It’s hard to believe that a few days ago August became November, but it’s already time to write up the end-of-semester calendar and requirements.

Final Portfolio

The final portfolio is a chance for you to put together a collection of your best work during the semester and beyond. This process has hopefully been informed by reading a published collection of stories, poems, or essays.

Critical Introduction

When creating your portfolio, you should take into consideration a number of factors, and the critical introduction will, I hope, help to clarify these in your own mind and see if others’ readings of your work match up with what you think it is doing. In an introduction that is 600-800 words, please write about the following:

  • Conceptual Core: What is at the center of your writing? What is the essence of the work you’ve done?
  • Creativity/Originality: What makes your writing unique and uniquely yours?
  • Completeness/Cleanliness/Attention to Detail: Does your portfolio fulfill the requirements of the assignment? Is your portfolio manuscript clean and neatly produced? Does the manuscript “sweat the details” and take care of the little things?
  • Audience: In your estimation, who is your writing for generally? Who is your ideal reader, a single person who may be the perfect person to read your work? Why?
  • Genre(s): Have you written in multiple genres (e.g. poetry and prose together) in your collection or stayed in a single genre? Has this choice affected your writing? How does your writing fit with conventions of the genre(s) you write in?
  • Arrangement (form/content): What arrangement method(s) did you use? How does the arrangement enhance the conceptual core of your collection?
  • Forum: How have you chosen to present the work to the reader and why did you choose this method? For example, did you print out a manuscript in MS Word? Did you create a book, chapbook, or fascicle? Did you publish your work as an e-chap on a blog? Did you make an audio recording or CD? A video?
  • Context: What kinds of relevant experiences and encounters with people and texts influenced your collection, either positively or negatively (i.e. what’s going on in your life, either locally or globally, that you feel affected this collection?
  • Revision/Changes: What texts have changed? How have they changed? Why did you revise them in the manner you did?
  • Acknowledgements: Did anyone play a role in creating your collection that needs mentioning?

For Student Exchange (November 12):

  • Critical Introduction (see description above).
  • Collection of your best texts, ones you feel you have worked hard on and are finished (15-20 pages; maximum 25 pages; font 10 pt at minimum).

For Student Response (November 19):

  • Please respond to the portfolio you are given in letter form, approximately one page single spaced.
  • Remember to provide your reaction to this as published, finished work. We will assume this collection will not be revised anymore, so it is appropriate to describe what the collection is doing and offer summative responses.

For Instructor (November 19; please put work in dossier, folder, etc. so I don’t lose it):

  • Critical Introduction
  • Collection (printed/tangible)
  • Collection (electronic: send as an e-mail or link)
  • Handwritten journal or composition book
  • Submission stamped and ready for mailing (or bcc to cshalle@ilstu.edu if you submit electronically) mindful of submission heuristics we discuss

End-of-Semester Miscellaneous Stuff (due December 3 in class unless otherwise specified)

  • Please create a one-page, single-spaced MS Word document describing the grade you feel you’ve earned for the course with reasons why. Be mindful of the syllabus in comparison with the actual work you’ve done in the course. Please do not post this on your blog; turn it in during class.
  • Writer’s Inventory Redux: I will re-post the writer’s inventory on the class blog. Please complete these questions again, without rereading your original answers, on your blog as a last post.
  • Course Questionnaire: I will post a brief questionnaire on the blog. I value your feedback both about the content of the course and my instruction. I respect honesty, praise, and especially constructive criticism, so you can choose to complete the questionnaire after grades are submitted, if you feel the grade issue will compromise your ability to be honest. I will use questionnaire responses to revise the course when I teach it again in the future. This can be e-mailed to cshalle@ilstu.edu.


T 11/10


  • Full-group workshop response (Lisa and Ryan); last one…


  • workshop
  • portfolio assessment and criteria discussion

R 11/12


  • Portfolio prepared to swap with classmate


  • Journal or Blog Presentations

T 11/17


  • Bring submission draft (cover letter and work) to class for peer editing/proofreading


  • publishing your work
  • talking about submission do’s and don’ts

R 11/19


  • Portfolio for instructor


  • meetings with your portfolio reader
  • talking about performing your work
  • examples from the web
  • assigning food for in-class potluck and reading on 12/3

T 12/1


  • Book review posted to blog


  • more on performing work
  • “creative writing class is over but I don’t want the writing to end: ideas for extending our writing practice”

R 12/3


  • End-of-semester miscellaneous stuff


  • Class reading, potluck and dance party

In class today, you will receive a copy of a recent submission to the poetry journal I edit, Seven Corners. 7C is a solicitation-based journal that publishes Chicago poets and other poets from a liberal Midwestern vicinity. Since I solicit work, you do not have to worry about making qualitative judgments about this submission. The submission is in the order I received it (sans cover letter), but if I were arranging this, I would rearrange the submission to make it a coherent post as a group of texts (I never assume the author has done this).

You do, however, need to read these poems by Thursday, give them some consideration, and apply an arrangement strategy or strategies that we have discussed previously, both in class and on the blog.

On Thursday, when we meet in small groups, each group will discuss the arragement strategy that each person has come up with and figure out a group strategy. A designated speaker will then “pitch” the order the group decided on to the group. If the three groups come up with different arrangements, we will vote as a class on which we prefer based on the argument of the pitches.

Then I will publish that arrangement on 7C.

Rationale: For the final portfolio, I want you all to be more concerned with arranging your work as a collection of texts. I am certainly concerned with this as a literary editor, and this assignment allows you access to a real-world arrangement activity dealing with creative writing where I hope the thinking mirrors what you might do while building your final portfolio.

Links Galore

HoTT is Hot at FSU


Less for More at Public Universities


Thoughts on the Neuronovel


National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)

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

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.

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

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.