This course will consider poetry’s role in contemporary society. We will explore working definitions of “the poem” “the line” and “meaning.” Expect vigorous discussion on how poetry has changed during the last 50 years. We will consider who is currently publishing, how and where, and what, as writers, we can contribute to the swell of poetry being written and read in a digital age. This course will offer a wide range of contemporary poetry with attention given to specific writers, topics, and themes. Students will have an opportunity to workshop their own poetry every class meeting and will be expected to provide thoughtful and useful feedback on workshop pieces and weekly reading assignments. Come prepared to write, as prompts will also be used in every class. Our objectives are to consider poetry’s function in society and to examine its varying forms, as well as write our own stunning poems and sharpen our editing skills through workshop and outside projects.
Narrative Journalism Cluster
This course is concerned with what happens when we combine the best qualities of journalism and literature. During the quarter we will explore the journalistic, historical, and critical notions that make up the idea of “literary journalism” as we read and analyze many of the best literary journalistic pieces from the mid-1800s to present. We will spend much of our time together discussing how form and content (structure and method) can blend together to create outstanding (mostly) factual literature.
This course will refer to work as far back as the 18th century to some of the literary antecedents to what Tom Wolfe — and others before and after him - have called the "New Journalism." We will read, analyze, respond in written form, and discuss the works of many different literary journalists (and commentators on literary journalism) from the time of New Journalism to present day.
The purpose of our course is to understand how content is written using fiction techniques (sometimes in radical, wild, and very unconventional ways) to create a new kind of literature — one which is at once journalistic — and — narrative. Narrative journalism, when done well and with relevance, creates an excited and important departure from journalistic norms.
This course will explore (among other topics):
- Literary journalism's historical roots and founders (the “trailblazers”).
- Literary journalism's present and future in the digital age (so much information, so little ability to sift through it all for “the truth”).
- Criticism literary journalism receives, positive and not.
- Theories behind this genre and how we apply for ill or good.
- Techniques that comprise, shape, and define this genre (think fiction).
- Using our own (your) writing skills to craft pieces of great literary journalism.
What we will do in this course (readings, minimal lecture, maximal discussion, analysis and writing) is intended to give you a perspective of journalism in general and its broader societal and global importance — especially as it pertains to democracy, open communication, compassion, and multicultural experience.
In addition to our readings from the three texts, we will discuss brief pieces I bring in to use as comparison against topics we are discussing and as bolster to your own workshop pieces. We will be reading — a lot — in this course, as absorbing others’ work is the very best way to craft your won with grace and excitement. Be prepared to write, read, discuss, and write some more every single class meeting. I expect to hear each of your voices — no one is exempt from discussion.
Flash Fiction Cluster
A piece of flash fiction is often explained as a story that has been “boiled down to its essential parts.” A flash story frequently depends on a fragment, a single hinging line, or a series of images to capture an entire narrative in less than 1000 words. In this course, we will read some fantastic examples of powerful flash, quiet flash, and flash that works its way into your skin through its language and oddity. We will write every class meeting and we will workshop in every class. Our goal is to create our own pieces of flash fiction with the guidance of one another and from the examples presented through our readings and prompts. We will do more with fewer words. We will give narrative new meaning and direction by focusing on how to impart all the emotion, energy, and poetics of longer prose into a smaller frame. The pieces written in this course will range from 25, to 50, to 250, to 500, and to 1000 words. Our stories will sometimes be sharp, and sometimes strive for elegance. Everything is fair game. Ultimately, the goal is to inspire one another to craft unique and vital works of fiction that are meant to be consumed in a single excited gulp.
Selected Emphases in Fiction: Modern Myths & Tricksters in Short Fiction (online)
This course will offer a global survey of myth from ancient to present times and discuss how and why the mythic is still so vital and exciting in literature, especially in short fiction. Retelling of myths and creating new myth stories in a short story form lends to an awaking of universal story-telling consciousness. Cultures of every variety share myth stories and have versions of the archetypal hero story. Trickster figures have been employed in oral and literary traditions from the beginning of recognizable human expression to modern-day. This course will explore the hero’s journey according to Joseph Campbell and how his descriptions incorporate Native American trickster tales and early Russian fairy stories. We will explore how modern authors from Shelly to Neil Gaiman, from Borges to Junot Diaz have redeveloped the structure of myth in short form to establish a new and thrilling genera. Students will have an opportunity to read modern myth stories and create their own myths, hero stories, and trickster tales in mini workshops.
The Prose Collection: Essay: David Foster Wallace
In David Foster Wallace’s Consider the Lobster and Other Essays we will learn why there is gravitas in the porn industry’s annual awards banquet, why Kafka was secretly hilarious, what really happens when we cook a lobster, and how John McCain’s passion for politics is strangely, violently tender, among other oddities and profundities. We will explore the magic of the extended footnote and what it means to let poetry into journalism and essay. This particular collection of essays offers a fractaled glimpse into the creative process and observations employed by arguably the most exciting nonfiction/fiction writer of a generation. DFW tells us “The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.” It is this freedom that he longs for in his essays, and the freedom he hopes to offer through exposing some of the weirdest, most vital aspects of being alive in a community of equally bizarre and fragile humans. In this course we will examine the universe through DFW’s lenses and then apply our own in mini-workshops and discussion. The ride will be fast, and strange, and sometimes very, very difficult (footnotes galore), but worth every moment.
Genre Fiction Workshop: Science Fiction & Fantasy
Science fiction and fantasy are genres that have been grappling with the definitions, shapes, boundaries, and purposes of fiction since their births on the page. When we consider science fiction and fantasy, we must ask what distinguishes such “imaginative fiction'” from “normal” literary fiction? Why do some authors resist the terms labeling them sci-fi and fantasy writers? How do we decide the rules for dividing a work into either fantasy or sci-fi and what lenses do we turn to our own work to label it as such? This course will explore both fantasy and science fiction (in short form) as vital genres as well as use tools of craft to create our own short works of fiction. You will be required to write in BOTH genres, so get ready to gird your metaphorical loins in chainmail, and set your phasers to “stun.” Lest we forget humor, we will have at least once session devoted to the joys of Pratchett and Adams and try our hands at the funnier elements in sci-fi and fantasy.
Poetry Writing Workshop
This course will focus on the poem as an object and on workshopping original poems. You will be required to read contemporary poetry, essays on craft, and create poems of your own to be workshopped by your peers. You will write new poems every week and will engage in lively and exciting conversation regarding the making of poems and how they use line, image, tone, intention, narrative, and form. You need not consider yourself a poet to enjoy this course, but you will need to consider yourself open to oddity and beauty.
Prose Poetry Cluster
Fiction writers rejoice! Poets get ready to break rules. It’s time to play with prose poetry! Line breaks? No, Ma’am. Meter? No, sorry, Sir. Stanzas and couplets and tercets? Not here, Friends. This course will offer the fiction writer, the poet, and the nonfiction writer equal opportunity to explore one of literature’s great oddities, and most vital prose conventions—the prose poem. Prose poetry is a room wherein all genres meet, sit down and whisper, gossip, and expose the secrets only visible when the writers are drunk with possibility and desire for Invention! In writing prose poems you will keep company with Rilke, Borges, Paz, Kafka, and Forche. The form is wild, its hair a tangled mass of image and sentence, story and character. It plants its hooves in narrative and bucks convention when it snorts metaphor into the cold morning air. In this course we will read critical essays dissecting the craft and building of these poetic beasties, and we will create and workshop our own prose-poem animals. If you write stories, this course is for you. If you write poems, this course is for you. If you live in the world as a writer, this course is for you.