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 Exercise: “Dear ________”

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Students in my online, 24PearlStreet “Every Phantom // A Story: Erasure and Revision” course explored erasure as a political and social justice act and then completed “Dear       ,” an erasive poetry exercise, last week after reading the following assignments:

  1. “The Near Transitive Properties of the Political and Poetical: Erasure” by Solmaz Sharif.
  2. “Reaching Guantánamo” by Solmaz Sharif.
  3. Look at “The Race Within Erasure,” a Powerpoint presentation by Robin Coste Lewis, with special attention to her erasure, The Pickaninny Wins!
  4. “Will There Be More Than One Questioner?” by Nick Lantz.
  5. “We Redacted Everything That’s Not a Verifiably True Statement from Trump’s Time Interview About Truth” on Jezebel.

 

Writing Exercise: “Dear               ”

  1. Write a letter in the persona of a loved one of someone imprisoned. Say everything this person needs to say in your initial draft.
  2. Print off the poem, and act the part of the censor. With a Sharpie or dark pen, strike out passages that seem to pose pertinent and specific information.
  3. Post the original poem and the censored version, along with a paragraph-long reflection that considers which version is more evocative, more like a poem.

Short Film Adaptation of a Poem for Lit to Film

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This semester I am teaching Literature to Film, and I’ve assigned the following Short Film Adaptation of a Poem in order to offer my students, who come to the class from all majors, a chance to engage with poetry in a way they haven’t before, through a multimodal project that connects to our upcoming visiting writers event in April.

Short Film Adaptation of a Poem
This project requires that you and a partner select a single poem from either Aracelis Girmay or Jenny Johnson, Centenary’s Spring 2017 visiting poets, and create a short film adaptation of it to screen to our class and then again at A Reading by Aracelis Girmay and Jenny Johnson on Wednesday, April 15th. In completing this project, you will use a free video editing software like Splice or a similar program to render and support the poem through images and sound.

In preparation for this project, students have watched:

        1. “The Sleepwalker” by Theodore Ushev, a film adaptation of Lorca’s “Romance Sonambulo.”
        2. Moving Poems by John Lucas and Claudia Rankine.
        3. Selections from Motionpoems
        4. Riding the Highline, a short film by poets Kai Carlson-Wee and Anders Carlson-Wee.

They have also had the good fortune of Skyping with Saara Myrene Raappana from Motionpoems and Kai Carlson-Wee, poet and filmmaker. This past Monday, the class also went over storyboarding, and actively created a short storyboard for their film adaptation, some of which I will share if the students give me permission.

The first drafts of these short films will be shown and critiqued in class next Monday, with final drafts screened at the reading by poets Aracelis Girmay and Jenny Johnson on Wednesday, April 12th.

Craft of Poetry Discussion Exercise: “What Is a Poem? What Is Poetry?”

Note: In this in-class discussion exercise, my ENG 2030 students were able to interrogate the questions “what is poetry?” and “what is a poem?” by looking at different texts, some poetic and some religious and some musical, in order to answer the question. The links to the texts are below the directions.

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  • A traditional Irish blessing.

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind always be at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face,

and rains fall soft upon your fields.

  • These passages of religious texts (Qu’ran and Bible).

And until we meet again,

May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Have you considered him who turned away?

And gave a little, and held back?

Does he possess knowledge of the unseen, and can therefore foresee?

Or was he not informed of what is in the Scrolls of Moses?

And of Abraham, who fulfilled?

That no soul bears the burdens of another soul.

And that the human being attains only what he strives for.

And that his efforts will be witnessed.

Then he will be rewarded for it the fullest reward.

And that to your Lord is the finality.

And that it is He who causes laughter and weeping.

And that it is He who gives death and life.

 

Return, O LORD, deliver my soul: oh save me for thy mercies’ sake.

For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?

I am weary with my groaning; all the night make I my bed to swim; I water my couch with my tears.

Mine eye is consumed because of grief; it waxeth old because of all mine enemies.

Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity; for the LORD hath heard the voice of my weeping.

The LORD hath heard my supplication; the LORD will receive my prayer.

Let all mine enemies be ashamed and sore vexed: let them return and be ashamed suddenly.

 

 

 

  • Benjamin Bagby performing excerpts from Beowulf with harp accompaniment:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.




