Fortuitous last-minute opportunities: I’m excited to be reading/teaching/crafting next week at the Chautauqua Institution‘s Literary Arts Program. I’ve always loved their programming, their commitment to writing and justice. Looking forward to spending some time with Atom Atkinson and chatting about the tyranny of linear time! It’s also curious to be self-reflective about my own processes, how to think, in particular, about revision in creative ways. I wish the binary opposition between creation and revision didn’t exist!
I was expecting – hoping for – some kind of multi-vocal reading of Lincoln in the Bardo from George Saunders. After all, the audiobook has like 5 trillion different voices. Instead, he spoke about the relationship of writing to life, to compassion. Some of the processes of fiction writing, he suggests, revolve around the writer’s ability to inhabit one’s characters. No, not inhabit: that’s too unidirectional. He doesn’t call fiction, as many do, an empathy machine; he uses the word compassion. A compassion machine.
This, in itself, is not new. What seemed clear to me is that one’s ability to create successful compassion machines (in whatever medium) comes not strictly from the development of craft, but from a long-term investment in their creation. Saunders didn’t talk much about craft. Instead, he talked about a writerly commitment to an inhabitation of otherness, however limited, defined loosely as anything outside one’s own consciousness. The 10,000,000 hours, then, are spent not simply on writing, but on inhabitation, which, through practice, loosens the dangerous racial/gendered/classed/abled imaginaries.
Question: how can we teach empathy specifically in a creative writing class?
- Classroom dynamics – workshop, communication, and critique models
- Adichie’s “The Single Story” – which stories get told, and how
- Craft strategies – collective narration, 2nd person?
There’s a conference panel here somewhere – not simply about how to teach empathy in a creative writing classroom, but also how to work with the limits and misuses of empathy. Thoughts?
I’m so pleased that the Los Angeles Review has published “The Last Remembered Intersection” While TLRI functions as a standalone story, it really comes from the novel, which brings up really odd challenges about how to write both for a novel and for a discrete story entity. The exigencies of academia, which require regular publishing, must weigh heavily on such aesthetic decisions, and I wonder how many academics write novels that could be considered tightly coupled stories, not simply as a response to the demands of larger marketplaces, but as a response to the professional need to publish small projects while concurrently working on (and publishing) big projects. Thoughts?
re: Matthew Zapruder’s oversimplistic championing of democratic, simple poetry, and Johannes Göransson’s smart and urgent take down: what seems to be at stake is not simply Zapruder’s incredibly reductive view of language and poetics and what constitutes a quality poem. It’s so much more. It’s not even the reduction of pleasures that we can gain from such a blinkered version of poetry. It’s his terrible assumption that we, regardless of background, are not all capable and often incredibly facile with and sometimes delighting in the unraveling of complex sentences, thoughts, words. As if only smart, or academically trained people are capable of working with Gertrude Stein. It’s the way in which his dumb-down approach, in perhaps an attempt to make poetry more accessible (of course it already is accessible, precisely because it models our human capability of letting language taking multiple and divergent forms) puts anything deemed as “difficult” under the bus of pretentiousness and academic elitism. It tells people not to think hard, only to consume poems written in simple language, not to try to piece things together in ways that are wired differently from “plain speech”, and it tells people not to spend time on poetics that ask for your attention, that ask you to, as Apple says, think differently.
This is, I’m afraid, one of the primary reasons we got to this point in the first place: our anti-intellectual climate, and a failing set of educational systems which are not teaching people how to think critically. In the end, Zapruder’s argument employs a super-pernicious binary. The deployment of an “easy to read” vs “hard to read” (and who gets to decide, anyway?) opposition sets out anyone who writes things differently as an enemy of the people: either we think ourselves above the people, or we engage in the same kinds of obfuscating tactics that have so radically devalued any version of truth. Quite frankly, this binary, and the prioritizing of the simple version of poetry, lets people off the hook. It tells them that they shouldn’t bother honing the precise skills that might help end this dumbed-down regime
There is indeed a problem with the New Criticism model that Zapruder critiques – there are terrible issues with a pedagogy wrapped around unlocking the poem, of finding the single meaning, of mastery. And it’s true that many teachers still employ New Critical methods – but many don’t. The solution, here, is to create new pedagogical models, not to limit the definition of poetics to simple words, correct syntax, digestible meaning.
Links to Zapruder’s original article and to Göransson’s response:
Halophyte Issue 0 Out Now!
My partner Anne is part of the Halophyte Collective (a collective of book artists and critics), who have just put out their first issue of Halophyte magazine – including works by Brenda Iljima and others. It’s really gorgeous – digitally printed, hand bound in an edition of 150. Fabulous reading/viewing! Purchase at http://halophyte.bigcartel.com/product/halophyte-issue-0
After a hiatus, we’re back with a wonderful new Versal 12! This is the inaugural issue of Versal’s long-awaited print return, a limited edition journal of poetry, story and art connected through diverse interpretations of the theme ‘migrations’. It’s very exciting to be back!
Please consider buying a copy for yourself or for loved ones – it’s a fabulous read!
the pinwheel model: we try to figure out what a story can be, not what it is or should be. That’s why I dislike and distrust the general notion that a story should be self-enclosed, sealed up, a tiny box. the model i want to think about (not force or push) is the image of a sparkler pinwheel, one that turns in the wind, that takes up a given circumference (the space of the story), but which has different velocities and directions, that shoots sparks outside its orbit. one in which not everything is tied down – characters that blur in and out of frame, events suggested yet outside its reach.