The driving principle behind this course is balance. Balance between
1.) Writing and reading,
2.) Listening and speaking,
3.) Intuition and thought,
4.) Fiction and truth,
5.) Energy and organization.
Our meetings will be structured so that each aspect of being a writer, both mental and physical, will have its day:
*****Monday’s are dedicated to structure. We’ll study the microscopic levels of composition: how sentences and paragraphs function and how they break. We’ll analyze style, culture, and socio-economic systems. We’ll dissect the personalities of narrators and characters, not to mention your friends and family. Understanding structure requires us to take things apart and break them down into their smallest units. This is left-brain territory.
*****Wednesday’s are dedicated to velocity. What is velocity? Think of it as what keep things alive. Force, power, Soul, strength, energy, vigor, drive, Spirit, intensity: these are some of English’s words for the unexplainable fact that things happen, and keep happening. In this class, it’s the power of the right brain, but in physics, velocity designates an object’s speed and its direction. Something cannot just be going fast; it has to be going somewhere. Velocity is the where-to and the how-to together and we’ll use (almost) any means to obtain it, because without it, you’ve got nothing but a blank page.
*****Friday’s are dedicated to combining left- and right-brained practices and abilities. There is no simple formula for doing this, but it can be done. In reality, structure and velocity are inseparable: everything has aspects of both. What we want to learn, ultimately, is how to access where the left- and right- brains meet and to use it for our own purposes. Here is a little reminder of how they break down:
Looks at parts
Looks at wholes
1. Regular writing is vital to any attempt to command a language. Let’s explore “command” as a metaphor for language use. Your words are an army. If you abandon them, you are powerless to defend yourself against invasion. If you deploy them recklessly, they’ll be scattered and ready for defeat. If you understand their strength and purpose, however, you can have them disembark prepared, march with confidence, evade wrongful attack, overpower obstructions, and defend that which we love.
But language can also reveal. It brings what is (you, me, dirt, television, you-name-it) into the Open for the first time. You may be suspicious, but language can serve as an extra sense. With it, you can catch sight of the world beyond the eyes, or live through someone else’s eyes. You can relive the past, learn the world, and hear your own voice as you’ve never heard it before: as other people hear it.
2. Careful reading is the other half of language’s bargain. You will
learn to read published writings, the work of classmates, and your own words
with care and respect. The natural enemy of both care and respect is hurriedness.
We are all busy and will always be busy. But by giving generous attention to
what you read, you create time instead of spending it. If what you are doing
is valuable, and only you can make it valuable, time is never wasted.
3. Research. Most students dread research and with good reason. It can be boring and difficult and can go on far too long. If this sounds true to you, you may have been made to look into subjects you don’t care anything about with old tools you haven’t been trained to use. It’s like a boss making you dig the foundation for his new house with a spoon for zero pay.
But research is fundamentally detective work. It’s reading your grandfather’s war correspondence. It’s learning how many times a hummingbird’s heart beats in a minute. It’s figuring how much an Indiana farmer makes off a bushel of corn versus a bushel of cannabis. It’s figuring out who should be your president and where you should eat lunch. You have to do research whether you go to college or not. But, if you go to college, you can get really, really good at it.
NECESSITIES: For this class, you must have a three-ring binder, minimum 1” thick,
with 4 dividers and loose-leaf paper for note-taking. ALWAYS bring this notebook
to class. I will periodically collect these without warning to ensure that
you are keeping up with all responsibilities. Your binder should have a section
1.) READINGS FOR CLASS: Everything is on e-reserve. E-reserves can be accessed through our on-line course blackboard, at blackboard.uncg.edu. Always come to class with a printed copy of the text assigned for that day in your binder, so that you are prepared to discuss the reading in detail.
2.) JOURNAL ENTRIES: You are to complete two journal entries a week. Each of these should represent twenty minutes of writing. Many of the class’s shorter assignments will qualify as journal entries, but frequently you will need to provide the topic for your entries. While personal reflection is welcome, I’m expecting more than a mere list of events or complaints. Journal entries provide you with an opportunity to explore your thoughts and to experiment safely with language. I will collect your journal entries every Friday.
3.) DRAFTS: Save all drafts of your writing, especially those critique by me and by your peers. These will prove extremely helpful in the process of revision. Moreover, when you turn in your final portfolio, it will assist me in assessing the progress you’ve made over the semester.
4.) FINAL PORTFOLIO: By the end of the semester you will have at least twenty (20) pages of polished material representative of your best work. This must include at least three (3) full-length papers, but may also include substantially revised journal entries.
PAPER FORMAT: All typewritten work you hand in must meet the following requirements
or it will not be accepted.
1.) Basics: 12-point, Times New Roman font, double-spaced, 1-inch margins on all sides, stapled.
