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Archive for October, 2009

HoTT is Hot at FSU

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Less for More at Public Universities

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Thoughts on the Neuronovel

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National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)

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The Bizarro Revision

For this revision assignment, choose a piece from your body of work that you feel is not working. With that text before you, write its exact opposite. For example, if I began a poem with “December and the first snow stained with dog piss and Michelin sludge” might become “July and pristine white sand beach and Gulf glisten an explosion of precious gems,” and so forth. Once you’ve created the inverse of your original piece, see if a useful hybrid can be made, blending the original with its inverse to create a new piece.

The example above works with images, but if you are writing plot-based fictions, you may want to work a story toward the opposite conclusion: girl meets boy, girl likes boy, girl and boy buy a condo on Michigan Ave. might become girl meets boy, girl like boy, boy likes to cheat, girl tortures herself by staying with cheater, girl kills boy by pushing him over the upper deck railing at sporting event. A hybrid might be girl meets boy, girl likes boy, girl and boy move in together, boy dies tragically falling to his death while trying to catch their ferret, Chumly, who was about to swan dive off the balcony of their high-rise Michigan Ave. condo.

Another variation on this assignment is to not look at the original text but to write its inverse from memory.

Rationale: Most revision work we do in creative writing occurs with texts that we are not satisfied with, for whatever reason. All the invention work we did during the early part of the semester gives us a great body of different texts, and our journals and blogs can be a great source to mine when we are unable to invent or generate new material or when its time to revise and put a project together. I find also that the things we want to write about most come up over and over again in my writing, whether I consciously strive to write about them or they unconsciously invade my writing, so using old texts as sources often leads me to discover or better understand the work I want to write about.

This revision assignment can also break us of the habit of trying to stay true to real events in our fictive creations. When I was beginning to write, it mattered to me a great deal to be able to “get things right” as they occurred in real life or in my memory of it. Assignments like this can help us to learn that the truth of real life does not necessarily make better creative writing, and that by straying from reality, we can encounter the (capital T) Truth of knowledge, language or emotion, among other thigns.

Adapted from “Jump-Starting the Dead Poem” by Lynne McMahon from The Practice of Poetry, Robin Behn and Chase Twichell, eds.

The Bizarro Code, Superman comics

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Many of you have queried about why we are reading the book and journal of your choice and what you all will do with it. First of all, I am a big believer in plastic or open reading lists, and I wanted to give you all a chance to choose readings that are meaningful to you rather than assign all the texts. I would like you to complete two assignments based on your readings.

Book Review

On your blog, I’d like you to write a 400-600 word review of the book you’ve chosen mindful of the criteria listed below and the accompanying explanations*:

  • Conceptual Core: Every book or text that gets written has a purpose, something at its core that drives not only the author to write it but also publishers to publish it and readers to read it. To get at the conceptual core of a text, begin by asking why the text needs to exist and what the text is built around, what is at its center? If you have a difficult time answering the why and what questions, then you can start to make critical judgments about the text. The conceptual core, if summarized well for someone, ought to pique interest in the text.
  • Creativity: In my estimation, creativity engages the criterion of originality, but it also engages genre conventions, how well does the author know the expectations of a genre and then choose to work within those parameters or react against them. This came up during our discussion about the midterm portfolio. Creativity might also be called “the new” or fashionable. When assessing the creativity of a work, ask not only has this been done before but also how well has this been done before? What are the standards and conventions for a text like this? (Sometimes, at this point, we may not have read enough to know. Too, people make the case that a truly challenging, original, creative work teaches readers how it needs to be read.)
  • Research/Credibility (Ethos): Has the writer done the diligence to be able to create this text? Research is not simply contingency (or adding things to a text that might be looked up, like allusions or intertextual quotations/appropriations). Research is also awareness of self, awareness of characters, awareness of emotions, awareness of motivations. It is attention to details (rather than arbitrariness or randomness). Research has a relationship with creativity, and these two couple up to determine an author’s ethos or credibility.
  • Form/Content: What does the text tell you and in what format is it presented? These two things have a relationship. Form is part of the content; content dictates form. Issues of craft are associated with form and content. What are the author’s techniques and tactics? How well do they deploy them? Form/Content also engages with arrangement, sequencing, organization, both in individual works and the larger text. Does the design of a text serve the text well (design should be functional and inevitable, unless difficulty with design is a tactic of the text).
  • Audience: In most cases, writing is written to be read. But by whom? Speculating about the audience(s) a text might appeal to is a large part of doing a review. What evidence does the text offer that it is for that audience?
  • Timeliness (aka Kairos) and Socio-historical/Personal Context: Why is the book you chose appropriate to not only the time in which it first appeared but also the time in which you read it? Simply because a book is published in 2009 CE does not mean it is timely. Timeliness implies necessariness and vitality. Texts from the 14th century can be more timely than those published last week; context dictates this. Context engages where a text fits historically, culturally, economically, and context is also personal. The time in your reading life in which you engage with a text can have an impact on your relationship with it. It not only should be timely in general but also timely in relation to you and your reading (synchronistic occurrences can re-contextualize certain texts, making them more meaningful by the chance arrangement of your reading of them).

I’d like you to use WordPress.com’s page fuction to create a new page for your book review. I would like for you to be mindful of designing the blog page. Pictures are good. This link is an example of a journal review I’ve done on a blog. Here is an example of a shorter book review I’ve done.

This review will be due on December 3. During that week, you will read and respond to two classmates reviews (respond by December 6).

*The criteria above are peer review criteria from English 239: Multimodal Composition, another class in which students are writing in multiple, hybridized modalities. We call the review criteria Kuhn+2. I have added the explanations and modifications.

