1982, Revisited–Justin Bigos

On March 19, 1982, a group of Argentine scrap metal merchants raised the flag of their nation on the coastal, British-occupied island of South Georgia. In the next two weeks, Argentina invaded the island, and then the Falkland Islands, assuming Britain would retaliate.

By June 14, ten weeks later, Argentina had surrendered to Britain. Argentina had lost 649 military, Britain 255. Three Falkland Island civilians had been killed. This is what Wikipedia tells me. In April 1982, I turned seven years old. I lived on Linwood Avenue, on the second floor of a three-family home, in Bridgeport, Connecticut, with my mother, sister, and – for a year or two by this time, I can’t remember – my mother’s new man, whom she would marry in the summer of 1983.

 

Nineteen-eighty-two. 1982. Nine. Teen. A-D. Too. The tip of the tongue taking a trip. I remember:

E.T.

Breakdancing with my friends Sergio and José, who lived above me, on the third floor. Their sister Janet’s eyes.

Joan Jett’s eyes.

The Dark Crystal, one of the scariest movies ever made, a Schindler’s List for kids.

Our apartment getting robbed. The way the broken glass looked on the floor of the dark hallway when we got home.

The voice of Stevie Nicks.

“Spitting Nicky,” an older kid from the neighborhood who spit even more than the rest of us. His hairlip; his black, spiky hair.

Atari: Donkey Kong, Dig Dug. Q*bert?

 

I recently finished a story – which, at 49+ pp., I now consider a novella – set in 1982. My protagonist is Nicholas Mikos, Jr., nine years old. I changed Nick Junior’s age in the story after a few scenes. I made him two years older than I was in 1982 because the story began to reveal itself as, in some way, a story of sexual awakening. And so nine seemed more “believable” than seven. But, to be honest, by which I simply mean to remember, and to trust that memory, I began to come of age sexually at the age of five. And not through abuse, as is the case, perhaps, with Nick Junior. Though, his babysitter, his first great love, is twelve. A girl. A girl who dry-humps then does other things to, with, this boy, who is very very willing if not terrified. Who has never heard of the Falklands.

 

I could have named the babysitter Donna, but I named her Jennifer. I could have named Sergio and José Robert and Pito, Angel and Jorge, but I gave them their real names.

Ron Carlson recently gave a reading at Northern Arizona University, and during the Q&A he said that in each story he has written he has kept something secret, kept something from the reader. One little cryptic thing, not even essential to the story, a name or a color of a house or the smell of a hand soap, that signaled, only to him, some private knowledge. He related this habit in some way to his years of public speaking, but I’m less interested in that rational, perhaps rehearsed explanation than the sheer compulsion to hide. Childlike, irrational. When I gave Sergio and José their real names, I seemed to do the inverse of Carlson: reveal, rather than conceal. But who, except for me, maybe my wife, would know, reading my novella, that these fictions bore the names of real people? What small detail, in Ron Carlson’s expert Q&A performance, was the one white lie, or one small truth, no one else in the room was aware of?

 

Questions of memoir vs. fiction are worth asking – for the author, and for the teacher and the student. It’s tempting to say that everything is hybrid – Portrait of the Artist, The Fire Next Time; Swann’s Way, Reality Hunger; Anne Carson’s Nox or Rita Dove’s Thomas and Beulah – and so what’s the point in talking about it. But it’s the particular intersections of genre, when we try to articulate them, maybe fail to articulate them, that seem most interesting. Not just memoir as poem, or autobiography as novel, or novel in stories, but also manifesto in quotations which themselves are mostly derivative paraphrase and conjecture and rant, a manifesto which ultimately, let’s be honest here, is in the end a snobby and endearing memoir of a life of reading a shit ton of books. Or something like that.

It’s difficult to describe literature, the good stuff anyways. The stuff that asks us to invent new ways of talking about it. I am not hubristic enough to believe my novella, or anything I’ve written, falls into such a lofty category. But, I cannot write anything – poem, story, novella, essay, whatever – that is not in some way aware of itself formally. I admire stories artfully and compellingly rendered, but if the story is not aware of itself as story – if part of the pleasure of reading, and I imagine, writing, the story, is not just the story but how the story is told – I ain’t interested. But really, is there such a thing as “the story”? I don’t think so. As a teacher, I say as much, because I sense that many of my students believe that there is a story, somewhere in the ether, or underground, and all they need to do is somehow retrieve it, transcribe it, then hand it over to us, the readers. It’s a strange faith, kind of beautiful. But I don’t believe it. Do I?

In writing my novella/autobiography/pop-song-playlist/top-twenty-movies-of-1982 (except Chariots of Fire, which is wonderful but not a movie Nick Junior had seen), I conducted more research than I ever had, except for the academic articles I wrote on Yeats and Shakespeare during doctoral studies. However, I have never conducted research for a work I labeled memoir or literary essay. In these works, it’s not that I trust my memories, my thoughts – I usually don’t. And that is probably the main reason I have begun to write literary nonfiction. Not to relay, or expose. But to explore, to essay – to find new ways of being wrong about the world. To give it a shot. And another shot. Isn’t that what writing does? In literary writing I am much less interested in factual accuracy than are, say, the crybabies who sued James Frey. Or Maureen Dowd, who, after Frey and his publisher, Nan Talese, were shamed on Oprah, conflated Frey’s literary exaggerations with the Swift Boat campaign. In other words, a literary memoir was held to the same standards as journalism. Why? I agree that journalism should be held to very high standards of factual accuracy. But changing the number of days one spent in jail, or the color of Charles Bronson’s eyes, will not cause a country to be illegally invaded.

In conducting research for my novella, I was not looking for facts. I was looking for colors, smells, sounds; sneaker styles, slang; the smiles in cigarette ads. I wanted to re-inhabit, to some degree, some strong degree, what it felt like to be a young boy in 1982 America. I was hoping a whiff, a kind of Proustian magic, might send me back to that distant, indelible year.

