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I was delighted by all of my craft sessions, particularly because they were all so different and yet they still managed to inspire my writing.

                              —’12 participant

Daily craft sessions provide contexts for faculty and writers in residence to discuss diverse issues of craft, process, and inspiration, or to lead exercises exploring technique and imagination. They provide excellent opportunities for participants to engage with poets and writers other than their workshop leader.

A total delight. Participatory, informative, very helpful.

—’12 participant

Participants in the 2013 Institute will receive a schedule of 2013 craft session offerings in the spring, and will have the opportunity to sign up for the ones that interest them most. Here are a few descriptions from the upcoming 2013 Institute:


Fictions about Poetry, Prose about Poetry Crash Session: Talking Nonsense: Doing What You Believe You Shouldn't Do, Why and When Clichés, Stereotypes, Melodrama, Hyperbole, Didacticism, Anachronism, and other cautions should be faced or perhaps stared down.

When the only thing that makes sense is non-sense, for instance, how does a writer know when to send caution to the wind? When does any of this matter and since judging one's writing is typically couched in reason or rational discourse, how can a writer recognize reason's failures and rationality's mendacities? How can we improve our conversations about these things and make use of them in our writing while taking good care of our minds?

Finally, here's something for atmosphere, something to have nearby:

Sometimes the house of the future is better built, lighter and larger than all the houses of the past, so that the image of the dream house is opposed to that of the childhood home…. Maybe it is a good thing for us to keep a few dreams of a house that we shall live in later, always later, so much later, in fact, that we shall not have time to achieve it. For a house that was final, one that stood in symmetrical relation to the house we were born in, would lead to thoughts—serious, sad thoughts—and not to dreams. It is better to live in a state of impermanence than in one of finality.

~ Gaston Bachelard, 1884-1962, THE POETICS OF SPACE, 1958

During the course of our brief meeting I'll be asking you to write for about 9 minutes, write what? Something that will be related to all of the above.

A Compact and Delicious Body: The Short Poem
In his remarks on style, Demetrius notes that “the very first grace of style is that which results from compression, when a thought which would have been spoiled by dwelling on it is made graceful by a light and rapid touch.” Poetry, with its emphasis on precise diction, is an artful series of compressions: mental, linguistic, and spatial. In this quick talk, we’ll look at examples of short forms and examine the ways in which brevity enables both wit and grace. Readings will include work by Robert Grenier, Lucille Clifton, Charles Wright, David Bromige, Suzanne Buffam, Tim Dlugos, Etheridge Knight, Rachel Zucker and Kay Ryan. That seems like a lot? Not to fear, they’re short.

When Is the Wolf Just a Wolf?
What’s the difference between a story and a tale? How does a
traditional tale—whether it’s from Western Europe or the Middle
East—work to get under our skins and make us feel something uncanny, indescribable? In this session, a mix of lecture, short readings, discussion, in-class writing, and light critique, we’ll mine artifacts from past-centuries oral-tradition tales and examine them; we’ll then try to infuse scenes and stories with these flavors.

Performance Matters!
Are you a “page poet” or “writer of fiction” who has always been a little tempted by that open-mic list or slam poetry night? Whether you're a regular on the scene or a newcomer to the possibility, Performance Matters! will help guide you through the nerve-wracking but always thrilling page-to-stage journey! Spoken word artist Alix Olson will facilitate a creative group exploration of all matters performance-related including: improvisational and movement exercises, "throwing" your voice and other powerful methods for effectively "embodying" your written word.

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 vacation 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?


Handmade Bookmaking for Writers
Writers often have a special greedy feeling about books; we want to read them, hold them, own them, why should we not make them too? In this craft session, we will briefly consider the art and history of chap-bookmaking and explore the keen relationship between the written word and the physical object that contains it. We’ll look at samples of handmade chapbooks whose physical design engages in direct conversation with the language contained within. You will learn simple binding methods and then have time to create a small book of your own writing.

