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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Pop Art” Writing Exercise for my Online Prose Workshop

Last week, my Online Prose Workshop read “Hepburn and Garbo” (pgs. 151–165) and “Ten Notes on Oscar Weekend” (212–221) in Zadie Smith’s Changing My Mind; Upon This Rock”  from John Jeremiah Sullivan’s Pulphead;  and “Looking Around” from Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. They then completed the following reading discussion:

Changing My Mind is a series of occasional essays. Select one of Smith’s essay from your Introductory week assignments and one from the Week 1 assignments, and compare and contrast the occasions for these pieces. How do the occasions for each piece change the tone of the piece? (Hint: describe the tone of each piece and then make the connection between each essay’s occasion and its tone.) Please upload this by 11:59 pm on Saturday, September 17.

This week, they are completing a writing exercise called “Pop Art”:

Freewrite 250 words about your experience encountering something to do with pop culture. This could be about the time you met a celebrity or the time you camped out for tickets for a concert. It could even be about watching the VMFAs in your pajamas on the couch. Please upload this by 11:59 pm on Saturday, September 24.

Guess Who Reading Discussion Prompt for Craft of Prose

In this reading discussion prompt, students are asked to consider what elements contribute to our understanding of character in this “Guess Who” game in which students draw a character who appears in chapters 3–12 of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and then describe them by answering a series of questions. They will use their descriptions to come up with three clues about the character: one is a concrete detail about the character’s appearance, the second is to identify a scene in which they appear, and the third is a literary craft element that helps reveal their character.

“Babylon: A Place You’ve Only Heard Of” Exercise

"Abbildung der Stadt Babylon" ("Picture of the City of Babylon"),  Erasmus Francisci, copper engraving on paper, 1680

“Abbildung der Stadt Babylon” (“Picture of the City of Babylon”), Erasmus Francisci, copper engraving on paper, 1680

Class: Introduction to Creative Writing (The College of William & Mary)
Genre: Nonfiction
Purpose: To examine how place becomes setting and to cultivate an “outsider’s” point of view
Readings: “Goodbye to All That,” “Babylon,” and “No Man’s Land” from Eula Biss’s Notes from No Man’s Land and “Goodbye to All That” by Joan Didion

 

  1. Think about a city or country that you’ve never heard of but have never been to. This can be a real (Saigon), mythic (Troy), or imagined place. Describe what you know or imagine to know about this place. Write for 5 minutes.
  2. Now think about your hometown. Describe it as you remember it, including the homes, the landscape, the stores, the values, etc. Write for 5 minutes.
  3. Write a paragraph that considers similarities between the place you’ve never been and your hometown. Write for 3 minutes.
  4. Is there something notable or notorious about your hometown? Write for 3 minutes about how outsiders might view your hometown. Is there something unique to your hometown and therefore strange to outsiders? Would an outsider have prejudices against your hometown? Write for 3 minutes.
  5. How might you be like the outsider with the place you’ve never been? Write a meditation on these similarities for 5 minutes.

On Journaling: a Revelation

Codex Manesse, fol. 383r, Meister Konrad von Würzburg

Codex Manesse, fol. 383r, Meister Konrad von Würzburg

Sometimes discussions with my students lead me to articulate things about writing that I’ve fathomed but haven’t been able to put into words. For instance, in Intro to Creative Writing this morning, my students were discussing Joan Didion’s “On Keeping a Notebook” and how they could use journaling as a foundation for their creative writing. Because of the students’ provocative questions and Didion’s exegesis on the practice—”I imagine . . . that the notebook is about other people. But of course it is not. . . . our notebooks give us away, for however dutifully we record what we see around us, the common denominator of all we see is always, transparently, shamelessly, the implacable ‘I.'”—I was able to finally say what I’ve often felt in keeping my writing journal:

Journaling is an exercise in being a character.

In keeping a journal, I distance myself from the self that appears in my writing. (Think Dante the writer vs. Dante the character.) This not only allows me to receive critical input without feeling as if I’m under attack but it also, and perhaps more importantly, gives me the opportunity to view my own writing as a reader would.

Maybe other writers out there have come to this realization, but the idea, and the way I was able to say it, surprised me in its clarity. Maybe this too is a product of journaling: I have distanced myself enough so that I am allowed to be surprised by myself, a moxie I find quite germane to the writing of the lyric.