Archive for August, 2009


As you may have noticed in the syllabus, part of the mid-term portfolio requirement is to submit work to Euphemism, ISU’s online creative writing journal.

Dr. Elizabeth Hatmaker, who recently had a book accepted for publication by BlazeVOX, a great indie press from Buffalo, is the faculty moderator, and she sent out the following:

Yo Creative Writers and Publishers!

(yes, YOU, muso, imo, DIY, fan fiction, romantic, sci-fi dorko, beat-style, experimental, world-beat, any-kind-of-punk, new media, eco-friendly, freako, slam-style, spoken word, graphic novel, avant- whatever-whatever types)


(ISU’s on-line creative arts journal)



6 p.m.

Publication Unit Office (Fairchild Hall Room 310)

If you want to publish the innovative work of your fellow ISU students as well as that of national and international writers–

If you want to get experience in the creative publishing field–

If you want to surround yourself with other committed writers, performers, composers, and artists with whom to write and share your work–

If you want to get serious about sending out your own work–

If you want to be part of the creative discussion on campus and in the community—


NO experience necessary– just a love of writing and a desire to see creativity published in all its forms.

Check us out at: www.english.ilstu.edu/euphemism

For more information, write to eahatma@ilstu.edu

(Note: If you are interested in working on staff, it would be a great way to interact with and feel out our local literary community. I’d also be willing to talk about working for Euphemism fulfilling/being traded for some requirements from the syllabus, provided we agree on some way to connect it to the class i.e. blog posts about your work there, etc.)


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This is a collaborative writing game called the exquisite corpse. Each person in the group should take out a sheet of paper. Begin by writing a line or sentence, whatever comes to mind. Fold the paper so your line is barely covered. Pass the paper to your left. As you receive new paper, keep adding lines and folding over. By the time your paper returns to you, you will have a collaboratively authored text.

Rationale: The exquisite corpse is a surrealist technique that works for writing and also for collaborative visual art.  You will likely end up with a strange text that you could not have authored by yourself. Also, since many of the lines are not “yours,” you may feel more comfortable about revising them and trying different techniques to reshape the lines.

The best reason for doing this though is fun. It really is a game and should be treated as such. Many people do not value the play that is part of writing. It’s fun to race through creating a collaborative text. This can also be a great party game if you have friends who write. Keep making exquisite corpses and sharing with each other.

For Later: Read and reread the text you have. Blog about what you think it means. Revise it to make it make more sense or play up your interpretation of the meaning. Revise to make it more strange or wild. Break lines to make it a poem. Fill out phrases to make a story. Invent characters who speak the text in dialogue. The possibilities are endless.

Adapted from A Book of Surrealist Games edited by Mel Gooding

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I would like everyone in class to meet with me twice during the semester during my office hours or by appointment. For one meeting, we will talk about your writing. For the other, I’d like to discuss the book/author and journal you chose to read to fill out the reading list.

I’m also making myself available on Facebook, if you’re comfortable using that space to chat.

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First, write down a statement declaring your mental state: angry, hopeful, shocked, ecstatic, catatonic despair etc.

Now, write a text that simulates a mental state other than the one you declared. You can invent a character in this state and write in the first person.

Insanity is a fun state to choose…

Write for ten minutes, actively focusing on being in the mental state you are depicting.

Rationale: When we write, we often receive the direction our mind naturally inclines toward, which is a passive mental state. Freewriting or Automatic Writing harnesses this; letting the mind lead us where it will and separating mind from consciousness.

Affecting a mental state other than the one we declare in this exercise can be useful for inventing new writing or pushing characters in new directions even as we create them. It forces us to be active while still being inventive.

For later: Weave a character in this mental state into a story or play or invent a situation for the condition of your character.

This exercise is adapted from A Surrealist Book of Games, edited by Mel Gooding.

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In accordance with asking all of you to blog as part of the practice of being a creative writer, I’m starting a series of mini-interviews with writers who blog.

Since I am the person most readily available to begin, here goes.

When and why did you get interested in blogging?

I got interested in blogging during my time in New England College’s MFA program. It was the summer of 2005, and I had been following my former teacher Bob Archambeau’s Samizdat Blog. He was getting into some interesting territory about the end of the age of indeterminacy in contemporary poetry, pushing for what he calls poetic contingency, an intertextual, investigative, relational poetics.

This blew my mind and set the stage for a vast widening of the lens through which I viewed what could be done in poetry and creative writing. Shortly after, I began to blog at Fluid / Exchange and edit a blog-based online journal, called Seven Corners.

Do you read blogs? Which ones? How often?

I follow many blogs across different blogging subgenres in Google Reader. I currently have 108 subscriptions, and my list keeps changing and growing. I check Google Reader daily like e-mail, but I’ve now subscribed to far too many blogs to read them all daily.

I read Samizdat Blog, Silliman’s Blog, Structure & Surprise, Harriet, Exoskeleton, swoonrocket, {LIME TREE}, Hot Chicks with Douchebags, wordlustitude, Forgotten Bookmarks, and many others.
How does blogging affect your writing practice?

Blogging has definitely helped me connect with writers I would not have under different circumstances. Whether we meet face to face or not, I feel I know these people somewhat because blogs are a semi-formal writing space through which we can learn quite a bit about the blogger’s personality and thinking.

Editing Seven Corners has been a life-changing experience. It has helped me codify my own ethos as a writer, allowing me to really support local poetry while also supporting poetry globally, and it has given me a great deal of confidence as a writer and editor.

