Summer Online Intro to CW Writing Exercise: “Nothing Amiss, Nothing Missed”

Writing Exercise: “Nothing Amiss, Nothing Missed”

Your first writing exercise asks you to draw upon the concepts of concrete language, significant details, and mood-inducing setting from Chapters 2: Image and 5: Setting. The exercise is multi-part, so make sure not to miss a step.

  1. Take a pen and paper (or laptop, if you’re more comfortable typing) into a space in which other people (preferably strangers) are interacting with one another or objects. Grocery store, coffee shop, doctor’s office, cemetery, public park—wherever you like. Feel free to do this exercise on a regular errand, if you can squeeze it in. Once you are in the space, I would like for you to set a timer on your phone or watch for a set time between 10–15 minutes. Without pausing to consider or edit, write down in a paragraph or list every detail from this space that you possibly can. This is called automatic writing, and it should allow you to efficiently take in your surroundings as quickly as possibly.
  2. Please select one mood from the a list and one genre from the b list in which you’d like to rewrite your setting:
    • overjoyed, despondent, apathetic, devious, hopeful, grief-stricken, afraid, or something else
    • fiction or nonfiction
  3. As we learned from Burroway, a concrete, significant detail means that the specific image appeals to at least one of the five senses and suggests an abstraction, generalization, or judgment. In other words, that detail reveals something more than just that object’s there-ness. It comments on something within the story or reveals something about the point-of-view character. We may also find that what a character selects to tell us about a setting is very revealing of their personality or mental state. Burroway writes: “Our relation to place, time, and weather, like our relation to clothes and other objects, is charged with emotion more or less subtle, more or less profound. It is filled with judgment, mellow or harsh. And it alters according to what happens to us.” As a very simplistic example, imagine that character A and character B walk into the seasonal section at the grocery store. A’s excited about the sale on the industrial-sized, Banana Boat suntan lotion that smells like pina colada, whereas B’s gravitate to the adult-sized arm floaties. These two things, although related and present in the same setting, reveal very different things about the needs, wants, and personalities of the two characters. We might concur that A’s interested in spending a lot of time in the sun and getting a tan, meaning that they are concerned about their looks, how they are seen. B, however, cannot swim (or swim well) and may even be afraid of the water. In this way, each of these objects are significant because they reveal something about the character. With all of this in mind, you will:
    • rewrite your description of the setting through the twin lenses of the character’s mood and the genre, being sure to only select those details that seem to reveal the character and the mood you want to cast over this place while leaving out incongruous information, but be sure not to tell us what mood you’re trying to portray
    • and then read your peers’ attempts at the exercise and guess what kind of mood they were trying to portray through the details they chose.
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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?

“Every Phantom // A Story: Erasure & Revision” 24PearlStreet Course Syllabus & Calendar

My eight-week, online course for the Fine Arts Work Center’s 24PearlStreet, “Every Phantom // A Story: Erasure & Revision” starts tomorrow, Monday, March 8th.

Course Description
What isn’t said in a poem is just as meaningful—just as much a craft choice—as what is said. As poets, we so often go to the page with the intention of telling our readers something; this approach, however, often positions us between the reader and the text, like a person narrating a movie in front of the projector. In this course, we will investigate the ways in which poems “write themselves” and how images, without the aid of expositional transitions, create their own narratives, after Cesare Pavese’s idea of the “image narrative.” We will discover the impact and implied meanings of white space in poems, and we will investigate the strategies of other poets in revising through redaction and compression. We will look at erasure texts-texts that have been redacted into new texts-by poets like Mary Ruefle and Robin Coste Lewis, and consider the legacies of poets, like Sappho whose work survives only in fragments. Throughout the course of the eight weeks, participants will be asked to draft at least six new poems, unwieldy and wild and uninhibited, that in subsequent weeks they will slowly revise, re-form, and compress; through these long-term revision strategies, participants will be able to introduce subtext and depth to their poems, while honing their craft and style.

Check out the course’s syllabus and calendar online.

“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.