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.

New relevant reading for my Literary Editing & Publishing class

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On The Atlantic, Lindsay Lynch writes about typesetting letterpress and the en space in “How I Came to Love the En Space”:

To understand letterpress printing, imagine that every letter you see on your screen is an object, a tiny piece of metal. Not only is every letter an object, but every space between every letter is also an object. Every space between words, every space between lines—every bit of white space is an object. When typesetting, a printer has to think about negative space as something tangible.

This is where the en space comes in. An en space is a rectangular piece of metal or wood whose primary purpose is to be smaller than the metal or wood type being printed. The en space isn’t type-high—it doesn’t sit proud like an ordinary character—so it doesn’t catch ink when it’s run through the press. It just holds printable type together in a tight grid, creating spaces between words. It is never seen, but without it, everything printed would be nonsense.

“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.

Writing Exercise: “View-master” for Online Prose Workshop

Last week, in ENG 2016OL: Online Prose Workshop, my students read “One Week in Liberia” and “Speaking in Tongues” (pgs. 110–148) of Zadie Smith’s Changing My Mind. Read “Damn Cold in February: Buddy Holly, View-master, and the A-Bomb” by Joni Tevis and Creative Nonfiction Primer on Moodle. They then completed the following writing exercise on a discussion forum.

 

Writing Exercise: “View-master”

Free-write 250 words about a trip you took to some place that interested you. It could be as dramatic as Liberia (a la Zadie Smith) or as local as your post office.

Introduction of Literary Publication History in Literary Editing & Publishing

Thanks to David Gants at Florida State University for posting some of his course material, including a “Book History Timeline,” from his 2007/2011 ENG 5933: History of the Book, as it proved to be incredibly useful in my ENG 3099: Literary Editing & Publishing course at Centenary University. Yesterday, I gave a brief presentation on the history of the book in order to ask the question, where should we begin our investigation into the history of literary publications, including the focus of our course, literary magazines. I linked to Gants’s timeline on my Moodle for students to read, and, throughout the presentation, we discussed the history of writing, texts, and books in broad strokes, from cuneiform to the little magazines (The Dial, The Little Magazine, and Poetry) of the early 20th century. Students arrived in the lecture having read selections on the history of the literary magazine from Paper Dreams: Writers and Editors on the American Literary Magazine.

First few lines from “Why I Write Poems About My Body”

Yesterday I drafted a poem titled “Why I Write Poems About My Body.” As an undergrad professor, I’ve been thinking a lot about what writing I was exposed to when I was an undergraduate, what that offered me, and how it limited me. One part ars poetica, one part invective, the poem needed me to write it, even if only for myself.

Introductions and the Alias of Imagination for First Day of Craft of Prose

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 two components:

  1. An introduction questionnaire, allowing students to tell me a little about them, their needs, and their preferences.
  2. A Writing Exercise in which students introduce themselves by creating a fake or exaggerated writer’s bio or acknowledgments page, titled “Alias of Imagination.”

Students will read two of Michael Martone’s flash CNF pieces titled “Contributor’s Notes” and “Acknowledgments” by Paul Theroux. This should be a fun way for students to tell one another about themselves while exercising their skills on the page.

“The Craft of Prose” Fall 2015: Course Description, Required Texts, and Grade Requirements

Instructor’s Course Description
As a means of exploring the craft of prose writing, we will read, analyze, and imitate two living writers: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Jesmyn Ward. By reading two, book-length works by each writer—a short story collection and book-length essay by Adichie and a novel and memoir by Ward—we will see how these writers develop their unique styles across genres and locate how their personal concerns inform their fictional narratives. Additionally, we will supplement these texts with short stories and essays by some of the most influential prose writers of the 20th century to understand the history and development of American prose over the last one hundred years. We will translate these immersive reading experiences into writing skills through discussion, exercises, and workshop. Several times throughout the semester, students will turn in original writing for workshop, a collaborative discussion about writing techniques and their effects on readers, and later revise two of the pieces using the comments received in workshop. You should bring to this class a hard work ethic supported by curiosity and generosity. We will base our discussions on how texts work rather than what they mean, after Francine Prose’s ideal of “reading like a writer.” My approach to teaching writing is founded on the belief that our writing skills must be practiced and cultivated, and that one must continually challenge one’s aesthetics, habits, and concerns throughout one’s writing life in order to write anything of consequence to one’s readers and, perhaps more importantly, one’s self.