Craft of Prose Reading and Writing Exercise: Beautiful Sentences

Here is the writing exercise my substitute will do with my Craft of Prose class on Thursday, when I am in Chicago. I have redacted my students’ sentences, which are necessary to complete the writing exercise portion, in order to protect their creative work.

Beautiful Sentences

As a class, listen to each of these sentences and discuss in depth why they are — or might be considered to be — beautiful. Are there sounds you’re reacting to, e.g. rhyme, similar consonant sounds (consonance), similar vowel sounds (assonance), etc.? Does the sentence contain repetition? How does the form of the sentence, the syntax, support or deny the content?

“How wild it was, to let it be.”
—Cheryl Strayed, Wild

“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.”
—Zora Neale Hurston, opening of Their Eyes Were Watching God

“That great grand plosive second syllable. Quite the motherfucker, that.”
—Colson Whitehead, Apex Hides the Hurt

“There, in front of us, where a broken row of houses stood between us and the harbour, and where the eye encountered all sorts of stratagems, such as pale-blue and pink underwear cakewalking on a clothesline, or a lady’s bicycle and a striped cat oddly sharing a rudimentary balcony of cast iron, it was most satisfying to make out among the jumbled angles of roofs and walls, a splendid ship’s funnel, showing from behind the clothesline as something in a scrambled picture — Find What the Sailor Has Hidden — that the finder cannot unsee once it has been seen.”
—Vladimir Nabokov, ending of Speak, Memory

“I milked the cows, I churned the butter, I stored the cheese, I baked the bread, I brewed the tea, I washed the clothes, I dressed the children; the cat meowed, the dog barked, the horse neighed, the mouse squeaked, the fly buzzed, the goldfish living in a bowl stretched its jaws; the door banged shut, the stairs creaked, the fridge hummed, the curtains billowed up, the pot boiled, the gas hissed through the stove, the tree branches heavy with snow crashed against the roof; my heart beat loudly thud! thud!, tiny beads of water grew folds, I shed my skin…”
—Jamaica Kincaid, “The Letter from Home”

“Old lovers go the way of old photographs, bleaching out gradually as in a slow bath of acid: first the moles and pimples, then the shadings.”
—Margaret Atwood, Cat’s Eye

“It was a fine cry—loud and long—but it had no bottom and it had no top, just circles and circles of sorrow.”
—Toni Morrison, Sula

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
—F. Scott Fitzgerald, ending of The Great Gatsby

“It sounded suddenly directly above his head and when he looked it was not there but went on tolling and with each passing moment he felt an urgent need to run and hide as though the bell were sounding a warning and he stood on a street corner in a red glare of light like that which came from the furnace and he had a big package in his arms so wet and slippery and heavy that he could scarcely hold onto it and he wanted to know what was in the package and he stopped near an alley corner and unwrapped in and the paper fell away and he saw—it was his own head—his own head lying with black face and half-closed eyes and lips parted with white teeth showing and hair wet with blood and the red glare grew brighter like light shining down from a red moon and red stars on a hot summer night and he was sweating and breathless from running and the bell clanged so loud that he could hear the iron tongue clapping against the metal sides each time it swung to and fro and he was running over a street paved with black coal and his shoes kicked tiny lumps rattling against tin cans and he knew that very soon he had to find some place to hide but there was no place and in front of him white people were coming to ask about the head from which the newspapers had fallen and which was now slippery with blood in his naked hands and he gave up and stood in the middle of the street in the red darkness and cursed the booming bell and the white people and felt that he did not give a damn what happened to him and when the people closed in he hurled the bloody head squarely into their faces dongdongdong….”
—Richard Wright, Native Son

“A legion of horribles, hundreds in number, half naked or clad in costumes attic or biblical or wardrobed out of a fevered dream with the skins of animals and silk finery and pieces of uniform still tracked with the blood of prior owners, coats of slain dragoons, frogged and braided cavalry jackets, one in a stovepipe hat and one with an umbrella and one in white stockings and a bloodstained weddingveil and some in headgear of cranefeathers or rawhide helmets that bore the horns of bull or buffalo and one in a pigeontailed coat worn backwards and otherwise naked and one in the armor of a spanish conquistador, the breastplate and pauldrons deeply dented with old blows of mace or saber done in another country by men whose very bones were dust and many with their braids spliced up with the hair of other beasts until they trailed upon the ground and their horses’ ears and tails worked with bits of brightly colored cloth and one whose horse’s whole head was painted crimson red and all the horsemen’s faces gaudy and grotesque with daubings like a company of mounted clowns, death hilarious, all howling in a barbarous tongue and riding down upon them like a horde from a hell more horrible yet than the brimstone land of christian reckoning, screeching and yammering and clothed in smoke like those vaporous beings in regions beyond right knowing where the eye wanders and the lip jerks and drools.”
—Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian

