Composing aloud

With all the driving I’ve done the last couple weeks, I’ve been drafting poems aloud again & recording them on voice memo. I haven’t yet typed them up but I have transcribed them in my notebook. I’m waiting for the page, at least for a little bit. I will be writing about composing aloud for my next Ploughshares post, and I hope to draw on the experiences of other writers and make connections between craft choices and the method of composition.

Discussion on Parity and Decolonization in Literary Editing & Publishing

Before my Literary Editing & Publishing class yesterday, my students completed the following reading assignments:

Read “Self-Portrait of the Artist as Ungrateful Black Writer” by Saeed Jones and “They Pretend to Be Us While Pretending We Don’t Exist” by Jenny Zhang on Buzzfeed; “Sherman Alexie Speaks Out on the Best American Poetry 2015” on The Best American Poetry blog; “Have They Run Out of Provinces Yet?” by Calvin Trillin in The New Yorker; “Have They Run Out of White Poets Yet?” and “regarding the yellowface poet” by Franny Choi; “Diversity in Book Publishing Isn’t Just About Writers — Marketing Matters, Too” by Jean Ho, “Decolonize, Not Diversify” by Kavita Bhanot on Moodle; “Cate Marvin Discusses the VIDA Count: An Interview” (pgs. 279–284) and “Counting Bodies: Notes for Further Consideration” (285–286) by Marcelle Heath in Paper Dreams.

In class, they discussed editorial responsibilities toward the parity and decolonization of publishing. They broke down the semantic differences between “diversity” and “decolonization,” and they discussed the impact on writers of editorial biases through first-hand accounts and poetic responses by Saeed Jones and Franny Choi. In addition to the articles and works above, we read excerpts from “On Pandering” by Claire Vaye Watkins, and I charged my students with interrogating their own implicit and explicit biases. We discussed again the idea that there’s no one literary tradition, that there’s many literary traditions and the “canon” is just one of those traditions. We considered appropriation’s history within western literary culture and the ongoing negative impact it has on creative work. We also talked about how, ideally, all editors should frequently interrogate their own tastes, aesthetics, and biases so that they don’t become lazy in their work. This was one of the most important classes that I think I’ve ever facilitated, and my students had  a great deal of insight, questions, and concerns to contribute during the discussion. Many of them were horrified to find out about these issues in publishing and how these implicit biases were sometimes ignored by editors.

“Debate” Writing Exercise for Craft of Prose

In the “Debate” writing exercise, students are asked to create two characters—political candidates—with unique syntax and diction in order to debate a phony issue, like whether muffins should actually be called cake, for example. In doing so, they learn how to format dialogue; to progress action through dialogue; and how to demonstrate a character’s values, motivations, and background through dialogue.

Writing Exercise: “View-master” for Online Prose Workshop

Last week, in ENG 2016OL: Online Prose Workshop, my students read “One Week in Liberia” and “Speaking in Tongues” (pgs. 110–148) of Zadie Smith’s Changing My Mind. Read “Damn Cold in February: Buddy Holly, View-master, and the A-Bomb” by Joni Tevis and Creative Nonfiction Primer on Moodle. They then completed the following writing exercise on a discussion forum.

 

Writing Exercise: “View-master”

Free-write 250 words about a trip you took to some place that interested you. It could be as dramatic as Liberia (a la Zadie Smith) or as local as your post office.