My wife and I watched over twenty movies from 1982, every or every other night, depending on how fast Netflix could ship them to us. Death Wish II. Rocky III. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Sophie’s Choice. Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The morning after I would write a section of the novella, subtitled after the movie from the night before. I made a 1982 pop-song playlist on Spotify, which I listened to – even the shitty songs, like “Centerfold” by J. Geils Band, and “Physical” by Olivia Newton John – throughout the day, and even, sometimes (gulp) during writing the scenes in which those songs are played. I watched dozens of 1982 music videos on YouTube. I bought issues of People magazine from 1982 off eBay. I sat, and closed my eyes. And I did feel transported, partially, as I do in all my writing – one foot in and one foot out – and I listened, which is what we writers tell ourselves we do as we move our pens around and hit the keyboard keys, scarring our beloved heroes for life.

 

What is writing – poetry, memoir, literary essay, story, novel, novella, or most likely some combination of these – but an invention of self? Or, maybe, a shredding of any notion of a “self.” In either case, even the most obscure writer is like the celebrity. Fact and fiction commingle – in language, in music, in big-screen gesture. What is said needs what is not said. The sliver of memory needs the black hole surrounding it. The mask needs the face. The lie kneads the mother. The sinner is the song.

Here is the poet Ai, the last lines of her poem “Intercourse,” a persona poem in the voice of John F. Kennedy:

There fact and fiction lie

one atop the other fucking furiously,

when one surrenders unconditionally,

the other dies.

 

Jennifer Jason Leigh lies down shirtless, E.T. reaches out a finger glowing like a lightning bug, the deep-belly bass line of the Police’s “Every Breath You Take” tugs at you, tugs at your heart, and it is 1982. Nicholas Mikos, Jr., has left his home, his city, for another, the suburbs, learned new words like rad and gaywad and totally and blowjob. And one night, Christmas night, 1982, he watches The Dark Crystal, the fifth or sixth time he’s seen it that year, but now through the basement window of Jennifer, who he calls Jenny, before something very bad happens to her.

In a few days it will be 1983. Madonna, Prince, and Michael Jackson, the holy trinity of American pop music, will explode. Mr. T will become Mr. T. People will buy computers, bring them into their homes. My mother will marry George Sandor, and we will move, not to the suburbs, but 3.8 miles away (so says Google Maps), to a new home, in the same city.

But first Nick Junior needs to do something, something he has never done, something he will keep secret for the rest of his life – because he has to, he has to, I tell myself – so that the story can be over.

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Navigating Emptiness: Benefits and Drawbacks of Teaching the Lyric Essay–Kathleen Rooney, Julie Paegle, and Nicole Walker

Generous reviews make us do wild things. Brevity Magazine’s blog has been devoted to reviews of AWP panels these past few weeks. Sally Ashton wrote “Top Ten Reasons Why “Navigating Emptiness: Benefits and Drawbacks of Teaching the Lyric Essay” Was a Great Panel.”   Kathleen Rooney, Julie Paegle, and I were happy to hear we served the audience and AWP well. We have been asked if the panels and handouts could be made available for those who couldn’t make it to the panel. We thought Bending Genre’s webiste would be a great place to reproduce them. Thanks again to Sally Ashton and Dinty Moore for bringing attention to our panel.

Kathleen Rooney 

The Wilderness of Unopened Life: On Selecting and Working with Course Texts, or Reading List Assembly for the Open Form Essay

I have a terrible confession to make. I have never in my life taught “the lyric essay.”

And yet here I am, sitting on this panel on the “Benefits and Drawbacks of Teaching the Lyric Essay.”

So what am I doing here? Am I an impostor? Have you been punked? No. Here’s what I mean:

I have never taught a class whose title or subtitle contained the words “lyric essay,” although I have taught several classes in which what others might call “the lyric essay” has been studied abundantly.

I have three main reasons for not teaching “the lyric essay” in a way that uses that term. In a kind of lyric essay (or just HuffPo, I guess) move, I will put forth those reasons in a brief list form:

1)    I don’t like the term “lyric essay” because it was never tremendously clear or helpful to begin with, and because of overuse and mis-application its meaning has become so vague as to be almost useless. It’s like the term “postmodernism” that way.

2)    I am not comfortable with the ethical murkiness engaged in and promoted by one of the term’s biggest proponents. And here I mean John D’Agata, the lyric essay editor at Seneca Review since 1997 and the antagonist (depending on your point of view) in the book The Lifespan of a Fact where he was pitted against dogged fact-checker John Fingal of The Believer. In short, I prefer not to endorse such carelessness with the truth even tacitly or by implication.

3)    Finally and probably most importantly—both for this panel and in general—I think that to name something that could be called a “lyric essay” too stringently and to define it too strictly is to fence that thing in before it has a chance to really be free. In other words, calling a “lyric essay” a “lyric essay” risks accidentally crushing it under the expectations of genre before it even gets built. I don’t want students to hear the term “lyric essay” and feel burdened with the idea that there’s a single correct format for that type of writing and god forbid they might be doing it wrong.

Before this panel motivated me to put down my pedagogical reasoning behind this instinctive avoidance of the term “lyric essay,” I didn’t really have an alternative term for it.

Now, though, I feel I should pause here and offer a substituitive name: the “open form essay.” I’ll say it again: “the open form essay.”

Giving credit where it’s due, I got this term from a briefly famous and now sort of obscure poetry anthology published in 1969 called Naked Poetry. The subtitle of this collection is “Recent American Poetry in Open Forms.” In their introduction, the editors Stephen Berg and Robert Mezey write:

There wasn’t even a satisfactory name for the kinds of poetry we were gathering and talking about, and still isn’t. Some people said “Free Verse” and others said “Organic Poetry” (and a few old ones said, “That’s not poetry!”) and we finally came up with Open Forms […] And we took a phrase from Jiménez [Spanish poet Juan Ramón Jiménez, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1956] for a title which expresses what we feel about the qualities of this poetry as no technical label could do.

I appreciate this term, “open form,” because it emphasizes that just because a form is not fixed, doesn’t mean it’s not a form. (I like the word “organic,” too, but feel like that sounds too much like fresh produce and ethically sourced whatever.)