2.) Identification: Your name, my name, course number and section, date
3.) Title: Centered above the text’s body. Everything, except journal entries, must have a title, though the title can change through the drafting process.
4.) Citation: follow MLA format for in-text citations and bibliography.
5.) Page Length: Paper must meet the page length requirement or it will not be accepted.
6.) Late Assignments are not accepted. If you have printer trouble or forgot your paper you have three (3) hours to either deliver it to my office or email me a functional, Microsoft Word attachment of your paper. No other exceptions.
ATTENDANCE: I will take attendance for every class meeting. Missing four or more classes will drop your grade one letter. Six absences represent an automatic failure. Absences must be excused within two days of the class meeting in question. Excused absences, including those due to illnesses and sports-related schedule conflicts, must be certified by an appropriate third party.
GRADING: 25% Participation: attendance, class discussion, group participation,
and keeping up with your readings.
25% Journals: don’t miss out on these relatively easy points! Bring me two journal entries a week so that you don’t have to worry over this quarter of your grade.
25% Drafts: in most classes, when you turn in a paper, that’s it. I think it’s unfair to base the majority of your grade on work you probably finished the night before. Take your drafts seriously, but also understand that the work you turn in to me throughout the semester is only provisional.
50% Final Portfolio: Because this is clearly the make-or-break portion of your grade, keep this in mind at all times. Return to your drafts periodically, making notes in the margins so that, at semester’s end, you are prepared to deliver to me work that you are genuinely proud of: your error-free, thoughtful, hilarious, poignant cream of the crop.
August 15, Monday Syllabusification.
August 17, Wednesday ASSIGNMENT DUE TODAY: Sensory Data. Pick a spot, any spot: in a park, a restaurant, a library, a bedroom, a staircase, a mall, a car, a Ferris wheel, whatever. Sit for twenty minutes (no cheating whatsoever) and record the world using ALL of your five senses in a LIST format. Do not write out complete sentences, if you can help it. Be as precise as possible about shapes, colors, smells, sounds, types of voices, sensations, ambiance, the taste inside your mouth, the tone of the air conditioner’s hum: everything. RULE: Do not lift you pen from the page for the complete twenty minutes. IN-CLASS: Working with groups to make your lists into metaphors.
August 19, Friday ASSIGNMENT DUE TODAY: Using your sensory list and the metaphors you produced with your group, compose a single page of descriptive prose. RULE: Write this page using 1.) only complete sentences and 2.) only strong verbs. IN-CLASS: We’ll read two volunteer pages and respond as a class. Then, we’ll return to groups for peer-revision.
August 22, Monday GRAMMAR LESSON. Bring your revised prose description to
class. We’ll go over the (perhaps) boring basics of grammar, syntax,
and punctuation. Writing clear, understandable sentences isn’t easy,
but the world requires that we do so. I’ll provide some handouts for
you to consult throughout the semester.
August 24, Wednesday ASSIGNMENT DUE TODAY: Read Richard Hugo’s “Writing off the Subject” available on E-RESERVE. Bring your printed copy of the essay to class. JOURNAL: Take fifteen minutes to write a brief response to Hugo’s essay: did you find it useful? Did it make sense to you? Do you think Hugo’s method of composition will work for you? Think about what helps you write and what holds you back. IN-CLASS: Class discussion of Hugo’s essay. How does Invention work? Getting through the first page.
August 26, Friday ASSIGNMENT DUE TODAY: Read Richard Hugo’s “The Triggering Town” and “Assumptions” available on E-RESERVE. JOURNAL: Modeling your work on Hugo’s “assumptions,” list a few “assumptions” about your own town.
IN-CLASS: Sharing your “assumption” list with your group. Class discussion of the value of Hugo’s advice. Is he insane?
August 29, Monday ASSIGNMENT DUE TODAY: Read Richard Hugo’s “The Milltown Union Bar” and Philip Larkin’s “This Be The Verse.” Write a brief response to one of these two poems.
POETRY 101: We’ll go through the basics of meter and rhyme using the two poems you’ve read and a few I’ll bring in.
August 31, Wednesday ASSIGNMENT DUE TODAY: Read Louise Simpson’s “American Poetry,” Craig Raine’s “A Martian Sends a Postcard Home,” Ai’s “Twenty-one Year Marriage,” Dean Young’s “Dog Toy,” Adrienne Rich’s “Diving into the Wreck” For your journal, write a brief response to one of the seven poems assigned on Wednesday or Friday.
IN-CLASS: We’ll divvy these poems into your groups for close inspection. We’ll look at these structural properties (rhyme, rhythm, etc.) but we’ll concentrate on what makes these hunks of words into bona fide poems.
