Craft of Poetry Discussion Exercise: “What Is a Poem? What Is Poetry?”

Note: In this in-class discussion exercise, my ENG 2030 students were able to interrogate the questions “what is poetry?” and “what is a poem?” by looking at different texts, some poetic and some religious and some musical, in order to answer the question. The links to the texts are below the directions.

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  • A traditional Irish blessing.

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind always be at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face,

and rains fall soft upon your fields.

  • These passages of religious texts (Qu’ran and Bible).

And until we meet again,

May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Have you considered him who turned away?

And gave a little, and held back?

Does he possess knowledge of the unseen, and can therefore foresee?

Or was he not informed of what is in the Scrolls of Moses?

And of Abraham, who fulfilled?

That no soul bears the burdens of another soul.

And that the human being attains only what he strives for.

And that his efforts will be witnessed.

Then he will be rewarded for it the fullest reward.

And that to your Lord is the finality.

And that it is He who causes laughter and weeping.

And that it is He who gives death and life.

 

Return, O LORD, deliver my soul: oh save me for thy mercies’ sake.

For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?

I am weary with my groaning; all the night make I my bed to swim; I water my couch with my tears.

Mine eye is consumed because of grief; it waxeth old because of all mine enemies.

Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity; for the LORD hath heard the voice of my weeping.

The LORD hath heard my supplication; the LORD will receive my prayer.

Let all mine enemies be ashamed and sore vexed: let them return and be ashamed suddenly.

 

 

 

  • Benjamin Bagby performing excerpts from Beowulf with harp accompaniment:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Creative Writing Curriculum Proposal Accepted!

My proposal for a new Creative Writing curriculum here at Centenary University went for a full faculty vote today and was accepted. The proposal was fourteen pages, so I’ll only share the new courses, their descriptions and their goals below.

NEW COURSES

  • WRI 2005: Intro to Creative Writing
  • WRI 2040: Writing Poetry
  • WRI 2041: Writing Prose
  • WRI 3050: The Form and Theory of Poetry
  • WRI 3051: The Form and Theory of Prose
  • WRI 3052: Hybrid and Digital Genres
  • WRI 3055: Literary Editing and Publishing

 

PROPOSED COURSE DESCRIPTIONS

WRI 2005 Intro to Creative Writing
4 Credits
This course is designed to introduce students to four primary genres of creative writing: fiction, creative nonfiction, playwriting, and poetry. Students will learn key terminology that will help them understand, analyze, and discuss these genres in a workshop setting. Students will write and contribute original pieces of writing to workshop, a collaborative and evaluative discussion about the writer’s craft, and look to a variety of published writers as guides for incorporating different new techniques into their own work.

Course Objectives

  • To introduce students to the fundamental concepts of creative writing
  • To differentiate creative writing from academic and scholarly writing
  • To learn key terminology that will allow students to workshop their peers’ work
  • To encourage creative thinking through in-class writing exercises
  • To teach students what to expect from each genre (poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction) and how to read them
  • To ready students for more advanced discussions in genre-specific creative writing courses

 

Content Areas Covered

  • The course will contain units on fiction, creative nonfiction, playwriting, and poetry.
  • Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft by Janet Burroway, the proposed textbook, covers all four genres and fundamental techniques for beginning creative writers.

 

WRI 2040 Writing Poetry
4 Credits
Pre- or co-requisites: ENG 1001 and WRI 2005
This course is structured around workshop, a collaborative discussion about writing techniques and their effects on readers. Students will write and submit original poems to the workshop and participate in the discussion of their classmates’ work. As such, the focus of this course is creative output so that students will have a portfolio of original poetry by the end of the semester. Additionally, students are asked to examine the work of contemporary poets in order to learn new techniques and approaches to writing poetry.

Course Objectives

  • To further students’ knowledge of contemporary poetry
  • To have students create a portfolio of original poetry
  • To establish a regular writing and revision practice
  • To increase their experience and expertise in a workshop setting

 
Content Areas Covered

  • Students will write at least six original poems for workshop and revise at least three for a final portfolio.
  • The course will also focus on three contemporary poetry collections to introduce students to new techniques.

 

WRI 2041 Writing Prose   
4 Credits
Pre- or co-requisites: ENG 1001 and WRI 2005
This course is structured around workshop, a collaborative discussion about writing techniques and their effects on readers. Students will write and submit original prose pieces, including short stories and personal essays, to the workshop and participate in the discussion of their classmates’ work. s such, the focus of this course is creative output so that students will have a portfolio of original prose by the end of the semester. Additionally, students will examine the work of contemporary prose writers in order to learn new techniques and approaches to writing in the prose genres.