The phrase “open form essay” seems to suggest that just because a student isn’t writing in a set structure doesn’t mean they’re structureless. Or just because many beginning writers consider structure to be secondary, invisible, or transparent—because that is how they approach a normal essay or a free verse poem or a traditional (whatever that means) story)—doesn’t mean that that structure is not there. The phrase “open form essay” implies that an essay might be better were the form or structure to become more primary, visible, and prominent, or at least not transparent.

I like the nakedness of the phrase “open form” here, too, as implied by the Naked Poetry anthology’s title because it suggests that neither students nor professional writers should shield themselves with or hide behind or just fall habitually into the neat strictures of poem/essay/story like they might be able to do on their own, without considering the phrase “open form.”

In other words, what I like about the implications of this name and this approach to a class is that it provides a way for a piece of writing’s form or forms to develop organically from the content. I like how the phrase “open form essay” encourages a higher degree of mindfulness about the way that content can inform the shape and even the sound of the piece and vice versa.

Now that I’ve offered this potential alternative name for the “lyric essay,” I’ll talk about how I’ve taught this form in the past, with a particular focus on how I’ve put my course texts together.

I have framed these workshops and their reading lists as either hybrid genre and/or cross-genre. I think that’s the best way to teach good “open form essay” writing both to undergraduates and to graduate students.

The way I learned to prefer this approach was at DePaul University, where we have a course whose number is 309 and whose placeholder title is “Topics in Writing.” Most people choose to design their 309s to be genre-specific: fiction, poetry, or nonfiction with little to no overlap. But thanks to the freedom given to professors for this course, that kind of genre division is not required, and so I never do that. Instead, I take a topical approach that is non-genre specific, but in doing so I hope to encourage the flexibility, formal experimentation, intellectual and creative expansion and rigor that are the trademarks of what a lot of people would call the “lyric essay” and what I like to call the “open form essay.”

I’ve given, as handouts, the front pages of the syllabi and the imitation assignment for two of the 309s I’ve created at DePaul so far.

One is for Writing the Body. The other is for Drift and Dream: the Writer as Urban Walker.

We can pause and walk through the reading lists now, and you can see what I mean about how genre distinctions are highlighted, but with an emphasis on juxtaposition and overlap rather than separation.

My reasoning in assigning such a generic array of books in these classes is that I think students should be thinking not just of content but of form, which perhaps is a contender for the Most Obvious Statement of the Year Award. But I trust that lots of other teachers besides me have found—more often than not—that students frequently have a good grip on what they want to “express” or the “story” they want to tell, but have a hard time thinking of the structure in which they can effectively express themselves or tell that story.

Thus, in a class like this, where one takes a hybrid, cross-genre, or open form approach, I’d argue that one invites and produces a greater range of lyric-ness and experimentation. I’ve also given you the Imitation Assignment that I build the first half of the class around, so we can look at that now, and also the Major Assignment prompt.

Of course, students are not taught that all genres are equivalent or the same. And especially for the major assignment, they are encouraged to pick an over-arching genre with the understanding that a poem is not a lyric essay is not a fiction. And they are also reminded that ethically, what you can do and say and cover and invent in fiction is different than what you can do or say or cover or invent in a nonfiction essay or poem.

But once they consider that macro-level genre decision, an open form approach to both a reading list, imitation exercise set, and major assignment leads to the freedom and joy and risk-taking necessary to create a good lyric essay or open form essay, if you will. (Let’s make this happen.)

In their intro to the Naked Poetry/Open Forms anthology, the editors quote D.H. Lawrence on Walt Whitman, in praise of setting out, as writers, into “the wilderness of unopened life.” (Which is where the title of this paper comes from.) By putting together my reading lists this way, and by structuring the assignments as I do, I try to encourage my students to study these formal armatures, and then discard them, employ them, or graft them to their own as they see fit.

Many students end up writing open form essays, and some have open form essay passages alongside fiction alongside prose poems alongside flash fictions alongside flash nonfictions alongside verse plays alongside whatever else you can imagine.

Does this lead, always, to “finished” or “publishable” works? NO, but in a single semester or 10-week quarter, maybe that’s not the point. This open form approach frees them to think outside parameters they might have thought were fixed and to carry this openness—both in the sense of form and often candor—on into their other work in other classes, other genres, and other settings altogether.

English 309: Writing the Body

Fall 2013: Tuesday-Thursday 11:20 am-12:50 pm (Lincoln Park Campus)

“I wish I was free / of that slaving meat wheel / and safe in heaven dead.”

~Jack Kerouac, “211th Chorus”

Instructor: Kathleen Rooney

Course Texts:

Conrad, CA. A Beautiful Marsupial Afternoon: New (Soma) Tics. Seattle: Wave Books, 2012.

(ISBN: 9781933517599)

Manguso, Sarah. The Two Kinds of Decay. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008.

(ISBN: 9780374280123)

Glenum, Lara. The Hounds of No. South Bend: Action Books, 2005. (ISBN: 9780976569213)

Carson, Anne. Autobiography of Red. New York: Vintage, 1999. (ISBN: 9780375701290)

Yuknavitch, Lidia. The Chronology of Water. Portland: Hawthorne Books, 2011.

(ISBN: 9780979018831)

D2L Articles and packets:

Thek, Paul. “Teaching Notes.” 1978-1981.

Bordo, Susan. “Beauty (Re)discovers the Male Body.” 1999.

Lorde, Audre. “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.” 1984.

Weekly Creative Responses

 

The first six weeks of class, which we will dedicate to the reading and discussion of these texts, will also include a weekly writing assignment. Every week, you will hand in one page of writing that is inspired by the corresponding week’s text. This page should clearly show you, as a writer, interacting with and responding to both the subject matter and the structural features of the text under consideration; the page should also be typed, double-spaced (or single-spaced if it is a poem, or if single-spacing is part of your response), printed out, and handed in.