Honestly, I wish I had more time to blog. Then again, blogging is a huge part of my pedagogical practice, so I blog often, really. I guess I feel guilty about not being able to blog more regularly at Fluid / Exchange, which I view as my first blog. I have a few interesting draft posts there that I haven’t published. Being in the academy makes me more shy to publish posts on a whim.

At this point, I wish all my blogs were on WordPress, which is far superior to Blogger. Maybe that’ll be my big blogging project, to covert my blogs to wordpress.

seven corners logo

My Seven Corners logo.

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Take the full name of someone you love. Using only the letters of that persons name, create a short text.

When I do this assignment, using say, my mother’s name, Kathleen Halle, I begin by making lists of words, from basic words like “a,” “the,” and “at” moving on to bigger words like “lean,” “hell,” or “ate.” Try to exhaust this word game first, and when you have a list populated with different parts of speech, start writing phrases and sentences.

Spend about 20 minutes making the list of words and beginning your text. Shoot for about 100 words your first draft.

Rationale: Sometimes we can be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of possibilities when encountering the blank page. This assignment gives us a way of severely limiting those possibilities (and possibly hinting at subject matter). Richard Hugo and Brian Kiteley, just to name two authors, advise working with a constraint like this to focus your writing. Caught up in the rules, our mind often unconsciously slips in what we really want to say, and in surprising ways.

For later: If you own Scrabble, take the game out, grab the letters you need from the name, and make new arrangements. Defamiliarizing the letters will help you eye to find things you couldn’t by looking at the name in its usual order. Making paper letter squares is fine if you don’t have Scrabble. Add in the new words or rearrange existing phrases or sentences to change your original draft.

When you revisit the text, you can be strict and adhere to the tenets of the original assignment or more forgiving, changing words and whole sentences.

Credit: This assignment is from the introduction to Brian Kiteley’s book The 4 am Breakthrough.

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How Workshops Happen

The workshop is the driving force of a creative writing class. Other than our writing practice, it is the thing at which creative writers ought to work hardest. Workshops can be anxiety-filled situations for new writers, but it helps if we think of the work we bring to the workshop as neither as bad as we think nor as good. It is likely somewhere in the middle.

Then again, it’s often fun and thrilling to hear people analyze and argue about your work. It is surprising what other readers can find there that we would never see ourselves.

The feedback we get from workshops can be both enlightening and useful, but all of it is not. After you workshop work, however, it is important to develop a radar about which suggestions ought to be adopted, which can be discarded and why.

For the purposes of this class, we will workshop in two distinct-yet-related ways.


What to bring:

The class before you are scheduled to workshop, please bring 18 typed copies of your work with your name on it to distribute to the class. Limit what you hand out to one page of single-spaced work. Don’t forget to print a copy for yourself, too.

Workshops are the most productive if we bring work to them that needs work or that we need to see a reaction to. It is ill-advised to bring work that is too raw, meaning either it is still too emotionally connected to us to the point where we may defend it at all cost and not be open to suggestion or it is not well-wrought enough yet for readers. It is also not a great idea for newer writers to bring work that we consider done or finished or that we are not intent on revising (there is a time for this kind of workshopping, but it comes after you’ve developed writing skills and a critical sensibility about dealing with comments).

At home:

For each full-class workshop, we should study the work we receive. Studying a work means reading the text at least twice (the more the better) and marking up the page as we read. Remember, the nuances and facets of a text often do not reveal themselves at first glance. When we mark texts, it is best to look for surface-level and global characteristics we want to make mention of in workshop. Underlining, writing marginal notes, and drawing connecting lines across the page between passage can all be effective strategies, but please, please, cover the page in mark-ups.

After you’ve studied the work and marked up the text, provide a half page of typed comments. These can explain mark-up notes in detail, discuss perception of the author’s intention and their ability to achieve that intention in the text. Typed comments can attempt to parse deeper meanings, plots or offer possible revisions, expansions, connections to other authors this text reminded you of, and myriad other miscellaneous ideas.

Include your name on the typed comments and attach them to your marked-up copy of the text.

In class:

Our workshops will have a deliberate process. First, the author will read the work aloud, possibly twice if it is short. Next, the class will go around the room, alternating between praise and constructive criticism until everyone has made a comment about the work. The writers who workshopped in the class before will be make first comments for this class’s writers, and we will move around the circle from there. During this part of the workshop, the author should refrain from speaking, even if asked a question, taking note of comments and questions, and who posed them, in writing on his or her copy of the text. After this, the class can make additional comments or present questions to the author. The author may respond to questions at this time but is not required to. Finally, the author can ask questions of the group, ask for clarification about comments that are unclear, or offer explanations, if needed.

This whole process should take about 10-12 minutes per writer. We will study 3-4 writers per workshop.


After four weeks of class featuring only full-class workshops, we will divide into six groups of three. I will assign theses groups, making my best effort to create productive environments for everyone.

The small-group workshop is meant to allow two other people to closely read your work and monitor your development as a writer during the semester. The three members of the group will be in control of how group time is used, and I will not be involved.

Small-group workshops differ from large-group workshops because the text is not taken home and studied in advance. While you should still bring printed copies for your group mates, you can read them in class and offer a “readerly” response. This is, after all, the way most literature gets read outside of the academy. Praise and critical suggestions can be made, but tangential discussions are acceptable, too, provided everyone in the group gets a turn to have their work read.

The small-group workshop offers an opportunity to re-workshop revised texts or bring new work that would not otherwise get a chance to be workshopped.

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