Journal/Blog Presentation

The final portfolio requires that you also submit work to a literary journal or zine, either print or online, that publishes work similar to what you write. While we will talk about submission tactics and etiquette soon, it will be useful in the meantime to read an issue of a contemporary journal that might be a target for publication for you or your classmates.

For the journal presentation, I’d like you to do a brief write-up  on the blog (250 words) describing what kind of work it publishes e.g. experimental prose, creative nonfiction, children’s literature, who publishes there e.g. younger feminist poets, established mainstream fiction writers, and where we might find information on submitting. It is also good to know about access. How much does it cost to subscribe? Do they subscribe at Milner? Is it print or online? Bullet points or sections are great for this. Pictures a plus.

I’d like you to then present your findings to the class in a five-minute presentation in which you cover the above material and perhaps share a piece from the journal that is representative.

On the other hand, if you are smitten with blogging like me, you can eschew the journal review in favor of reading a year’s worth of blog entries from a creative writer who blogs (I am willing to prorate how much of a blog you have to read based on how often a blogger blogs. For example, Ron Silliman of Silliman’s Blog posts almost every day, and although useful to read, it would be way too much work for the purposes of this assignment.

To do a blog review, you can and should consider the above criteria from the book review section (Kuhn+2) for the blog. The explanations may need slight modification to fit the blog genre, but they will still work. Presentations will happen on Thursday, November 12, which will give you all a week to process and prepare a submission before the portfolios are due to me after swapping (November 19).

A post about submitting work will follow.

I hope this clears up confusion.

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Here.  The only thing missing is coverage of fancy writing implements…

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Try translating this German poem byRainer Maria Rilke homophonically, or by writing how it sounds to you in English:

MITTE aller Mitten, Kern der Kerne,
Mandel, die sich einschließt und versüßt, –
dieses Alles bis an alle Sterne
ist dein Fruchtfleisch: Sei gegrüßt.

Sieh, du fühlst, wie nichts mehr an dir hängt;
im Unendlichen ist deine Schale,
und dort steht der starke Saft und drängt.
Und von außen hilft ihm ein Gestrahle,

denn ganz oben werden deine Sonnen
voll und glühend umgedreht.
Doch in dir ist schon begonnen,
was die Sonnen übersteht.


Rationale: Homophonic translation can be a way to work with texts that yields something new and different from what we write on our own. I often read and re-read my own work until the language literally guides me in new directions.
For later: Homophonically translate a text or part of a text you’ve already written. You can do entire poems or just the dialogue of stories. This often has surprising results.

Further Reading: Check this link to my friend M. Ayodele Heath’s blog.

Charles Berstein wreading experiments at UPENN.


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Jeremy Bushnell, who blogs over at racoon: notes and scavengings, is apparently teaching a writing course on reading video games, and he has come up with 64 canoncial titles.

I’m not much of a gamer myself, but the level of interactivity in games makes them a much more potent literary form than even hypertextual works. Lots of emerging philosophy exists on interactivity and neuroscience. It’s really interesting.

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Robert Archambeau

Robert Archambeau

It’s safe to say I would not be teaching creative writing without Robert Archambeau. I took as many classes as I could with him as an undergraduate at Lake Forest College, and he has continued to be a mentor and friend to me after graduation. He is also one of the best bloggers on poetry and literature you can find on the web. His Samizdat Blog is must reading for me, as he is able to blend hyper-intelligent criticism with reader-pleasing wit.

Archambeau has written a collection of poems Home and Variations (Salt Publishing, 2004) and the chapbook Citation Suite (Wild Honey Press, 1997). His critical work includes the edited collections Word Play Place: Essays on the Poetry of John Matthias (Swallow Press, 1998) and Vectors: New Poetics (Samizdat Editions, 2001). He is currently working on a book of criticism about the Stanford poets who studied under Yvor Winters and a historical examination of aesthetics. He edited the international poetry journal Samizdat from 1998-2004, many of the issues can be found here.

When and why did you get interested in blogging?

August of 2004. I’d folded-up shop with Samizdat, the poetry broadsheet I’d been editing, and I missed writing the little editorials (700 or 1000 words) I’d put in every issue. I’d found them a very congenial and informal way of talking about literature: different from the book review or the scholarly article, and didn’t really have a replacement. Blogging was still new-ish as a medium for discussing literature, and there wasn’t much of a model for how to do it. I liked that. And I liked the immediacy of it: I didn’t have to deal with editors, or wait for a journal to appear in print.

Do you read blogs? Which ones? How often?

I read Mark Scroggins’ blog all the time, and Josh Corey and Ron Silliman less frequently, as well as Digital Emunction, a blog run by a bunch of University of Chicago guys. There are others (yours and Adam Fieled’s, among others) I catch up on, and then there are plenty of others I run across just by surfing around.

How does blogging affect your writing practice?

It is a significant part of my writing practice. I suppose it’s had a general effect on what I do, though, making things more conversational, and less governed by the relatively impersonal modes of scholarly and critical writing for journals. And it’s made me feel the constant presence of a conversation. It’s hard to paint, now, the curious silence that surrounded American poetry before the internet. Unless you were in some hotbed of poetic activity, you had to wait for the journals to come out, and they — with a few exceptions — felt more like isolated pronouncements than like conversations.

We’re in a good moment for blogging right now, I think. I’m afraid someone will come along and fuck it all up by turning it into something that graduate students in MFA programs are required to do, though. Then we’ll have people getting into it to advance their careers, not their thinking and their writing. But for now it’s all good. And it may stay that way.

Further Reading: The Kafka Sutra Cultural Society; “Storming the Museum of Irrelevance” (essay on manifestos) Poetry Foundation; “Glam Rock: The Poem” Absent; “Called Léon, a Leonardo” Seven Corners.

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