Participants in the 2015 Institute will have the opportunity, in the spring, to sign up for the craft sessions that interest them the most. Here are this year’s offerings:
A small group conversation and Q&A
This group discussion will cover issues of craft in nonfiction—finding a form, working with research, and reconciling the lyric impulse with the desire to inform.
Dear Reader: Epistolary Correspondence Between People Who May Be Alive or Deceased
"This is my letter to the World / that never wrote to Me --"
In this session we will talk about epistolary writing, its possibilities andlimitations, its peculiar habit of sending messages between the world of the living and the dead. We should probably expect (as when dealing in any occult practice) to be surprised by the subjects that arise. We should also expect to look in particular at work by Emily Dickinson, Jack Spicer, Evie Shockley, Lydia Davis, Joe Wenderoth, Anne Frank, and W.S. Graham. (That list is subject, of course, to shifting spirits and other forms of change.)
Finding New Forms
What if I decided to write this craft session description as a series of questions? How would that decision shape my content, style, and delivery? And why do writers invent novel forms of architecture for their poems, stories and essays, anyway? Could it be that new forms help jolt our brains into the production of new content? Always? How can we keep these new forms from becoming too predictable, overly repetitive, or gimmicky? In addition to looking at the way Pablo Neruda, Evie Shockley, Dara Wier and Chelsey Minnis use punctuation as form, will we have time to discuss work by Donald Barthelme, Lydia Davis, and Paul Violi that impersonate non-creative forms like the list, the index, and the business letter? Will I make a terrible decision and attempt to lecture entirely in exclamations? Come to this session to find out!
Characters vs. People
Some writers claim that their characters come alive on the page and begin to write themselves. Others insist that they are words on the page (William Gass). In this craft session, we'll think about both ideas of characters, and look at the way characters are defined or described by a number of different writers. Do characters have a kind of life? Are they more than collections of rhythms and sounds that have an affective quality? Is the idea of a character being a person an allusion or does it have some kind of symbolic truth to it? How, in either case, can we write characters that resonate for readers?
The Rose is an Estate in Sicily: Miniaturization & Magnification & Vision
Why do artists of all types love miniatures? In his autobiography, Speak, Memory, Nabokov writes, "There is, it would seem, in the dimensional scale of the world a kind of delicate meeting place between imagination and knowledge, a point arrived at by diminishing large things and enlarging small ones, that is intrinsically artistic." Imagination and knowledge are both the process and result of these practices. Or as Gaston Bachelard writes, “The cleverer I am at miniaturizing the world, the better I possess it. But in doing this, it must be understood that values become condensed and enriched in miniature." In this craft session, we will turn the magnifying glass on various writers and visual artists who have used the imaginative act of miniaturizing to allow us a deeper knowledge of our world.
We read, in part, to be lifted away from the daily. We want mystery, scope, relief from the weight of detail. Fiction provides a haven, sometimes even from itself. It can swerve, rupture, disburden. It can lift out and away. This lifting away reminds us of the pleasing elasticity of being we know to be true and forget. On certain pages of prose (poetry too) we are reminded to see more deeply, perhaps more widely, as though an aperture has been opened, as though time has been dilated and space. What emerges from the rupture might be wisdom, a confession of fear, a declaration of fury, or love. Love and fury and wisdom and fear have accumulated line by line: the rupture feels at once spontaneous and inevitable, an impulse that overwhelms intention. The rupture is larger than the story and yet contained by it and it can take your breath away. Recollection and premonition; accumulation and release. The rupture is not explanation but declaration: People require strengthening before the acts of life (Grace Paley). I am in retirement from love (William Gass). My questions for the time we have together will be: how do writers accomplish this feat? How might we invite it?
MITCHELL S. JACKSON
The Poetry of Prose
Baudelaire said, “always be a poet, even in prose.” If we consider sentences that strike us and what makes them memorable, more often than not they reveal a writer’s command of devices most commonly associated with poetry. We will read aloud and critique passages from especially poetic prose writers with the goal of unpacking the poetics—alliteration, assonance, list making, repetition, anaphora, neologism, portmanteau, etc.—and the use in crafting sentences that are, among other attributes, vivid, energized, acoustically engaging, and imaginative. We will discuss passages from writers including John Edgar Wideman, Denis Johnson, Barry Hannah, Christine Schutt, and Joan Didion. We will also use descriptive passages from other writers as source material upon which to apply the techniques discussed during the session.
