Erasure and Revision Writing Exercise: “Love Poem Lost”

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The Heracles Papyrus (Oxford, Sackler Library, Oxyrhynchus Pap. 2331), a fragment of 3rd century Greek manuscript of a poem about the Labors of Heracles.

Last week I had my 24PearlStreet Erasure and Revision students burn, soak, and rip up handwritten copies of a new love poem. I called these “environmental erasures,” inspired— or, rather, after—Sappho’s surviving verses on papyrus fragments. Here are the directions:

“Love Poem Lost”

  1. 1. Draft a poem addressed to a (real or imagined) lost love. This can be a romantic love or a love based in friendship, someone once known or a teenage celebrity crush.
  2. Write out by hand or print three copies of the poem, and then perform the following acts of environmental erasure, taking pictures along the way:
    – Burn: Go into a safe, open environment and hold a match or lighter up to strategic places on the page.
    – Soak: Use water, wine, coffee, vinegar, or some other liquid to ruin or occlude portions of the page. (Works best on free-flowing, not ball-point, pen ink.)
    – Rip: Tear up the poem into quarters. “Lose” at least two of these quarters.
  3. Post pictures from each act of erasure, along with paragraph-long reflection about the process. What happened to your poems in each of these environmental erasures? What was brought out? What was subverted?
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Craft of Poetry Writing Exercise: “Exercising It Out”

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Students’ Materials

  • Writing journal, with plenty of paper and/or your laptop
  • A previous draft of one of your poems

Room Setup
Six “stations” will be set up at even intervals around the room, each with its own set of instructions. They will be identified by the following names:

  1. Anaphora
  2. Heavy Enjambment
  3. Sentence Fragment
  4. Lack of Punctuation
  5. Cut
  6. Splice

Instructions
There will be six rounds of writing, each lasting 10 minutes. For the first round, Group 1 will be at Station 1: “Anaphora,” Group 2 at Station 2: “Heavy Enjambment,” etc. For subsequent rounds, the groups will rotate to new stations in numerical order. Students should have their previous poem draft and writing notebook at each station. Upon arriving at a station, each group member should read and follow the instructions on the card. After completing the assignment, you should have revised your previous draft into a whole new poem. If there’s time, each student should share their new, revised poem.

Station 1: Anaphora
Read your poem draft, and circle a phrase that is the most charged, most crucial to your poem. Re-write the poem and introduce a repetition of this phrase or syntactical unit. Read Joy Harjo’s “She Had Some Horses” for an example.

Station 2: Heavy Enjambment
Locate all of the end-stopped lines in your poem and circle them. Remove half of those end-stopped lines by breaking the line elsewhere in the sentence and thereby introducing enjambment. Take a look at Ross Gay’s “Love, I’m Done With You” for an example; pay special attention to incidence of enjambment in the first seven lines.

Station 3: Sentence Fragment
Turn at least two complete sentences in your poem into sentence fragments. See Chen Chen’s “Self-Portrait as So Much Potential” for an example of a poem that employs many sentence fragments.

Station 4: Lack of Punctuation
Remove the punctuation in all or half your poem, like Morgan Parker in “Take a Walk on the Wild Side” or “If You Are Over Staying Woke”  respectively.

Station 5: Cut
The poet Jean Valentine tapes her poems up on her door after she initially drafts them. Every time she passes the poem, she cuts one word. In the next ten minutes, cut at least five words from your poem. Read her poem “God of Rooms” for inspiration.

Station 6: Splice
Steal 1–2 lines full or partial lines from a group member’s poem. Try to make them work in the dramatic situation of your poem. Check out Matthew Olzmann’s “Letter Beginning with Two Lines by Czesław Miłosz” as an example.

“Joe had some water”: Intro to Creative Writing Discussion about Image, Specificity, Significance, and Precision

After talking about Janet Burroway’s Image chapter in Imaginative Writing, my class took our discussion to the white board to consider problems with translating experience and ideas in language, the fundamentals of significant detail, and the precision of language.

I asked them to consider all of the possible meanings for each of these sentences:

“Joe had some water.”
—He drank some water; he has water to drink; he had water for watering his plants, etc.

“Joe had a glass of water.”
—He drank the glass of water; he had a glass of water to drink, etc.

“Joe had a glass of water on the table.”
—He had water to drink on the table and he hadn’t finished drinking it.

We explored the slippery nature of the word “had” in all of these cases, and then we thought about how context could change the sentences. We considered the difference between “a glass of water” versus a “water glass,” how the second doesn’t necessarily mean that the glass contains water, rather it could designated as a glass for water. Additionally, having the read come to “glass” before “water” would help form the image for the reader as it provides the container before what’s contained inside it.

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“One Story, Three Genres” Exercise

Class: Introduction to Creative Writing (The College of William & Mary)
Genre: Fiction, Nonfiction, and Poetry
Purpose: To consider how writers of three genres go about approaching similar subject matter; to introduce distinctions between the genres; and to introduce key drafting and revision considerations based on reading from Janet Burroway’s Imaginative Writing
Readings: Chapters 1 (“Invitation to the Writer”) and 7 (“Development and Revision”) in Janet Burroway’s Imaginative Writing

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  1. Pick a favorite nursery rhyme, myth, or religious tale that you know by heart. Write a brief summary of the story in 2 to 5 sentences.
  2. If you were writing this narrative as a short story, how would you change it? What elements would you include? How would the style change?
  3. If you were writing this narrative as a poem, how would you change it? What would be your first steps to writing the poem? What would you leave out? What would you add in?
  4. If you were using this narrative as a basis for nonfiction, how would you frame it? How can you approach this subject matter in that way?
  5. Free write for ten minutes and begin to convert your summary into either a short story, a poem, or personal essay.