“His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”
—James Joyce, ending of “The Dead”

“after that long kiss I near lost my breath yes he said I was a flower of the mountain yes so we are flowers all a womans body yes that was one true thing he said in his life and the sun shines for you today yes that was why I liked him because I saw he understood or felt what a woman is and I knew I could always get round him and I gave him all the pleasure I could leading him on till he asked me to say yes and I wouldnt answer first only looked out over the sea and the sky I was thinking of so many things he didnt know of Mulvey and Mr Stanhope and Hester and father and old captain Groves and the sailors playing all birds fly and I say stoop and washing up dishes they called it on the pier and the sentry in front of the governors house with the thing round his white helmet poor devil half roasted and the Spanish girls laughing in their shawls and their tall combs and the auctions in the morning the Greeks and the jews and the Arabs and the devil knows who else from all the ends of Europe and Duke street and the fowl market all clucking outside Larby Sharons and the poor donkeys slipping half asleep and the vague fellows in the cloaks asleep in the shade on the steps and the big wheels of the carts of the bulls and the old castle thousands of years old yes and those handsome Moors all in white and turbans like kings asking you to sit down in their little bit of a shop and Ronda with the old windows of the posadas 2 glancing eyes a lattice hid for her lover to kiss the iron and the wineshops half open at night and the castanets and the night we missed the boat at Algeciras the watchman going about serene with his lamp and O that awful deepdown torrent O and the sea the sea crimson sometimes like fire and the glorious sunsets and the figtrees in the Alameda gardens yes and all the queer little streets and the pink and blue and yellow houses and the rosegardens and the jessamine and geraniums and cactuses and Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.”
—James Joyce, ending of Ulysses

“Blame it or praise it, there is no denying the wild horse in us. To gallop intemperately; fall on the sand tired out; to feel the earth spin; to have—positively—a rush of friendship for stones and grasses, as if humanity were over, and as for men and women, let them go hang”
—Virginia Woolf, Jacob’s Room

More on Syntax, by Ellen Bryant Voigt
Syntax supplies language most of its…markers, and we’ve known many of them since childhood. A period marks a sentence as a discrete structure, composed primarily of moveable parts or chunks (noun phrase, verb phrase, etc.) that are processed by the brain sequentially. As soon as group of words makes tentative sense, we file it away temporarily, according to its relationship to the fundament, and look for the next one. In language as in music, repetition—whether lexical (the same words) or grammatical (the same function for the words) or syntactical (the same arrangement of the words)—also marks phrases or chunks. As in music, these units can also be grouped into even larger chunks, paragraphs or stanzas, to form astonishingly elaborate but comprehensible structures….Like the engine of a train, the fundament may appear almost anywhere in the sentence, pushing some of its boxcars and pulling others

Revision Exercise: Beautiful Sentences

Select one of the following sentences you wrote, offered to you anonymously in a hat, and begin the exercise.

  1. Read the sentence you drew, and answer the following questions in your writing journal:
    1. Is this sentence grammatically correct?
    2. Is it clear? Do you know what’s going on?
    3. Read the sentence aloud. Is it a beautiful sentence? Why or why not?
  2. Get your bearings on the sentence’s style:
    1. Is it in the active or passive voice? Would it work better if it was revised to address the voice?
    2. Is it in the past, present, or future tense? What tense would make the sentence seem more immediate and exciting?
    3. What is the point of view of the sentence?
  3. Interrogate the sentence further:
    1. Is there any cliche language here?
    2. Is there any redundant, excess, and/or unnecessary language here? Example: “I successfully catch the ball” could be revised to “I catch the ball,” and it would still mean the same thing.
  4. Revise the sentence so that it is beautiful! (5–7 minutes.)

After everyone has finished revising the sentence, each person should write their revised version of the sentence on the board. Once all of the sentences are on the board, each person should read the original sentence they drew as well as their revised version. The class will vote on whether the original or the revised sentences is more “beautiful” and why it is so.

After everyone has shared, the class should vote on the top three revised sentences on the board and discuss why these, out of all of the sentences, are the most beautiful.