Writing Exercise: Limisymbology

Note: Last week, my Grad Poetry Workshop didn’t have time to do this exercise in class, so I sent them home with it. Later this week, I’ll find out how they liked this exercise inspired by some authors in We Want It All: An Anthology of Radical Trans Poetics.

How far can we push language so that it still makes sense? What is “sense” anyway? And what happens when we remind ourselves that all written language is made up of symbols? 

The title of this exercise come from the combination of liminality (that is, “occupying a position at, or on both sides, of a boundary or threshold”) and symbology (“the study or use of symbols”). As such, we will locate the liminalities of our language through the use of symbols, “ungrammatical” syntax, and unique typographical choices.

Poets Andrea Abi-Karam, Cody-Rose Clevidence, and Mai Schwartz all use some of these techniques in the excerpt from We Want It All: An Anthology of Radical Trans Poetics assigned for today’s class by Samuel Cormac. Attached are poems by Gabrielle Calvocoressi and Jos Charles that also work with these strategies.

After discussing these poems, freewrite in your daily writing journal and incorporate one or more of these techniques, i.e. using a symbol to stand in for a noun, changing spellings, compressing words, and/or introducing symbols/punctuation where they typically don’t go. 

After freewriting, reflect in your journal: What does this do to your poem? How does it change its pacing? Its tone? Its “meaning”? Its appearance? What associations does this choice bring into the poem that weren’t there previously?

1/8 Lesson Plan and Writing Exercise: “The Art of Losing”

Note: This will be my first meeting with my combined intermediate and advanced, undergraduate workshops. I hope that this exercise will open up our class in such a way that we get to know one another better and we begin to discuss meaningful craft elements. Like all of my writing exercises and readings beyond the required, book-length texts, this information is provided to students through a Google Document I call the “Course Reader,” which I update throughout the semester so as to provide necessary materials and instructions while developing a log for the course, the latter of which is especially meaningful for students who need to refresh on a class experience and/or who missed a class. I also like to have a record of our conversations, and so after each class I usually provide a quick, bullet-pointed list that recaps our conversations and/or important class decisions.

ENG 326/426 Writing Poetry: Intermediate/Writing Poetry: Advanced
University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Spring 2018

Summer, Online Intro to CW Writing Exercise: “Code Switch”

Writing Exercise: “Code Switch”

  1. Read a little bit about the linguistic concept of “code-switching.”
  2. Now, let’s apply it to your creative writing. Create a dramatic situation in which a first-person narrator has to switch between two different types of language in her narration and in her dialogue, e.g. her dialogue with her best friend is informal but, in telling the story to a wider audience, she uses proper grammar and more meditative language.
  3. For an added challenge, you can add in a third act of code-switching, i.e. your narrator might talk one way in her narration, one way to her best friend on the phone, and one way with her mother while they are out to lunch.


Note: Please take care to avoid cultural appropriation with this exercise in code-switching. To do so, you might try taking on acts of code-switching that are familiar to you and your discourses.

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.

“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.

Guess Who Reading Discussion Prompt for Craft of Prose

In this reading discussion prompt, students are asked to consider what elements contribute to our understanding of character in this “Guess Who” game in which students draw a character who appears in chapters 3–12 of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and then describe them by answering a series of questions. They will use their descriptions to come up with three clues about the character: one is a concrete detail about the character’s appearance, the second is to identify a scene in which they appear, and the third is a literary craft element that helps reveal their character.

Poetry Reading Calibration and a Writing Exercise for the First Day of Poetry Workshop

Note: In an effort to keep this blog updated regularly, I’m going to be storing my writing exercises and handouts in my Google Drive. I will post these exercises as a link here.

This single document includes three different components:

  1. An introduction questionnaire, allowing students to tell me a little about them, their needs, and their preferences.
  2. A Poetry Reading Calibration Exercise, featuring Ari Banias’s poem “A Sunset.”
  3. A Writing Exercise titled “Home” after the Safiya Sinclair poem by the same name.

I’m giving these exercises on the first day of class in order to get a better sense of where the students are in terms of their poetry knowledge and reading ability. Additionally, I wanted to introduce them to some terminology (e.g. line breakstoneconcrete details, etc.) that will make it easier for them to talk about poetry throughout the course.


“Ornithology” Poetry Analysis and Imitation Exercise

Class: Introduction to Creative Writing (The College of William & Mary)
To become more scrupulous readers of poetry

In order to prepare my Intro to Creative Writing students for talking more about poetry with regard to the author’s intentionality before their poetry workshop, I’m asking them to read and examine the poem “Ornithology” by Lynda Hull. They then have to answer questions about specifics in the poem. I’ve provided these questions via track changes in Microsoft Word:

Ornithology Poetry Analysis Exercise screenshot - 1 Ornithology Poetry Analysis Exercise screenshot - 2 Ornithology Poetry Analysis Exercise screenshot - 3

Once they respond to these questions on their own, we will then discuss the possibilities. My hope is that they will see the value in discussing the possibilities rather than strive to make proclamations about what the poem is or what it’s doing.

After they complete the analysis, I’m going to ask them to try to write an imitation of at least ten lines (the formal unit that’s repeated throughout the poem) with special attention to sound and rhythm.