The Making of Simile
Drawing on David Fishelov’s strange, exciting, wonderfully technical article: “Poetic and Non-Poetic Simile: Structure, Semantics, Rhetoric,” we will examine all the rules that govern boring similes, and then systematically break them to create interesting ones. We’ll also look at similes in the wild (in poetry & prose), and figure out how they work—which rule(s) they’re subverting. We will compare a great many things to a great many other things, or to themselves: apples to oranges, dust to dust. You’ll generate your own set of variations on a simile, which should (I hope!) leave you with a lasting sense of the figure’s plasticity and possibility.

Have I the Lip of the Flamingo: Dickinson and Catachresis
But do flamingos even have lips? And what could it mean to “pluck” at a partition? How can floods be served in bowls, or the heavens appear to be “stitched”? In this craft session, we’ll take a close look at the elegant mayhem afoot in a handful of Emily Dickinson’s poems, reading with a special emphasis on turns of phrase that fly against, and therefore expand, our sense of the possible. We’ll discuss the various kinds of catachresis, which may be broadly defined as the deliberate violation of a word’s standard usage for expressive ends, considering the ways in which this rhetorical figure appears to be central not only to Dickinson’s poetry, but to what we mean by poetry in general. We’ll experiment in class with enhancing our own writing’s complexity of meaning, verbal texture, and sense of surprise through a practice of lexical selection that brazenly, but not without principle, disrupts what’s standard. We’ll encourage ourselves to march against the grain of the routine in apparently illogical rather than merely logical steps, confident that le mot juste might be just right for prose, but more often than not, it’s the last thing we want for our poetry.

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.

Constraints in Short Fiction
Experimental short fiction is often recategorized: lyric work is called poetry; voice-driven work is called essay; linked collections are called novels. Does this mean the work is more flexible? Or does it mean that it’s not allowed in the short fiction club? Either way, it’s worth asking what makes such work harder to define. Perhaps it has more to do with what’s omitted in the work, than it does with what it contains. We will therefore take a closer look at the uses and effects of constraints in the short story form. How do we restrict ourselves as writers? How and what can we omit? How do we work around what’s been omitted? What effect does this have on the work? Looking at several short texts that utilize various formal and stylistic constraints, we will consider the many possibilities of the short story, trying on some for ourselves.


Say Yes, Say No: On Conflict, Tension, and the Patterns Inherent in Stories
Direct conflict is just one way to keep a reader’s interest, I tell my students, but what the hell am I talking about? Can anyone tell a compelling story without conflict? Can we, like television news producers, simply rely on an ever-present threat of annihilation to make everything seem meaningful? We'll look at Freytag, Bolivian deforestation, the patterns blood makes when poured into milk, a Tobias Wolff story, and try to explore how even in contentment we, in Wallace Stevens’ words, “still feel the need of some imperishable bliss.”

On Difficulty
A talk, including some discouraging remarks by Hugo Von Hoffmannsthal, author of “The Letter.”

Voices Talking
What makes up what we call “voice” and who speaks in our work? We’ll consider the idea of voice—that semi-mysterious entity to which we ascribe a kind of distinctive originality—but, more practically, we’ll explore the voices we create in our work, the ways in which our poems or prose speak. What tones, forms, sounds, facts, fantasies, and personas find their ways into—and, in fact, comprise—the voice(s) of a given poem or piece of prose? How do we go about discovering new material, what do we allow or prohibit ourselves to say? Notions of authorship, gumption, experimentation, craft, and discovery will be fair game as we dig into compelling examples where voice is paramount, wrangle with select issues of creative process, and imagine concrete ways to expand the possibilities for what creates voice in our work, and of what (and how) we might say.

If You Agree, Won't You Change the Title for Me?
What can you do when you have a poem or story but no titles? This talk will include a taxonomy of titling strategies, an analysis of some of Wallace Stevens' best titles and titling exercises. For poets and fiction writers.

You Might Ask the Question, “Who Is Speaking?”
A craft talk/Q&A concerning the territory where autobiography and bibliography meet.