Please, please, please, do not hand in more than one page. If you do, I will not read it. I will, in fact, throw it away. If your page ends mid-sentence, so be it. Follow the rules. There is method in this madness. I urge you to take these page-long assignments seriously. Genius can be found in one page. It can be found in a few sentences, for that matter: “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta” (Nabokov). Occasionally, but not as often, it can even be found in six words: “For sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn” (attributed to Ernest Hemingway). You should strive for such greatness.

We will not be able to workshop each of these one-page pieces by every author each week, but we will workshop 3 of them each week. I will ask for volunteers to sign up for these slots, and no one will be permitted to workshop a short piece more than once. Actual workshops will begin during week 7. Please note that if the class as a whole does not invest itself in the first half of the quarter (reading & discussing the required texts, taking seriously the writing assignments, etc.), then I will cancel workshops and we will re-read the texts and re-write the assignments.

The longer pieces you workshop during the second half of the quarter should (must!) come from the page-long pieces you wrote during the first half. These full-length stories should be not fewer than 12 pages, not more than 15.

Major Workshop Assignment of 12-15 pages

 

During the third week of classes, you will sign up for the dates on which your major assignment will be due to be handed out, and the subsequent date on which it will be workshopped by the entire class, starting in Week 7.

On the day it is due to be handed out, you will bring in 16 copies (including one for me, and one for yourself) to pass out to every member of the class. On the day it is due to be workshopped, you will be in attendance to receive your classmates’ verbal and written critique.

The only other requirements are that this piece:

a) deal, in some way, with the body, and

b) be inspired by/based on 1 of the 5 one-page responses to the texts.

Please ask me if you have any questions, or would like further constraints or prompting.

English 309: Drift and Dream: the Writer as Urban Walker

Winter 2015: Monday-Wednesday 4:20 am-5:50 pm (Lincoln Park Campus)

“One day this love will all blow over. / Time for leaving the parade. / Is there a place in this city? /A place to always feel this way?” ~“Tinsel Town in the Rain” by the Blue Nile, 1984

Instructor: Kathleen Rooney

Course Texts:

Baudelaire, Charles. Paris Spleen: Little Poems in Prose. Trans. Keith Waldrop. Middletown:

Wesleyan UP, 2009. (first published in 1869) ISBN: 9780819569097

Katchor, Ben. Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer: Stories. New York: Little, Brown, &

Company, 1996. ISBN: 0316482943

Mueller, Cookie. Walking Through Clear Water in a Pool Painted Black. New York:

Semiotext(e), 1990. ISBN: 978-0936756615

O’Hara , Frank. Lunch Poems. San Francisco: City Lights, 2001. (first published in 1964)

ISBN: 9780872860353

Cole, Teju. Open City: A Novel. New York: Random House, 2012. ISBN: 9780812980097

D2L Articles and packets including:

Chtcheglov, Ivan. “Formulary for a New Urbanism” 1953.

“Street Haunting” by Virginia Woolf. 1930.

DeQuincey, Thomas. An excerpt from Confessions of an English Opium Eater: Being an Extract

from the Life of a Scholar. 1821.

513-02 Come Together: Presentation on a Piece and on a Literary Device/Convention Sign Up Sheet:

Presentation Date:  Thursday 4/7

Presentation Piece:  Borges, “Dialogue on a Dialogue” (25)

Device:                    Dialogue                     Name___________________________________________

Presentation Piece:   Borges, “Dialogue on a Dialogue” (25)

Device:                    Meta-fiction                  Name___________________________________________

Presentation Piece:  Borges, “Argumentum Ornithilogocum” (29)

Device:                     Argument; Rhetoric    Name____________________________________________

Presentation Piece:  Walker, “Winter Trees” (57)

Device:                    Image                           Name____________________________________________

Presentation Piece:  Walker, “Live a Long Time” (58)

Device:                     Direct Address                   Name_______________________________________

Presentation Date:  Tuesday 4/12

Presentation Piece:  Borges, “The Captive” (30)

Device:                     Narrative Epiphany      Name___________________________________________

Presentation Piece:  Borges, “The Captive” (30)

Device:                     Captivity Narrative       Name___________________________________________

Presentation Piece:  Borges, “The Captive” (30)

Device:                     Lyrical Ecstasy            Name___________________________________________

Presentation Piece:  Walker, “The Unlikely Origin of the Species” (59-70)

Device:                     Narrative Structure       Name___________________________________________

Presentation Piece: Walker, “Nor Do I Know The Ways of Birds Clearly” (71)

Device:                     Volta (Sonnet turn)      Name____________________________________________

Presentation Date:  Thursday 4/14

Presentation Piece:  Borges, “The Plot” (36)

Device:                     Plot                                   Name_________________________________________

Presentation Piece:  Borges, “The Plot” (36)

Device:                         Archetype                      Name________________________________________

Presentation Piece:  Gonzales, “The Black Torso of the Pharaoh” (103)

Device:                         Metaphor                       Name_______________________________________

Presentation Piece:  Walker, “Quetzaltenango” (47-48)

Device:             Metaphor, Setting                                  Name____________________________________

Presentation Date: Tuesday 4/19

Presentation Piece:  Borges, “Parable of Cervantes and Don Quixote” (42)

Device:                    Parable                       Name________________________________________

Presentation Piece:  Borges, “Parable of the Palace” (45)

Device:                    Nestedness                              Name___________________________________________

Presentation Piece:  Walker, “Psalm” (45)

Device:                    Psalm                          Name___________________________________________

Presentation Piece:  Walker, “Fall Service” (42)

Device:                  Elegy                                   Name________________________________________

Presentation Piece:  Mullen, “Dim Lady” (224)

Device:                    Turn on Stereotype      Name_____________________________________________

Presentation Piece: Mullen, “Free Radicals” (223)

Device:                  Concrete Detail          Name______________________________________________

In your brief (10-15 minute) presentation, you should:

  1. Read aloud to the class, the piece in its entirety
  2. Broadly define (on the board or on a handout, and orally) the convention or device, citing your source
  3. Locate the convention or device within the piece
  4. Describe both a.  how the piece engages the device in a conventional, traditional way and
  1. how the piece makes the device or convention new, fresh, turned, or different.