Course Objectives

  • To further students’ knowledge of contemporary fiction and creative nonfiction
  • To have students create a portfolio of original fiction and creative nonfiction
  • To establish a regular writing and revision practice
  • To increase their experience and expertise in a workshop setting

Content Areas Covered

  • Students will write at least four original prose pieces for workshop in addition to in-class writing exercises.
  • The course will also focus on two contemporary prose texts or anthologies to introduce students to new techniques.

 

WRI 3050 The Form and Theory of Poetry   
4 Credits
Pre- or co-requisites: ENG 1001 and WRI 2005
This course focuses on improving skills in the reading and writing of poetry, especially as it relates to considerations of craft, form, and theory of the genre. Students will analyze, practice, and demonstrate elements of poetry construction through critical reading, writing exercises, and collaborative workshop. Using contemporary poetry collections and poetic craft texts, students will develop their skills of “reading like a writer” and situate their own work within poetic theory. Other assignments may include imitations of other writers, scansion of poetic texts, revisions of original pieces, and group presentations on assigned texts. Additionally, they will consider the context and relevancy of poetry in their lives, communities, and culture, and explore the opportunities for serious poetry writers.  This course will feature a revolving theme oriented around poetic concepts like a lines and sentences, rhythm and sound, and received forms and prosody.

Course Objectives

  • To further students’ knowledge of the history of lyric forms, with special attention to the influences of the 19th and 20th century movement on contemporary verse
  • To expose students to the form and theory of poetry by introducing them to received forms (sonnet, ghazal, etc.), contextualizing free verse in literary history, and engaging specific craft concerns including cadence and lineation
  • To establish the reading of poetry, canonical and contemporary, as a vital part of the writing practice
  • To engage in texts about the craft and theory of poetry so that students have the language to discuss advanced writing concepts
  • To have students create a portfolio of original poetry, including specific exercises in form and with prosody

Content Areas Covered

  • Students will write biweekly poetry pieces in various forms or using specific techniques.
  • The course will introduce students to theories of meter, form, and lineation, in addition to various poetic composition practices.
  • The course will pair poems with critical and craft texts that introduce students to the theory and history of poetic form and craft.

 
WRI 3051 The Form and Theory Prose   
4 Credits
Pre- or co-requisites: ENG 1001 and WRI 2005
This course focuses on enhancing skills in writing fiction and/or creative nonfiction, especially as it relates to considerations of craft, form, and theory of the genres. Students will read, analyze, and discuss the contemporary prose texts and incorporate skills learned from the texts into their own work. Using contemporary novels, memoirs, short story and/or personal essay collections, students will develop their skills of “reading like a writer.” Students will regularly participate in in-class writing assignments in order to practice new writing techniques and work in new forms, such as flash fiction, travel writing, memoir, and personal essay. Other assignments for this course include imitations of other writers, revisions of original pieces, and group presentations of assigned texts. This course will feature a revolving theme oriented around literary concepts like world building, character development, and genre expectations.

Course Objectives

  • To further students’ knowledge of the history of prose forms, with special attention to the short story, flash and micro fiction, the personal essay, travel writing, and memoir
  • To expose students to the form and theory of prose by having them read and imitate the styles of touchstone writers of the 20th and 21st centuries
  • To establish the reading of prose and craft texts as a vital part of the writing practice
  • To engage in texts about the craft and theory of prose so that students have the language to discuss advanced writing concepts
  • To have students create a portfolio of original prose, including specific exercises in various prose forms and imitative styles

Content Areas Covered

  • Students will write biweekly prose pieces in various forms or using specific techniques.
  • The course will introduce students to theories of prose styles, structures, and forms.
  • The course will pair poems with critical and craft texts that introduce students to the theory and history of prose form and craft.

 

WRI 3052 Hybrid and Digital Genres
4 Credits
Prerequisites: ENG 1001 and WRI 2005
This course will introduce students to hybrid and digital genres of creative writing, including but not limited to the lyric essay, prose poetry, poetry comics, graphic novels, video essays, and digital media storytelling. Students will try their hand at these genres for workshop, and they will likewise try their hand at multi-modal and multimedia composition.