The Lyrical Essay
Part poem, part nonfiction narrative, part song: a lyric essay lives on the borders. It talks to the poem in its fidelity to compression, sound, and image. It talks to the essay in its work of idiosyncratic meditation. What does it mean to test, to try? We'll look at some short examples of the form as a way into wondering about voice and structure. We'll also get started on a lyric essay inspired by the work in front of us.
LAUREN FOSS GOODMAN
Time, Shape, Stories, Structure
“Time draws the shape of stories.” - Joan Silber
We’ll only have about an hour together, but we’ll make the most of it. We’ll talk about what this hour can be—what is an hour in the life of a short story, a novel, a poem? Generations can live and die within the space of a paragraph, and an entire book can be consumed by a single escalator ride. There are stories that are all about time and there are stories where time ticks away so subtly we must squint to see the skeleton of seconds, minutes, hours, years there beneath the surface. In this session, we will talk about the many choices we make with regard to time in our writing, and about how and why we might manipulate time on the page. We will talk about time and stories, and our definition of stories will be as broad as each of us and our particular lyrical, narrative, and structural interests. Come prepared to think, share, write and experiment!
Producing Exhilarating Fiction
Do you have a playful side that too often gets short shrift when you write? Does a conventional writing process stifle and weigh your creative energies down, making it difficult for occasions of newness to naturally occur? Within you lies the desire and ability to produce exhilarating fiction. In this session, we’ll tap into your abilities by exploring different liberating techniques that aim to reach beyond the mundane and elevate your writing to attain a level of craft that transcends ordinary writing and achieves a profound, self-referential meaning. We’ll look at examples of bold writers who leapfrog, seesaw, and dance across the page in unexpected but entirely effective ways. Using a hands-on approach, we’ll manipulate a few samples of writing to see how we can awaken and engage both you and your readers, so that you can eventually apply these masterful techniques to your own writing.
Nkolika: Stories and the silences they won’t forgive
Why are stories so prized by humans, from the ancient epochs to the modern
age? Among the Igbo of southeastern Nigeria, speech is described as the
mouth’s debt. And it’s a debt the Igbo fully expect the mouth, every
mouth, to pay. Stories not only reinforce memory, they also cement
communities—indeed make the very idea of community possible. The Igbo
expression, Nkolika, embodies an implicit idea whilst making an explicit
claim. The implied idea is of the existence of a community cemented by the
communion of stories; the explicit stipulation is that the exchange of
stories is, in itself, a supreme good. Drawing eclectically from, among
others, Igbo cultural matrix, Sophocles’ Antigone, Wole Soyinka’s prison
writing, John Edgar Wideman’s The Cattle Killing, the novels of Chinua
Achebe, and the poetry of Christopher Okigbo, the session will explore the
ethical, aesthetic and social dimensions of stories. If stories must be
told, then how do we navigate the curse and cost of silence?
Do Be So Naive
I've heard many poets suggest that we should write what we know. How bizarre! What is it we think we know anyway? Poets can be so naive, and that's the good news. In thiscraft session, we'll talk about naiveté’s productive role in crafting an image, and about what it means to allow our subjects to fascinate us once we un-know them, as if each new poem births its poet into a tiny world. How does what we know or assume about a thing stymie its inherent mystery? How can we write about a thing that doesn't strip it of its strangeness? After discussing the role of naiveté in a couple of example poems by Mary Ruefle, Graham Foust, Sawako Nakayasu, and Michael Earl Craig, we'll put mystery into practice, then share and discuss the new poems we generate.
Reinvigorating Your Writing Practice
In this craft session we will go back to the basics: breath, senses, the body—where stories and poems are housed. Being attentive to your inner world and experience provides information that can be used to write deeply and distinctly. We grow our ability to respond as writers when we learn to take notice of the present moment. Mindfulness meditation and generative writing exercises will help you to awaken your writing and invigorate your practice.
When the Visible Is in Service to the Invisible
My whole originality consists in having made improbable beings live humanly according to the laws of the probable by as far as possible putting the logic of the visible at the service of the invisible. --Odilon Redon
It's been an accepted truth concerning instigation, intention, inspiration that writers do not/should not know beforehand what they are going to be writing. Cautions and superstitions involved. What if you have something on your mind? Like anything thrown around as if it is a given, there's something true involved; there's also something narrow and strict and misleading and maybe confusing involved. We're going to spend some time with the problems writers can face when they have something to say and are searching for ways to write it. Some differences between saying and writing, as well as what we mean by meaning and knowing, will be on the table; and we will hope to find alternative routes to authentic revealing, sometimes life changing, discovery. We'll look to go near some of the ambiguous realms of the undetermined.