Full points for the presentation involve all four elements, as well as staying within your 10 to 15 minute time limit.

Julie Paegle’s paper has been infected with a virus. We’ll bring it to you as soon as it is less contagious. For now, here are Paegle’s attendant handouts.

Navigating Emptiness:

Painting Hunger, Echoing Astonishment, and Coining Argument in the Lyric Essay

The Notion of Emptiness Engenders Compassion.

—Jetsun Milarepa, 1135; trans. Gary Snyder

1. Painting Hunger

An ancient Buddha said “A painted rice cake does not satisfy hunger.”

Dōgen comments:

There are few who have even seen this ‘painting of a rice cake’ and none of them has thoroughly understood it.

The paints for painting rice cakes are the same as those used for painting mountains and waters.

If you say the painting is not real, then the material phenomenal world is not real, the Dharma is not real.

Unsurpassed enlightenment is a painting. The entire phenomenal universe and the empty sky are nothing but a

painting.

Since this is so, there is no remedy for satisfying hunger other than a painted rice cake. Without painted hunger you

never become a true person.

—Dōgen, “Painting of a Rice Cake”≈1240; trans. Gary Snyder

2. Echoing Astonishment (for advanced

students)

THE SONNET

A Sonnet is a moment’s monument,

— Memorial from the Soul’s eternity

To one dead deathless hour. Look that it be,

Whether for lustral rite or dire portent,

Of its own intricate fulness reverent:

Carve it in ivory or in ebony,

As Day or Night prevail; and let Time see

Its flowering crest impearled and orient.

A Sonnet is a coin: its face reveals

The soul,–its converse, to what Power ’tis due:

— Whether for tribute to the august appeals

Of Life, or dower in Love’s high retinue It serve;

or, ‘mid the dark wharf’s cavernous breath,

In Charon’s palm it pay the toll to Death.

—Dante Gabriel Rossetti,

The House of Life, 1881

Why I Skip My High School Reunions

Because the geeks and jocks were set in stone,

I, ground between. Because the girls I ate

lunch with are married now, most out of spite

—because the ones I spurned are still alone.

Because I took up smoking at nineteen, late,

and just now quit—because, since then, I’ve

grown

into and out of something they’ve never known.

Because at the play, backstage, on opening night

she conjured out of the vast yards of her dress

an avocado and a razorblade,

slit the one open with the other, flayed

the pebbled skin, and offered me a slice

—because I thought that one day I’d say yes,

and I was wrong, and I am still afraid.

—Craig Arnold, Shells, 1998

May Morning

Deep into spring, winter is hanging on. Bitter and

skillful in his hopelessness, he stays alive in every

shady place, starving along the Mediterranean:

angry to see the glittering sea-pale boulder alive

with lizards green as Judas leaves. Winter is

hanging on. He still believes. He tries to catch a

lizard by the shoulder. One olive tree below

Grottaglie welcomes the winter into noontime

shade, and talks as softly as Pythagoras. Be still,

be patient, I can hear him say, cradling in his arms

the wouned head, letting the sunlight touch the

savage face.

James Wright, found among his few new poems

after his death in 1980, as anthologized in The

Next American Essay, edited by John D’Agata, 2003

III. Coining Argument

(for beginning students); adapted from an exercise by Garrett Hongo in The Practice of Poetry,

edited by Robin Behn and Chase Twichell:

I ask the students to write, anonymously, two sets of secrets:

In the first set, they confess or reveal two secrets using the first person point of view. One

secret is true. One secret is invented. Examples range from the predictable (I spent all the

money in my father’s wallet to take out and sleep with my best friend’s girlfriend) to the

quixotic (I helped thirty illegal iguanas cross the border into the country in exchange for a

rare edition of an old Crass album). The writer is to hide the identity of the real secret, using

literary and poetic strategies.

In the second set of secrets, students relate two secrets using the third person point of view

“a friend of mine” or “my brother” or an “acquaintance.” Again, one secret is true, and one

is invented. The two sets of secrets may be similar, save the pronoun; to the first set of

secrets; but most differ quite radically, beginning with the amount of detail and figurative

language the writers naturally use. Again, the writer is to hide the identity of the real secret.

The students anonymously hand in their secrets and I redistribute them, keeping the sets together.

I invite the students to identify which of the secrets they have received is true, and which

character they find most compelling, and why.

From here, the students used their received essays write two brief lyric essays, many which

take an Apologia form (along the lines of William Carlos Williams’ “This Is Just To Say”);

or a Confessional format; or a Justification (“Why I Skip My High School Reunions”).

Regardless, something about the pressure of the hidden, “real” secret results in coinages of

new argumentations and expositions, while the attempt for verisimilitude employs a variety

of figurative, poetic, and lyrical devices.

513-02 Come Together: Presentation on a Piece and on a Literary Device/Convention Sign Up Sheet:

Presentation Date:  Thursday 4/7

Presentation Piece:  Borges, “Dialogue on a Dialogue” (25)

Device:                    Dialogue                     Name___________________________________________

Presentation Piece:   Borges, “Dialogue on a Dialogue” (25)

Device:                    Meta-fiction                  Name___________________________________________

Presentation Piece:  Borges, “Argumentum Ornithilogocum” (29)

Device:                     Argument; Rhetoric    Name____________________________________________

Presentation Piece:  Walker, “Winter Trees” (57)

Device:                    Image                           Name____________________________________________

Presentation Piece:  Walker, “Live a Long Time” (58)

Device:                     Direct Address                   Name_______________________________________

Presentation Date:  Tuesday 4/12

Presentation Piece:  Borges, “The Captive” (30)

Device:                     Narrative Epiphany      Name___________________________________________

Presentation Piece:  Borges, “The Captive” (30)

Device:                     Captivity Narrative       Name___________________________________________

Presentation Piece:  Borges, “The Captive” (30)

