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.
As an icebreaker for my worldbuilding-themed Craft of Prose class, a Harry Potter text provides the inspiration for this exercise in creating unlikeable characters. Students start this “Dursleyish” writing exercise by drawing their character and then freewriting about that character’s day-to-day routine.
With a subscription to Poetry magazine as one of the required texts for my Poetry Workshop class, students will have read “Violins” by Rowan Ricardo Phillips prior to completing this exercise, “Of Violins and Violence,” based around the tension between similar sounding words.
Purpose: To consider how persona, point of view, voice, argument, and empathy can support and/or complicate one another
Readings: “Skinhead” by Patricia Smith
- Watch Patricia Smith perform “Skinhead”: https://youtu.be/Klb5TniRGao. Discuss.
- Jot down some notes about a situation in which you found yourself in direct opposition with someone else. Perhaps it’s as extreme as the violent racism in Smith’s poem or as routine as having the same seat number assignment as another person on a flight. The best situation is one in which the conflict was never or not easily resolved. (2–5 min.)
- Describe the diction that person uses and provide some examples. (1–2 min.)
- Now freewrite in the voice of that person as if he or she is addressing you. What would they say? How would they defend themselves against complaints about their actions toward you. (5–7 min.)
- Share your efforts. Did the exercise of writing in their voices change your opinions of your adversaries? What does this reveal about poetry’s ability to engage in empathy? Do your opinions carry into your rendering of their voice?
I haven’t had a chance yet to give this exercise to my Writing Poetry students, but I hope to give this to them by the end of the semester. A “cadenza” is a soloist’s improvisation that later gets written into a piece of music. It’s my hope that this exercise will produce in-class improvisation that later becomes a revised poem.
Class: Writing Poetry (Virginia Commonwealth University)
Purpose: To consider how pace and sound relates to emotion, tone, and intensity.
Readings: One might provide the students with musical examples in lieu of readings.
- Provide students with a glossary of musical terms, such as http://www.classicalworks.com/html/glossary.html, or a selected list. (Italianate terms preferable.)
- Each student should select a term, study its definition, and then conceive of a poem that demonstrates the qualities of the term. The poem could embody these qualities with form, syntax, diction, sound, prosody, or any combination thereof. This term must serve as the title of the poem. For instance, “Sonata” might produce a poem in four parts that each differ in tone and pace. (30+ minutes)
- Students should share their results with the class for feedback on whether or not they embodied the musical terms in their poems. Open up a discussion about how line breaks, forms, and syntax/diction create a kind of music in poems and how these can be manipulated to produce certain tonal/emotional effects in addition to those implicit in dramatic situations. (10–15 minutes)
- The students will then take home the poem and revise it. Share again at a later date.