Saturday, January 2, 2016

Questions for the new year

Happy new year to any of you who still find this place--

I'm preparing to teach a graduate workshop in Poetry as Prose/Prose as Poetry, as well as a single author course for upper level undergrads on Gertrude Stein. So I'm writing lists of questions for myself and others.

First, the poetry workshop. Here's a description of it:

and here are the questions, so far. I'm not a fan of workshops, because they are so difficult to move past the point of pressure points, sensitivities, and opinions. So here I'm emphasizing reading that is done without judgment.

Poetry as Prose/Prose as Poetry
Spring, 2016


What do we write (about)?
For whom do we write?

Describe what you or another has written.
Describe it as carefully and precisely as you can, avoiding judgment.

Again, without judgment, analyze the piece you have just described.
What are the pieces and parts of the mechanism, and how do they work?

Thinking as a writing mechanic, which of these pieces works best?
Which piece might require some re-visioning?

Where are the issues? In the chassis, the axle, the engine, or the wheels?
What tools will the writer need to do his or her work?

What is the effect of the piece on you? (Again, without judgment.)
What part of your body does the piece touch, or fail to touch?

How does the writer get to that part of your body/mind?
Find the precise words and syntax that makes it happen.

If you remain untouched, suggest some replacement parts from your toolkit.

What forms do you see within the relative formlessness of the prose poem?
Consider that a mode of seeing can be expressed in a sentence, as well as in a genre.
(Write a sentence that's a nature poem, a love poem, a documentary poem.)

What work are these forms doing?
Take a couple sentences and translate them into other forms (love into car mechanics, documentary into lyrical, haiku into letter and so forth). Consider the effects. Change them back.

Take something out.
Add something in.

Consider the writer's use of pronouns. Switch some. Switch them back.
Consider the writer's use of verbs. Change modes. Active to passive, passive to past tense, past tense to subjunctive (what's left of it).

Consider the writer's meaning. If you are disturbed, consider why you feel disturbed (without judgment).
If you are moved, consider why (without judgment).

Say something critical, without judgment.
Say something positive, without judgment.

The Gertrude Stein course is full, over-full. I doubt many of the students know what they're in for. But, as she's an excellent partner in drawing out our assumptions (and reactions), my questions about her work so far center on them. The description of the course can be found here:


What do we write (about) and how do we write (about it)?

How do we tell stories?
What is a story?

How do we write poems?
What are poems (for)?

How do we use words apart from their meanings?
How do we find meaning in that?

What connections exist between writing and painting, music?

What is the function of repetition in language?

What is punctuation and why does it exist?

What happens if small words (the, it) assume a larger role in our writing?

How do we read?
When do we stop reading, and why?

What is the relationship between life and art?
What is the relationship between a writer's biography and her work?

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