Device:                     Lyrical Ecstasy            Name___________________________________________

Presentation Piece:  Walker, “The Unlikely Origin of the Species” (59-70)

Device:                     Narrative Structure       Name___________________________________________

Presentation Piece: Walker, “Nor Do I Know The Ways of Birds Clearly” (71)

Device:                     Volta (Sonnet turn)      Name____________________________________________

Presentation Date:  Thursday 4/14

Presentation Piece:  Borges, “The Plot” (36)

Device:                     Plot                                   Name_________________________________________

Presentation Piece:  Borges, “The Plot” (36)

Device:                         Archetype                      Name________________________________________

Presentation Piece:  Gonzales, “The Black Torso of the Pharaoh” (103)

Device:                         Metaphor                       Name_______________________________________

Presentation Piece:  Walker, “Quetzaltenango” (47-48)

Device:             Metaphor, Setting                                  Name____________________________________

Presentation Date: Tuesday 4/19

Presentation Piece:  Borges, “Parable of Cervantes and Don Quixote” (42)

Device:                    Parable                       Name________________________________________

Presentation Piece:  Borges, “Parable of the Palace” (45)

Device:                    Nestedness                              Name___________________________________________

Presentation Piece:  Walker, “Psalm” (45)

Device:                    Psalm                          Name___________________________________________

Presentation Piece:  Walker, “Fall Service” (42)

Device:                  Elegy                                   Name________________________________________

Presentation Piece:  Mullen, “Dim Lady” (224)

Device:                    Turn on Stereotype      Name_____________________________________________

Presentation Piece: Mullen, “Free Radicals” (223)

Device:                  Concrete Detail          Name______________________________________________

In your brief (10-15 minute) presentation, you should:

  1. Read aloud to the class, the piece in its entirety
  2. Broadly define (on the board or on a handout, and orally) the convention or device, citing your source
  3. Locate the convention or device within the piece
  4. Describe both a.  how the piece engages the device in a conventional, traditional way and
  1. how the piece makes the device or convention new, fresh, turned, or different.

Full points for the presentation involve all four elements, as well as staying within your 10 to 15 minute time limit.

ENGLISH 513-02  Hybrid Forms–Where Poetry and Prose Meet:  Prose Poetry, Flash Fiction, Lyrical Essay,

Poetic Parable, Narrative Verse

Spring 2011                                            TR 2:00-3:50 p.m. (UH 060)                 Professor: Julie Paegle

Office: UH 301.42                                   Phone: (909) 537-5053

Office Hours:  Thursdays 9:00 a.m. to noon and by appointment                    Email: jpaegle@csusb.edu

Required Texts (available at the Coyote Bookstore)

Dreamtigers, Jorge Luis Borges, University of Texas Press, ISBN # 978-0-292-71549

No Boundaries:  Prose Poems by 24 American Poets, Ray Gonzales, ed. ISBN # 1-932195-01-7

Flash Fiction Forward:  80 Very Short Stories, James Thomas; Robert Shapard, eds. ISBN # 9780393328028

This Noisy Egg, Nicole Walker, Barrow Street Press, ISBN # 978-0-9819876-1-3

Required Materials

A notebook/journal for invention

Sufficient typed copies of your creative work for workshop for every student in the class and for me

Typed copies of response letters for workshop, for the writer and for me

Course Description

Some of you may have noticed, in your campus emails today, this call for submissions from the literary journal Carolina Quarterly: The literary icebreaker: “Hey, I’m Bill. I’m a poet.” “Nice to meet you, Bill. I’m Rachel. I’m a fiction writer.” Sigh. The editors of The Carolina Quarterly have grown weary of such small talk. Yearning for a post-genre world, we seek writing that cannot be described in an elevator talk, and yet could be delivered in one. Thus, we are unveiling an experiment in Show, Don’t Tell. The Riding a Gradient Invisible Contest. Send us your poetic flash fiction, your flashy prose poetry, your twitter operetta, your post-pre-neo-un-oeuvre by June 1st to be considered for publication. No more than 500 words per experiment. We’ll give you up to 4 shots per person to get our attention.

These kinds of calls for submissions have become increasingly popular.  In this class, we’ll explore the “post genre” world where poetry and prose meet, through our readings, writings, and class discussion.  Because of the workshop size, each participant will workshop a chunk of writing twice in the quarter.  To help spur invention, the bulk of our writings will occur in a process journal.  These journal entries make up the bulk of your writing grade for the course, and are designed to give you time and credit for invention;  however, I will not be giving written feedback on the journal entries.  You will receive (and give) written feedback on your writings for workshop.

Course Requirements:

Journal: 30 points

Presentation on Convention or Device:  5 points

Pieces for Workshop: 15 points (including workshop logistics)

Workshop Paragraphs: 30 points

Attendance and Participation in Class Discussion:  20 points

Attendance and Participation in Class Discussion:  20 points

The success of creative writing workshops is largely determined by their participants. Attendance is mandatory. You must complete every iota of reading and writing before class. Each absence after two reduces your final grade.  PARTIAL ABSENCES WILL RESULT IN PARTIAL PARTICIPATION POINTS. If you anticipate a difficult quarter in which it will be hard/less useful for you to engage the class and its many assignments in an energetic, disciplined, and consistent way, I strongly urge you to take the course a different quarter. Your participation will be evaluated in terms of preparedness, courtesy, and your comportment in workshop—how well you follow the Workshop Rules (please see final page of syllabus) and the points below:

*It is expected that students enrolled in this course will be willing to engage and carefully consider a range of materials and subject matter. Several texts contain adult language.

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*All your writing for the class is publicIn order to create and maintain a safe and respectful workshop space, your writing and participation in class must not target, name, or discriminate against any workshop member or participate in hate speech of any kind (including racism, misogyny and homophobia). Campus wide sexual harassment policies apply in this classroom.

*If you suspect your writing is a message to people in the classroom rather than a serious effort to write a piece, you are probably right and should not submit it.

With this in mind, please take a moment to consider your enrollment in this course. If your behavior in the classroom violates the safe workshop space it will, at a minimum, hurt your final workshop grade.  

