Thursday, September 30, 2010

Author identity

An issue that was raised in class a few weeks ago: how important is an author's identity to a poem or story?

We're taught to separate the author from the speaker in a poem or story. This is easier to do when it's a work of fiction --after all, the genre itself says that the story is "not true". But what about a poem? Do we assume the speaker is the poet or not? Is it a case-by-case basis? When do we know that a poet's identity should or should not inform one's reading of a poem?

Here's an example:

"Pulled Over in Short Hills NJ, 8:00 AM"

It's the shivering. When rage grows
hot as an army of red ants and forces
the mind to quiet the body, the quakes
emerge, sometimes just the knees,
but, at worst, through the hips, chest, neck,
until, like a virus, slipping inside the lungs
and pulse, every ounce of strength tapped
to squeeze words from my taut lips,
his eyes scanning my car's insides, my eyes,
my license, and as I answer the questions
3, 4, 5 times, my jaw tight as a vice,
his hand massaging the gun butt, I
imagine things I don't want to
and inside beg this to end
before the shiver catches my
hands, and he sees,
and something happens.

--Ross Gay, Against Which

Many of my students read this poem as someone being pulled over, perhaps for getting caught speeding, and the physical experience of that. No one paid attention to the town named in the title (even though most of my students are from Jersey... though, how many of them have heard of the town, one known for its affluence? I can't say.). One student suggested that the speaker was late for work, indicated by the time mentioned in the title, and was speeding. There was no mention of the poet being a black man, because, really, is that relevant? But in light of this, knowing the color of the poet's skin, does this change the reading of the poem? Of course it does.

So how do we, as readers, know when to take a poet's identity into account and when to ignore it? There are no hard and fast rules to follow, but how do we determine how to read a poem?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The writing process: "All I write is crap!", part 2

Here's one solution: read. Read as much as you can. Fill the creative well with all that you can by reading. Read everything and anything. I can't stress that enough. Reading is the backbone to writing.

For me, if i read crap, I end up writing crap. So if I want to write strong vibrant poems, I try to read strong vibrant work. I may not necessarily like what I'm reading, but if it's written well, then I may learn a thing or two. And you might too!

So read!

Hey audience! Any suggested reading? :)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The writing process: "All I write is crap!"

One of the primary hurdles for my students is that they're afraid to write crap. They sit there, pen in hand (I insist on pen-to-paper for that first raw rough draft), before the blank page and mentally wrestle with what will go on paper. Some have said that they worry what they say will be dumb, or crappy, or totally not what they had in their minds. This worry prevents them from doing any kind of writing --crappy or otherwise.

I've encouraged them to just write the crap --get it out of their systems and onto the page, not worrying about whether or not it'll win the Pulitzer, or if it even fulfills the assignment. Writing anything down is always the first step. The real work is in revision. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

To show that even people who have been writing for a while write crap, I shared this result of the in-class writing exercise we did yesterday:

"First" [dumb title]

Walking along the edge of the Hudson River,
we tried to count the lit windows of office buildings
--the stars of Manhattan--
tried to locate our building
where we first met
on the corner of 56th and Madison
in the cool April air
where we masqueraded as ad execs
but shed those selves at night
that night when you sliced a mango
and kissed me pink

[ugh! how awful!]

The exercise was to write about a personal first experience and to include the name of a river you know, a color, a city, a street, a fruit, a month and a job.

I hope, at the very least, this gave my students permission to write anything, no matter how crappy, or, even, unexpectedly stellar.

So what about you? Any thoughts on writing crap? Any examples you'd like to share that illustrates a crappy first draft polished into something fantastic?

Friday, September 24, 2010

The writing process

Ah, the good old topic of process. It never gets old, does it?

Today, we talked about the writing process, specifically the daily writing. I have my students commit to daily writing --it doesn't have to be long; it can be as short as 10 minutes or as long as, well, as they feel like. I have no way of checking their work, but that's not the point. Those who are committed to developing and improving their writing skills will practice daily.

I checked in with the class today, to see how the writing was going. The problem that some are having with the daily writing is that it's repetitive. Some are writing about the same things: what went on in their days, who did what, etc. Nothing new was really happening --both in their daily lives and in their writing. I made a few suggestions on how to change it up, but I wanted to start out my first post by asking you, my audience, for some ways to approach the practice and exercise of daily writing.

What've you got?

An experiment: the blog as a teaching tool

So here's the idea: use the blog as a teaching tool to continue classroom discussions and open them up to the rest of the world (specifically, the literary community who reads this blog). Imagine that: using the "outside" world as a source of education! I'm excited!

I've just sent an e-announcement to my students informing them of this new adventure and have invited them to post their thoughts in the comments section of this blog. I would really appreciate it if you, dear readers, could also contribute to our discussions.

I know it's been quite some time since this Show has been on the air & I wonder: do I still have an audience? Well, instead of wondering, why not create a new one? I'll post invites to FB and see what happens.

I have no idea what will happen, but let's just go for it and find out!

Won't you join us?

[As an FYI: this is for my Introduction to Creative Writing course, which covers poetry, fiction, and this year, screenwriting. Oh, and I teach at Rutgers-New Brunswick.]