Poetry Writing Exercise: “Don’t Be Afraid: Self-Elegy or Self-Celebration” for Master Class I Have Been a Pleasure: On the Self-Elegy and Celebration

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Today, before a reading, I will teach a poetry master class at Warren County Community College called I Have Been a Pleasure: On the Self-Elegy and Celebration. With a handout, we will begin by considering and reconsidering the definitions of elegy, praise poems, and ode from Edward Hirsch’s A Poet’s Glossary, making connections between each of these forms and their motivations, and then reading the following poems:

  1. “Song of Myself” by Walt Whitman
  2. “For the Anniversary of My Death” by W.S. Merwin
  3. “On Leaving the Body to Science” by Claudia Emerson
  4. “Mummy of a Lady Named Jemutesonekh” by Thomas James
  5. “Elegy for My Sadness” by Chen Chen
  6. “Beyoncé Prepares a Will” by Morgan Parker
  7. “Someday I’ll Love Roger Reeves” by Roger Reeves
  8. “Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong” by Ocean Vuong

 

Writing Exercise: “Don’t Be Afraid: Self-Elegy or Self-Celebration”

  1. Title your poem “For the Anniversary of My Death (After Merwin),” “Elegy for My Sadness (After Chen),” “[Your Name] Prepares a Will (After Parker),” or “Someday I’ll Love [Your Name.”
  2. Free-write a poem borrowing the dramatic situation from one of the poems we have read today, using a similar title in homage to that poet. A couple of considerations:
    1. Will you write to yourself as a you or as an I?
    2. Are you lamenting or celebrating yourself?
    3. Is this a poem of greeting or goodbye?
    4. If you are writing a self-elegy, are you elegizing your whole self or only a part? A time period? A sense of self? A place? Another person?
    5. If you are writing a self-celebration, are you performing the act of Narcissus looking into the pool or is there something more potent beneath the surface at which you’re really looking?
  3. Share.

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?

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.

“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.

A Short Note About Writing After Dreaming

On days after nights I dream wildly, my imagination’s much more agile, limber. These are the best days for me to write, and I begin by recording the dream in my writing notebook. This transcription—or, rather, translation—of the dream returns me to a fertile space, where probabilities lack context and possibilities abound.

Creative Writing Curriculum Proposal Accepted!

My proposal for a new Creative Writing curriculum here at Centenary University went for a full faculty vote today and was accepted. The proposal was fourteen pages, so I’ll only share the new courses, their descriptions and their goals below.

NEW COURSES

  • WRI 2005: Intro to Creative Writing
  • WRI 2040: Writing Poetry
  • WRI 2041: Writing Prose
  • WRI 3050: The Form and Theory of Poetry
  • WRI 3051: The Form and Theory of Prose
  • WRI 3052: Hybrid and Digital Genres
  • WRI 3055: Literary Editing and Publishing

 

PROPOSED COURSE DESCRIPTIONS

WRI 2005 Intro to Creative Writing
4 Credits
This course is designed to introduce students to four primary genres of creative writing: fiction, creative nonfiction, playwriting, and poetry. Students will learn key terminology that will help them understand, analyze, and discuss these genres in a workshop setting. Students will write and contribute original pieces of writing to workshop, a collaborative and evaluative discussion about the writer’s craft, and look to a variety of published writers as guides for incorporating different new techniques into their own work.

Course Objectives

  • To introduce students to the fundamental concepts of creative writing
  • To differentiate creative writing from academic and scholarly writing
  • To learn key terminology that will allow students to workshop their peers’ work
  • To encourage creative thinking through in-class writing exercises
  • To teach students what to expect from each genre (poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction) and how to read them
  • To ready students for more advanced discussions in genre-specific creative writing courses

 

Content Areas Covered

  • The course will contain units on fiction, creative nonfiction, playwriting, and poetry.
  • Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft by Janet Burroway, the proposed textbook, covers all four genres and fundamental techniques for beginning creative writers.

 

WRI 2040 Writing Poetry
4 Credits
Pre- or co-requisites: ENG 1001 and WRI 2005
This course is structured around workshop, a collaborative discussion about writing techniques and their effects on readers. Students will write and submit original poems to the workshop and participate in the discussion of their classmates’ work. As such, the focus of this course is creative output so that students will have a portfolio of original poetry by the end of the semester. Additionally, students are asked to examine the work of contemporary poets in order to learn new techniques and approaches to writing poetry.

Course Objectives

  • To further students’ knowledge of contemporary poetry
  • To have students create a portfolio of original poetry
  • To establish a regular writing and revision practice
  • To increase their experience and expertise in a workshop setting

 
Content Areas Covered

  • Students will write at least six original poems for workshop and revise at least three for a final portfolio.
  • The course will also focus on three contemporary poetry collections to introduce students to new techniques.