 

Special Needs

If you are in need of an accommodation for a disability in order to participate in this class, please contact Services to Students with Disabilities at UH 183, (909) 537-5283 within the first week of class.

COURSE SCHEDULE 1

Please note:  this schedule is subject to change in class, on short notice.  Also, to allow me to best respond to your own imaginative processes, some assignments will be modified or specified in class.  If you miss class, please be sure to check with a fellow student whether such a change was announced.

T 4/5:    Syllabus, Student Surveys, Devices/Conventions/Genres/On the Kindness and Unkindness of Kinds

                       

R 4/7:      On Flight, Weight, and Counting I:  Thermals Ridden by Poetry and Prose

Reading:  Dreamtigers, pages 21-29; This Noisy Egg, pages 22-26;  pages 54-58.

Journal 1:  A. Climb a Tree (or at least ten flights of stairs, or go onto a roof or a fire-escape).

B. There or elsewhere: build a Nest (or a collage, but something gathered that you touch, and whose textures might beckon birds).  C.  Write a dialogue (Borges, page 25;  Walker, pages 54-56) between two characters, one who climbs and one who nests.  Let the lines/exchanges fall as they will, where they may.  Your dialogue should include materials (words, gestures, leaps) from the pages you’ve read for today, AND from your own experience of taking flight/s, and of the materials you gathered for that nest.    

T 4/12:  On Flight, Weight, and Counting II:

Reading:  Dreamtigers, pages 30-35; This Noisy Egg, pages 59-71.  

Journal 2:  Return to your dialogue from Journal 1.  Introduce two new characters:  one should be a historical character you can quote in your dialogue (as Walker does with Darwin, or Borges with Eva Duarte);  one should be the personification of an abstraction (Walker’s Birdman of the Black Plague;  Borges’s Someone).  Your new characters might comment on the exchange in the first dialogue;  they might directly join the dialogue;  they might attack or romance the old characters. When introducing the new characters, pay particular attention to the forms in which they speak.  Riddles?  Questions?  Critiques?              

R 4/14:              On Flight, Weight, and Counting III:  Reading: Dreamtigers, pages 36-37; This Noisy Egg, pages 47-48; No

Boundaries, pages 99-108 (Ray Gonzales).

R 4/14:              On Flight, Weight, and Counting III:

Reading: Dreamtigers, pages 36-37; This Noisy Egg, pages 47-48; No Boundaries, pages 99-108 (Ray

Gonzales).

Journal 3:  Return to your dialogue on a dialogue (from Journal 2).

  1. Consider a plot, or a problem (as in Borges) that emerges from your dialogues, or that is perhaps hidden therein.  B.  Explore a setting, exotic, strange, dream-like (Quetzaltenango, or Atlantis, or a world of petroglyphs or pyramids or a “valley known for its simple cures”).

C.  Introduce the plot or problem AND the setting to your characters/dialogues.

  1. Bring to class a one paragraph piece in which the plot or the problem urges the language forward AND

PAGE THREE

E.  a one paragraph piece in which the setting urges the language forward.  Please be ready to share.

 

T 4/19:  On Flight, Weight, and Counting IV, and also On Psalms and Parables:

Reading:  Dreamtigers, pages 42, 44-45; This Noisy Egg, 42-45; No Boundaries, 220-229 (Haryette Mullen).

Journal 4:  Write a short series of psalms or parables, working in part from your partner’s input in class.

Include a deep image that mutates throughout your series.      

R 4/21: Visit from Nicole Walker

            Reading:  This Noisy Egg, pages 7-19; 25-40.

Journal 5:  Come to class with at least THREE excellent questions about Nicole Walker’s work.

FIRST PIECES DUE FOR WORKSHOP (5-10 pages) from three folks.

F 4/22:  CENSUS:  Last day to add or drop classes.  Extra Credit Opportunity:  Come to reading by Nicole

Walker and me at Beyond Baroque at 7:00 p.m.

 

T 4/26:              Reading:  Dreamtigers, page 51; No Boundaries, 241-251 (Charles Simic).

FIRST WORKSHOPS.  WORKSHOP PARAGRAPHS DUE to your peers and to me.

R 4/28:   Reading:  No Boundaries: 120-132 (Juan Felipe Herrerra).

WORKSHOP

T 5/3:     Reading:  No Boundaries:  87-97 (Amy Gerstler).

WORKSHOP

Journal 6:  Write a prose poem in which you give an archetypal character or urban legend a secret identity

(Herrerra, “La Llorona Power Woman Confidential;”) AND in which you give that character an unusual

occupation (Gerstler, saints, beekeepers, doctors).  Include at least three onomatopoeias and one language not English.   VISIT FROM POET LORNA DEE CERVANTES AS THE VALDEZ FEATURED POET

R 5/5:   Reading:  No Boundaries: 65-75 (Linda Dyer).

WORKSHOP

 

T 5/10:   Reading:  No Boundaries: (77-86) Russell Edson).

            WORKSHOP

            Journal 7:  Write a prose poem in which 77-86 (Russell Edson). Write a confessional prose poem in which

you list the Seven Anxieties of _________(a la Linda Dyer) involving at least two dysfunctional family

relationships (Edson).

 

R 5/12:   Reading:  No Boundaries:  Introduction by Ray Gonzales, xiii-xvi. IN CLASS WORKSHOP.

 

T 5/17:   Reading:  Flash Fiction Forward:  Introduction IN CLASS WORKSHOP

            Journal 8 Working from your class notes, our discussions of the prose poem, and the two anthology

introductions, list at least 3 differences you expect to find between prose poetry and flash fiction.  Using

these, revise ONE of your prior prose poems as a flash fiction piece.