Required Texts

  • The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Anchor, 2010. ISBN: 978-0307455918
  • We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Anchor, 2015. ISBN: 978-1101911761.
  • The Best American Essays of the Century, ed. Joyce Carol Oates. Mariner, 2001. ISBN: 978-0618155873.
  • The Best American Short Stories of the Century, ed. John Updike. Mariner, 2000. ISBN: 978-0395843673.
  • Men We Reaped: A Memoir by Jesmyn Ward. Bloomsbury USA, 2014. ISBN: 978-1608197651
  • Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward. Bloomsbury USA, 2012. ISBN: 978-1608196265

Grade Requirements

  • Class Participation (10%)
  • Group Presentation (15%)
  • Four Workshop Pieces (40%)
  • Two Revisions (15%)
  • Two Imitations (10%)
  • Discussion Board Participation (5%)
  • Final Reading (5%)

“Think Lagunitas business” Exercise

Postcard of the United States Weather Bureau buildings and tavern at the summit of Mt. Tamalpais, Marin County, California, circa 1906. (Source: NOAA Photo Library)
Postcard of the United States Weather Bureau buildings and tavern at the summit of Mt. Tamalpais, Marin County, California, circa 1906. (Source: NOAA Photo Library)

Class: Introduction to Creative Writing (The College of William & Mary)
Genre:
Poetry
Purpose:
To consider how language is the raw material with which all writers work and to consider the unique challenges that poetry in translation offers
Readings:
A packet of poetry in translation

A native speaker of a foreign language that you do not speak has given you a literal translation (that is, a word-for-word rendering) of a poem written by a poet who writes in her language. The native speaker has asked you to further translate the poem so that it makes sense and is a good poem.

The poem’s original language is from a unique language family and shares no roots with English. Because of this, there are some words that are almost untranslatable in English; the native speaker has done her best to provide you with some sense of those words, sometimes substituting phrases or even metaphors for individual objects. Additionally, because the grammar of the original language is so unique, the sentence structure often doesn’t work in English. Not only will you have to find translations for individual words, you’ll have to make sense of those words in foreign syntax.

You read the translation*…

Think Lagunitas business

Loss innovation. It seems that the old way of thinking. The idea, for example, eliminates the sense that the general idea of ​​light. The resurrection of the dead birch, black, the face of the first month, or any other theory of the world tribal carved sad because the skills to deal with the clown Beck, anything associated with Blackberry Blackberry word complaint if it does in this world, it is. We talked last night, my friend, marina trouble hearing sound thin. After that, I knew it from the start, and judges, and chin, hair, and the woman, and you, and I am his wife, and I remember that I love you still, it was several times small shoulders in his hands, and was surprised to see the face of violence, such as the drought and salt and the river of my childhood and Willow Iceland, sad songs levels, such as mud fish, we have a little money should pumpkin orange. It is difficult to deal with. It is necessary if we want to get an external desire eternal. And did the same to him. Reminds me a lot, and his hands and the length of the bread and said that his father hated him because he was asleep. Time was the word supernatural, flesh and body. Love, lunch and dinner, and BlackBerry.

*In order to produce this text, I ran Robert Hass’s “Meditation at Lagunitas” through several different languages (Maori, Chinese Traditional, German, French, Arabic, Finnish, Irish, and Icelandic) in Google Translate before translating it back into English.

The native speaker has also noted that the original poem was in one stanza and contained thirty-one lines. The literal translation, however, is in prose. She has converted the original poem into prose in order to preserve some semblance of the original syntax, and she hints that most of the lines contained between seven and ten words, except the last line, which only contained four.

You get to work and set about your translation systematically:

  1. You assess the overall tone of the poem, considering if it’s joyful, melancholic, bittersweet, or meditative.
  2. You then summarize the poem, identifying its:
    1. setting;
    2. speaker;
    3. addressee (if there is one) and/or audience;
    4. primary themes;
    5. and motivations and/or stakes.
  3. You now notate those places in the poem in which there seems to be some kind of shift in setting, direction, and/or tone. (This could also include an associative leap between images or thoughts. If you notice one of these leaps, briefly summarize the connection.)
  4. You then start the hard work of translating the poem, sentence-by-sentence, for clarity. At this point, you might begin to take some liberties with the text. As you’re revising the sentence, decide if you want to:
    1. change any words or phrases so that the poem will seem more accessible to North American readers (i.e. an American might write “truck” when an English translator would write “lorry”)
    2. or change any language that doesn’t seem essential to the overall meaning of the poem but that might make the poem sound more musical.
  5. Now begin to format the poem for line length, breaks, and stanza structure. Decide whether or not you want to try to mimic the poem’s original format. (If not, make a case for it.)
  6. Share your translation.