 

WRI 2041 Writing Prose   
4 Credits
Pre- or co-requisites: ENG 1001 and WRI 2005
This course is structured around workshop, a collaborative discussion about writing techniques and their effects on readers. Students will write and submit original prose pieces, including short stories and personal essays, to the workshop and participate in the discussion of their classmates’ work. s such, the focus of this course is creative output so that students will have a portfolio of original prose by the end of the semester. Additionally, students will examine the work of contemporary prose writers in order to learn new techniques and approaches to writing in the prose genres.

Course Objectives

  • To further students’ knowledge of contemporary fiction and creative nonfiction
  • To have students create a portfolio of original fiction and creative nonfiction
  • To establish a regular writing and revision practice
  • To increase their experience and expertise in a workshop setting

Content Areas Covered

  • Students will write at least four original prose pieces for workshop in addition to in-class writing exercises.
  • The course will also focus on two contemporary prose texts or anthologies to introduce students to new techniques.

 

WRI 3050 The Form and Theory of Poetry   
4 Credits
Pre- or co-requisites: ENG 1001 and WRI 2005
This course focuses on improving skills in the reading and writing of poetry, especially as it relates to considerations of craft, form, and theory of the genre. Students will analyze, practice, and demonstrate elements of poetry construction through critical reading, writing exercises, and collaborative workshop. Using contemporary poetry collections and poetic craft texts, students will develop their skills of “reading like a writer” and situate their own work within poetic theory. Other assignments may include imitations of other writers, scansion of poetic texts, revisions of original pieces, and group presentations on assigned texts. Additionally, they will consider the context and relevancy of poetry in their lives, communities, and culture, and explore the opportunities for serious poetry writers.  This course will feature a revolving theme oriented around poetic concepts like a lines and sentences, rhythm and sound, and received forms and prosody.

Course Objectives

  • To further students’ knowledge of the history of lyric forms, with special attention to the influences of the 19th and 20th century movement on contemporary verse
  • To expose students to the form and theory of poetry by introducing them to received forms (sonnet, ghazal, etc.), contextualizing free verse in literary history, and engaging specific craft concerns including cadence and lineation
  • To establish the reading of poetry, canonical and contemporary, as a vital part of the writing practice
  • To engage in texts about the craft and theory of poetry so that students have the language to discuss advanced writing concepts
  • To have students create a portfolio of original poetry, including specific exercises in form and with prosody

Content Areas Covered

  • Students will write biweekly poetry pieces in various forms or using specific techniques.
  • The course will introduce students to theories of meter, form, and lineation, in addition to various poetic composition practices.
  • The course will pair poems with critical and craft texts that introduce students to the theory and history of poetic form and craft.

 
WRI 3051 The Form and Theory Prose   
4 Credits
Pre- or co-requisites: ENG 1001 and WRI 2005
This course focuses on enhancing skills in writing fiction and/or creative nonfiction, especially as it relates to considerations of craft, form, and theory of the genres. Students will read, analyze, and discuss the contemporary prose texts and incorporate skills learned from the texts into their own work. Using contemporary novels, memoirs, short story and/or personal essay collections, students will develop their skills of “reading like a writer.” Students will regularly participate in in-class writing assignments in order to practice new writing techniques and work in new forms, such as flash fiction, travel writing, memoir, and personal essay. Other assignments for this course include imitations of other writers, revisions of original pieces, and group presentations of assigned texts. This course will feature a revolving theme oriented around literary concepts like world building, character development, and genre expectations.

Course Objectives

  • To further students’ knowledge of the history of prose forms, with special attention to the short story, flash and micro fiction, the personal essay, travel writing, and memoir
  • To expose students to the form and theory of prose by having them read and imitate the styles of touchstone writers of the 20th and 21st centuries
  • To establish the reading of prose and craft texts as a vital part of the writing practice
  • To engage in texts about the craft and theory of prose so that students have the language to discuss advanced writing concepts
  • To have students create a portfolio of original prose, including specific exercises in various prose forms and imitative styles

Content Areas Covered

  • Students will write biweekly prose pieces in various forms or using specific techniques.
  • The course will introduce students to theories of prose styles, structures, and forms.
  • The course will pair poems with critical and craft texts that introduce students to the theory and history of prose form and craft.

 

WRI 3052 Hybrid and Digital Genres
4 Credits
Prerequisites: ENG 1001 and WRI 2005
This course will introduce students to hybrid and digital genres of creative writing, including but not limited to the lyric essay, prose poetry, poetry comics, graphic novels, video essays, and digital media storytelling. Students will try their hand at these genres for workshop, and they will likewise try their hand at multi-modal and multimedia composition.