PLEASE NOTE:  Detailed Reading, Journal, and Workshop Schedule TBA for R 5/19-R 6/9

 

Against Research–Erik Anderson

When you write nonfiction, or what passes for it, sometimes a person will ask you about research, how to conduct it, say, or else it will come as a lament: I couldn’t do what you do. I know nothing about research. And sure enough, at an interview recently one of the interviewers warned me, with good intentions, I would again be asked about it. Oh shit, I thought, beginning to panic a little – for I also know nothing about research. But as I started preparing a response in my mind, I realized what a lie that was. Since infancy I’ve been investigating the world around me. Even if I hadn’t been to college, I would probably have internalized the itch, often in the form of a question, with which research begins. I would likely know to consult the experts, to read some of the literature, even if it’s just an article about Shingles on WebMD.

Curiosity, I planned to say, is the keystone of our species. Looking into things is just what we do. But I can also see that, in general, the question isn’t about being inquisitive: it’s about how you manage the facts. Not how and what and why you ask, but the way you preside over answers. It aims at determining one’s relationship to truth, and it implies a journalistic standard: that the only acceptable relationship to the facts, in writing nonfiction, is an utterly transparent one. I’m not saying the interviewer believed this, in fact I know she didn’t, but that the question has its own remedial ethos, as though one might ask of a novelist, should one want to strike at the core of her practice, how she plots her scenes – or of a poet how he handles enjambment.

When I first took the Myers-Briggs personality test in high school, I learned I was firmly on the intuitive side of things, and though other aspects of my personality have shifted in the past twenty years – I’ve become less rational over time and more of an introvert – this orientation to the facts has stayed the same. I’m not a reporter. On some fundamental level, it just isn’t who I am and never has been. I’m driven less by detail than by pattern, more by meaning than by the building blocks from which it’s made. It’s a matter of temperament: I don’t like knowing where my questions will lead, though I’m well aware that it’s the questions I’m trailing.

I have friends who use research in a different way, exhaustively planning every purchase, from cars to coffee makers. The final product is inevitably shiny and sleek, more attractive and expensive than my own. But in that shiny pot there’s just coffee, and from what I can tell it’s no better or worse than the stuff I make at home. We both arrive at work on time, in our separate cars, but I’m under no illusions that I’ve spent the commute in the best possible vehicle for my price range on the market. What is this desire to micromanage the products one consumes? Is it that by aggressively attending to the minutiae of existence, its bare and brutal facts, one might exert a measure of control over its unpredictability? Or have we substituted a consumer’s curiosity for an intellectual one? Is the best question we can come up with glass or stainless steel?

On another interview a couple of years ago, I was asked what kinds of things I do with my students to teach them about craft. I hadn’t been expecting the question, though I should have been, so my answer was fairly incoherent, but in the months that followed I thought a lot about how I should have responded. I realized I hadn’t known how to answer because I don’t believe in craft, exactly, in the same way that I don’t believe in researching a coffee pot. Craft sometimes feels like a euphemism to me, or a veil. It’s as though the craftsman were seeking to legitimize himself by deferring the question of content and prioritizing competence instead. But this risks fostering a virtuosity that is, in itself, about nothing, even if this legitimizing gesture makes sense, especially in the academy, where a thing must submit itself to assessment. Craft, that is, can be gauged: how well one uses a semicolon, plots a storyline, manages dialogue, paints a scene. It’s a technocratic approach that lends itself well to the university and its slavish devotion to the STEM fields, even if adopting it means that writing sacrifices a great deal of what makes it valuable.

The other day I met a writer who, by his own account, was part of the first generation to be truly incorporated into the academy. In the ’70s, he said, colleges started looking at writers and thinking it might be nice to have a few of them around to stir things up. And they did initially, but over time, he maintained, as writing and the teaching of writing have become increasingly professionalized, writers have adopted the shape of the academy, rather than the other way around. What this means in practical terms is, often, precisely those practical terms: craft, research, assessment. Fine words, by and large, but what about ones like vision and struggle and attempt?

The same writer told me about a recent interaction with the Dean of his college. There had been a campus-wide push for measurable student outcomes, against which he had understandably revolted. On his syllabus under “Goals,” he had written, “You will still be writing in twenty years.”

“And how are we supposed to measure that?” the Dean asked.

“Call them up in twenty years,” he responded.

He was making a point about technicalities: how they can blind you to the big picture, how pursuing them can even obscure it. His business, he said, was changing lives. It had nothing to do with managing minutiae.

It’s in that spirit I want to propose an alternative model: the pea plant, whose “tendril wending” Amy Leach describes as “swervy and conjectural.” “Like a dancer who cannot quite hear the music,” she writes, peas “are fixed on the imperceptible,” and because “what they want is beyond their powers of apprehension,” “the only direction to grow is yonder.” Even with a lattice, peas can appear chaotic in their growth, total opportunists who cling to anything that presents itself. Some might object here that, though a lattice is orderly, peas don’t seem systematic. And yet, from a genetic perspective, their growth is coherent: they’re simply following their programming. Their searching, which is both aimless and not, is a matter of survival. They do what they must. They send out their tendrils to inquire into the world beyond, but they answer less to that world than to an inner necessity. They don’t care whether their filaments land on metal or wood, on a lattice built for the purpose or on an old bicycle wheel. They only care about the yonder.

Sometimes, when asked about research – when asked about a lot of things, really – I’ve invoked W.G. Sebald, who, I have little doubt, would have enjoyed Leach’s meditation on peas. In one of the interviews contained in Lynne Sharon Schwartz’s The Emergence of Memory, Sebald describes a dog tracing a scent across a field. The dog doesn’t know exactly where he’s going, Sebald says, he’s just following his nose. If you were to map his path, as from above, the route might even appear random or aimless, but in fact the dog’s movement is highly purposive, it just doesn’t conform to our workaday idea of purpose. Which is probably what I object most to in research: one sets out to answer some specific question and – Lo! – one discovers an answer. How much more beguiling, to my mind, to swerve and conjecture, to set out without a question or with only questions – and no investment in an answer. It occurs to me I might write on my own syllabi under “Goals,” should I ever have a Dean who demands it, “You will follow your nose where it leads.” As for measuring success, I suppose one would have to find out where the writer wound up, and if it’s a place no one could have predicted.