September 2, Friday ASSIGNMENT FOR TODAY: Read Howard Nemerov’s “Wolves in the Zoo,” and Sylvia Plath’s “Blackberrying.” POEM! Using your polished descriptive prose as a “triggering subject,” write a poem with a minimum of four quatrains and a maximum of seven. While composing, consider how Nemerov and Plath use description to help them establish their larger concerns. BRING IN ONE COPY OF YOUR POEM FOR EACH OF YOUR GROUP MEMBERS.
IN-CLASS: We’ll discuss Nemerov and Plath and consider volunteer poems from the class, comparing them with their prose drafts and going over their strengths and weaknesses.
September 5, Monday L A B O R D A Y
September 7, Wednesday ASSIGNMENT FOR TODAY: Go over the poems of your group members WITH A PEN. DO NOT WRITE THAT THE POEM IS BAD OR GOOD! Pay attention to how the poem works: what is it trying to do say? Is it similar to any of the poems we’ve considered as a class? What kind of tone does it have? Is the word choice strong? Where are you confused and why? SIGN YOUR COPY BEFORE RETURNING IT TO THEM
IN-CLASS: We’ll divide into groups for peer revision of the poems. Each member will read their poem after which the group will respond and advise using their notes. Collect your group members’ critiqued copies of your poem.
September 9, Friday ASSIGNMENT FOR TODAY: Read Richard Hugo’s “Nuts and Bolts.” Write a journal entry in response to Hugo’s advice. Pick two or three of his recommendations and apply them to your poem.
IN-CLASS: Discussion of Hugo’s essay. The nuts and bolts of revising poetry. Bring in your poems so that we’ll have a chance to consider revision possibilities as a class.
September 12, Monday ASSIGNMENT FOR TODAY: At the beginning of class, turn in to me a typed copy of your revised poem stapled to all of your earlier drafts and peer-reviewed copies. Remember to give it a title. Read Anne Lamott’s “Shitty First Drafts”
IN-CLASS: Anecdotes and stories. We’ll go over the basics of story-telling: plot, characterization, timing, purpose, detail, and point of view. Clip from “Reservoir Dogs”
September 14, Wednesday ASSIGNMENT FOR TODAY: Read Anne Lamott’s “Character.” For a journal entry, draw a character sketch. Use the word choice skills you acquired in the poetry unit to describe your character physically, but also imagine their past and their hopes. What kind of lies do they tell themselves? What do they love?
IN-CLASS: Clip from “Amelie.” We’ll break into groups and share character sketches. Brainstorm with your group about other possibilities for this character keeping one central question in mind: what is both real and interesting about this person? Share ideas about what kind of story might suit the character you’ve created.
September 16, Friday ASSIGNMENT FOR TODAY: Read Sherman Alexie’s “What You Pawn I Will Redeem.” Write a journal entry response about what you think of Jackson Jackson. What other kinds of stories can you imagine him in?
IN-CLASS: Group discussion of Alexie’s story.
September 19, Monday ASSIGNMENT FOR TODAY: Read Anne Lamott’s “Plot” and “Dialogue”. How can Lamott’s advice help you build a story out of your character?
IN-CLASS: Discussion of Lamott’s essays. In-class writing about how your story is developing in your mind.
September 21, Wednesday ASSIGNMENT FOR TODAY: Read Jill McCorkle’s “Intervention.” Write a brief response to the story and be prepared to share it in class.
IN-CLASS: How a story gets told, cont’d.
September 23, Friday ASSIGNMENT FOR TODAY: Read John Updike’s “A&P”. Write a brief response and be prepared to share it in class.
IN-CLASS: How a story gets told, cont’d.
September 26, Monday ASSIGNMENT FOR TODAY: STORY! 5 page minimum, 7 page maximum! Bring a copy of your story for each of your group members. Premiere penalty for those who do not!
IN-CLASS: Volunteers will read their stories to the class for extra credit. We’ll workshop their stories with critical accuracy and love.
September 28, Wednesday ASSIGNMENT FOR TODAY: Read your group members’ stories carefully, offering helpful criticism and advice IN PEN. SIGN YOUR COPY BEFORE RETURNING IT TO THE AUTHOR.
IN-CLASS: We’ll break into groups to discuss each other’s stories, modeling the workshop on Monday’s class discussion. Return to each author a signed and critiqued copy of their story
September 30, Friday ASSIGNMENT FOR TODAY: STORY! Turn in a revised copy of your story, meeting the class’ paper requirements (5-7 pages) to me at the beginning of class. Staple your old and peer-revised drafts to the back of your story. Be proud!
IN-CLASS: Essays and Argumentation— is there a link between poems/stories and academic writing? SIGN UP FOR CONFERENCES
October 3rd, Monday
CONFERENCES Bring a 1-page self-grading evaluation
October 5th, Wednesday
CONFERENCES Bring a 1-page self-grading evaluation
October 7th, Friday
CONFERENCES Bring a 1-page self-grading evaluation
MID-TERM GRADES EMAILED