Course Objectives

  • To further students’ knowledge of non-traditional genres and forms by having them analyze and create hybrid and multimodal texts
  • To expose students to the form and theory of creative writing, especially as it relates to new expressions of genre
  • To teach students new technical skills that will allow them to express themselves through multimodal composition
  • To engage in texts about the craft and theory of hybrid and digital genres
  • To have students create a portfolio of original hybrid and digital works

 
Content Areas Covered

  • Students will explore and compose in hybrid genres like lyric essays and prose poetry, as well as multimodal forms like poetry comics, video essays, and digital media storytelling.
  • The class will pair hybrid and digital texts with cutting-edge criticism and craft texts about hybrid and digital genres, relying heavily upon new research into genre theory and digital humanities scholarship.

 
WRI 3055 Literary Editing and Publishing   
4 Credits
Prerequisites: ENG 1001 and WRI 2005
“Editing, like writing, is fundamentally about composing a world,” Peter Gizzi writes in his essay “On the Conjunction of Editing and Composition.” In this course, students will learn how this act of composition takes place, from submissions to printing, by reading first-hand accounts of editors in the profession and through practical application. This reading intensive course will challenge students to read like an editor and consider how literary magazines contribute to literary culture. Although literary magazines will be used as a case study for all publishing inquiries, the book-publishing process and market will likewise be explored. The class will include an investigation into the history of literary magazines; editorial meetings in which students will evaluate and debate sample pieces; papers that analyze literary magazines, editorial roles, and the state of contemporary publishing; and a final editorial project in which student groups will “compose a world” through a mock literary magazine by developing its mission, design, and content. In many ways, this course acts as a kind of introductory practicum for students interested in pursuing future publishing opportunities as editors, production editors, and as writers.

Course Objectives

  • To further students’ knowledge of literary editing and publishing by providing them with insight into the book publishing and literary magazine industry
  • To contextualize their work as writers within the business of creative writing
  • To expose them to the work of editors, agents, and publishers through first-hand accounts in articles and class video conferences with professionals in the field
  • To offer students the opportunity to experience the work of creative a literary publication from start to finish with a mock literary magazine project
  • To consider the ethics and issues of contemporary publishing, especially as it relates to the decolonization, parity, copyright, and stewardship of literary works
  • To explore the history of literary magazine publishing to better understand contemporary trends and advances
  • To better prepare students to work in publishing or to engage professionally as writers with the publishing industry

Content Areas Covered

  • Students will discover the history of literary book and magazine publishing, consider the ethics and issues in contemporary publishing, and establish best practices for compiling and designing a literary magazine.
  • The course will use two texts, Paper Dreams on the history of American literary magazines and Thinking with Type on the materiality and design of texts, along with many supplemental readings that will allow students to contextualize literary publishing within its history and contemporary issues.

Class Guest (with Board Notes) at Elgin Community College

I visited Rachael Stewart’s creative writing class at Elgin Community College today, where I asked students to pay intuitive attention to where lines are broken. I wrote the first stanza of “Inverstaid” by Gerard Manley Hopkins without lineation on the board. I asked them to put line breaks where they think he broke them, and then I asked them to break the lines so that the end rhymes would be subverted. We then discussed how lines have meaning and sentences have meaning, how they can complement one another or come into conflict. We then read Ellen Bryant Voigt’s “The Bear” to talk line break and punctuation, and then Lynda Hull’s “Ornithology” to chart the musicality of free verse.




Presentation & Handouts for Lecture: “It’s Alive: Why Poetry Still Matters”

phillips-rutherford-hall-lecture-11-16-2016On Wednesday, November 16, I gave the lecture “It’s Alive: Why Poetry Still Matters” at Rutherford Hall in Allamuchy, New Jersey. Here are the materials for that talk:

This talk also transformed into my November 2016 blog post for Ploughshares, “Truth & Dread: Why Poetry Still Matters & The Risk of (Too Much) Empathy”:

Can the act of empathy, learned from literature and poetry, become an act of appropriation when we take it to our lived lives? This is a question I haven’t been able to answer. Each of us is not a sun around which others revolve; we cannot, like black holes, pull everything into us without risking erasure, of others, of ourselves. Perhaps more than the practice of empathy, poetry offers us the opportunity to listen, and not just in the way that it appeals to the same areas of the brain music stimulates, and not just in the way that we can hear the cadence and rhythm and sounds of poetry. Perhaps poetry offers us the opportunity to hear its many speakers, to not so much as internalize each of their voices and experiences as to confirm them, to say, you are you, you are a voice, I hear you.

 

 

Poetry Workshop Readings and Writing Exercise: “Befriend Me: Poems of Social Media & Technological Engagement”

When I am out of town on November 30th, my colleague will be discussing the poems from the “Befriend Me: Poems of Social Media & Technological Engagement” packet and then leading the Poetry Workshop in the “Befriend Me” writing exercise. I hope to do this again with my spring Craft of Poetry course, and go more in depth with the exercise and the class’s engagement. Thanks to all of those on social media who suggested additional poems for inclusion in this reading packet.