Course Objectives

  • To further students’ knowledge of non-traditional genres and forms by having them analyze and create hybrid and multimodal texts
  • To expose students to the form and theory of creative writing, especially as it relates to new expressions of genre
  • To teach students new technical skills that will allow them to express themselves through multimodal composition
  • To engage in texts about the craft and theory of hybrid and digital genres
  • To have students create a portfolio of original hybrid and digital works

 
Content Areas Covered

  • Students will explore and compose in hybrid genres like lyric essays and prose poetry, as well as multimodal forms like poetry comics, video essays, and digital media storytelling.
  • The class will pair hybrid and digital texts with cutting-edge criticism and craft texts about hybrid and digital genres, relying heavily upon new research into genre theory and digital humanities scholarship.

 
WRI 3055 Literary Editing and Publishing   
4 Credits
Prerequisites: ENG 1001 and WRI 2005
“Editing, like writing, is fundamentally about composing a world,” Peter Gizzi writes in his essay “On the Conjunction of Editing and Composition.” In this course, students will learn how this act of composition takes place, from submissions to printing, by reading first-hand accounts of editors in the profession and through practical application. This reading intensive course will challenge students to read like an editor and consider how literary magazines contribute to literary culture. Although literary magazines will be used as a case study for all publishing inquiries, the book-publishing process and market will likewise be explored. The class will include an investigation into the history of literary magazines; editorial meetings in which students will evaluate and debate sample pieces; papers that analyze literary magazines, editorial roles, and the state of contemporary publishing; and a final editorial project in which student groups will “compose a world” through a mock literary magazine by developing its mission, design, and content. In many ways, this course acts as a kind of introductory practicum for students interested in pursuing future publishing opportunities as editors, production editors, and as writers.

Course Objectives

  • To further students’ knowledge of literary editing and publishing by providing them with insight into the book publishing and literary magazine industry
  • To contextualize their work as writers within the business of creative writing
  • To expose them to the work of editors, agents, and publishers through first-hand accounts in articles and class video conferences with professionals in the field
  • To offer students the opportunity to experience the work of creative a literary publication from start to finish with a mock literary magazine project
  • To consider the ethics and issues of contemporary publishing, especially as it relates to the decolonization, parity, copyright, and stewardship of literary works
  • To explore the history of literary magazine publishing to better understand contemporary trends and advances
  • To better prepare students to work in publishing or to engage professionally as writers with the publishing industry

Content Areas Covered

  • Students will discover the history of literary book and magazine publishing, consider the ethics and issues in contemporary publishing, and establish best practices for compiling and designing a literary magazine.
  • The course will use two texts, Paper Dreams on the history of American literary magazines and Thinking with Type on the materiality and design of texts, along with many supplemental readings that will allow students to contextualize literary publishing within its history and contemporary issues.

Craft of Prose Writing Exercise: “The Immaculate Conception of Nohbdy”

In this exercise inspired by Percival Everett’s novel I Am Not Sidney Poitier, and nuanced by Odysseus’s encounter with Polyphemus, my Craft of Prose students created a character with a name that causes confusion, a name that is either a negation or a pun, and then crafted a creation myth about their conception and birth in the character’s point of view. Check out Writing Exercise: “The Immaculate Conception of Nohbdy.”

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.

Writing Exercise for Craft of Prose: “Vampires in the Lemon Grove”

After the group presentation on Karen Russell’s Vampires in the Lemon Grove, my Craft of Prose class participated in an exercise inspired by Russell’s title story, in which they had to write from the point of view of mythological creatures who are rejecting their mythical powers, innate desires, or supernatural tendencies. Here are some of the creatures about which they wrote:

  • A Kelpie that doesn’t drown people anymore
  • A reindeer that has stopped flying for Santa
  • The Boogeyman who’s decided to open up a daycare
  • A suicidal phoenix
  • Vegan Werewolf
  • Speed-dating siren
  • God on Vacation
  • A magical healer who will no longer heal anyone

“Spin” Reading and Writing Exercise for ENG 2031

For “Spin,” students will be negotiating subtext, rumor, dramatic irony, subjectivity, objectivity, and context in our readings and their own work. Students will discuss the elements of reportage and rumor in their icebreaker text, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and then discern the difference between Rowling’s subtext and the subtext, however erroneous, read into the actions of the protagonists by other characters. Students will likewise watch a clip from the 1966 film Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and identify elements of dialogue, actions, body language, and gestures that reveal subtext, and then they will do a writing exercise in which they describe the innocent actions of a character in public and then re-describe them in the point of view of a law enforcement official, private investigator, reporter, or suspicious bystander who misconstrues, willfully or automatically, the actions of that innocent person.

“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.