“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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Interesting Subject Matter & the Artful/less-ness in Presenting It

Grandpa Glenn just chillin' on his goat cart. Photo taken around 1916. Globe, Arizona.

“Grandpa Glenn just chillin’ on his goat cart. Photo taken around 1916. Globe, Arizona” from freeparking.

Class: Writing Poetry (Virginia Commonwealth University)
Genre: Poetry
Purpose: To talk about not relying simply on the drama inherent to subject matter or narrative
Readings: “Song” by Brigit Pegeen Kelly and student poems

Before beginning workshop today, I read aloud Brigit Pegeen Kelly’s poem “Song” to the class as a way to open up the conversation about their own use of inherently compelling or dramatic subject matter. Of course, Kelly’s goat, whose head has been severed from its body and hung in a tree by a group of boys, is interesting; but it’s only a good poem for the ways in which Kelly works with sound, imagery, and lines. As this isn’t a close reading of the poem, I won’t go in depth about our discussion, but we did consider how poems with interesting dramatic situations, narratives, or images might fool us into thinking they are “good” poems simply because we remember the content. I urged my students to consider Kelly and her artfulness in presenting compelling subject matter when they write their own poems; to not simply rely on something that seems “meaningful”; to make it meaningful through their presentation.