Thursday, March 24, 2011

Trigger, Treasure, Shadow

A now-dead poet named Richard Hugo wrote a little book many years ago called The Triggering Town. One of the main points of Hugo's book is that writers (poets, but we can apply the concept to all creative writing, I think) often create good poems by having it in the back of their minds that their "triggering subject," the idea they start with in a poem, is not really the true subject of the poem they are writing, and that the writing itself will lead, if one is fortunate and sufficiently inspired, to the "generated subject." So, as I have emphasized elsewhere on this site, writing is a process of discovery, and we should not hold too tightly to our initial ideas as we write, but keep ourselves open to discovery.

Billy Collins, former Poet laureate, wrote an essay called "My Grandfather's Tackle Box: The Limits of Memory-Driven Poetry," in which he cites Hugo, but also goes into further detail about the problems of staying too close to memory and not allowing imagination room to take over in the poem. The "generated subject," in Collins' language, is the "treasure," which one finds via the triggering subject's "map."

(I offer those alternate metaphors because I think your effort to internalize the concept depends on being able to invest in the right metaphor; and having considered Hugo's mixed metaphor of "triggering" and generated," you might find Collins' "map and treasure" more compelling. But really, the way to possess an idea on your own is to give it your own metaphorical frame. What is it for you?)

Collins, in his essay, goes on to discuss a particular poem that he feels is too caught up in the literal business of memory, failing to launch itself beyond mere memory into the space of imagination; in other words, that is in Collins' earlier words, the "map" does not lead to "treasure." Or according to Hugo's main metaphor, the trigger doesn't fire. Here are some of the more useful words from Collins' critique (without the poor poem he's politely leveling):

"There is no call to read the lines again," Collins asserts; which, I think, indicates that a good piece of writing does indeed demand re-reading, or what I sometimes call "reading backwards" -- we get to the end, and trace back to where we encountered moments of meaning in the work that are transformed by our experience of the whole.

"Even a poem based on a past event can give a feeling of immediacy if it manages to convey an awareness that it exists in the present tense of its own unfolding -- an awareness, ultimately, of its own language." Now, this is an assertion that does a few things. First, to create a simple matrix from it: a good piece of writing that works from specific remembered experience will of course present something of the past, but it will also create something of the "immediate," or the felt present. It helps, I think, to have a matrix positioned in your mind as your write; a continuum between one thing and another, to create a space within which your thoughts can seek their ultimate form. Think of it as the need for both a positive and a negative pole, as with electricity.

But also, in Collins' words above, there is a kind of figuration going on: the poem is a thing with consciousness, and not merely a reflection or transcription of consciousness.  At least, it seems that way to me. That is shamanistic silliness, on one level, but I think most people with creative spirit tend to animate things ad relations in the world around them. It is non-rational, but it is a legitimate activity of the mind. And here, it is not merely a figure, a metaphor or personification, but a necessary sense that in a poem (or other inspired writing), we spark into existence something distinct from our own minds, though contained within our own minds. The poem or writing seems to have an awareness of itself; going beyond what Collins says, the writing communicates with itself, which, to return to the matrix concept, is what happens when conceptual relations multiply as we work, and many nodes of response are established, overlapping, creating a network of reverberations within and beyond the writing. Allusion is one way a poem or other text sends and receives signals from beyond itself; but as I think Collins means, it is also something deep down in the words themselves: the etymologies, the sounds of consonants and syllabus, the stresses, the pauses, the rhythms, and so forth. A creative work taps into the archetypal dimension, and much of what it touches is not even known to the writer or reader; that's why a good work beckons us to read again, and again, and to share it with others, whose readings will resonate with ours, but also expand and compete with our own understanding.

Here, Collins gos even further with the animation of the poem:


A poem about a past experience can transcend the mere circumstances of its triggering event through many different kinds of maneuvers. The poem may turn down an alley into another part of the poem's town; it may develop a disproportionate interest in some feature of itself; it may get sick of its own reminiscence and throw up its hands.

...so, a poem even has hands! (We already knew it had feet, from studying prosody). But in particular, Collins emphasizes another key part of Hugo's conception: that within the poem, or within our efforts to create the poem, there is a dynamic space (the matrix, or the town if you prefer some comfort and familiar sights), and the creative act is an intrepid exploration of that space -- going somewhere in the poem, even when it starts in an act of memory, that we have not visited before. "No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader," as Robert Frost said.

When writing, then, find a way to "turn down an alley"; the main road might be your memory of your father or mother, of a frightening experience, a lost love, etc.; but find where, in that memory, there is a secret trapdoor, pathway, crawlspace, wormhole, closet, treasure chest, or whatever metaphor works for you. You might still, on one level, be writing about your triggering subject; but you'll perhaps find a way to escape a mere replay of the memory; you'll find the immediacy of experience, in the writing itself, which will make it more likely that the reader will find it, too.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Donald Barthelme Reading List

Students sometimes ask for reading lists; here is one given to me by a teacher, the renowned fiction writer Donald Barthelme. It's dated -- he made this in the early eighties. Also, it's weighted toward his aesthetic tastes, and perhaps to some extent toward writers her knew personally. But opinionated lists are very good to work with, as long as you don't take them as absolute.

I'll add other lists later --

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AT SWIM TWO-BIRDS, Flann O'Brien
THE THIRD POLICEMAN, Flann O'Brien
COLLECTED SHORT STORIES, Isaac Babel
LABYRINTHS, Borges
OTHER INQUISITIONS, Borges
ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE, Garcia Marquez
CORRECTION, Thomas Bernhard
NOG, Rudy Wurlitzer
GIMPEL THE FOOL, I. B. Singer
THE ASSISTANT, Bernard Malamud
THE MAGIC BARREL, Bernard Malamud
INVISIBLE MAN, Ralph Ellison
UNDER The VOLCANO, Malcolm Lowry
BECKETT ENTIRE
HUNGER, Knut Hamsun
I’M NOT STILLER, Max Frisch
MAN IN THE HOLOCENE, Max Frisch
SEVEN GOTHIC TALES, Isak Dinesen
GOGOL'S WIFE, Tommaso Landolfi
V, Thomas Pynchon
THE LIME TWIG, John Hawkes
BLOOD ORANGES, John Hawkes
LITTLE DISTURBANCES OF MAN, Grace Paley
ENORMOUS CHANGES AT THE LAST MINUTE, Grace Paley
I, ETC, Susan Sontag
TELL ME A RIDDLE, Tillie Olsen
FALLING IN PLACE, Ann Beattie
IN THE HEART OF THE HEART OF THE COUNTRY, William Gass
FICTION AND THE FIGURES OF LIFE, William Gass
THE WORLD WITHIN THE WORD, William Gass
ADVERTISEMENTS FOR MYSELF, Norman Mailer
CLOCKWORK ORANGE, Anthony Burgess
JOURNEY TO THE END OF THE NIGHT, Celine
THE BOX MAN Kobo Abe
INVISIBLE CITIES, Italo Calvino
A SORROW BEYOND DREAMS, Peter Handke
KASPAR AND OTHER PLAYS, Peter Handke
NADJA, Andre Breton
CHIMERA, John Barth
LOST IN THE FUNHOUSE, John Barth
THE MOVIEGOER, Walker Percy
BLACK TICKETS, Jayne Anne Phillips
COLLECTED STORIES, Peter Taylor
THE PURE AND THE IMPURE, Colette
WILL YOU PLEASE BE QUIET PLEASE, Raymond Carver
COLLECTED STORIES, John Cheever
I WOULD HAVE SAVED THEM IF I COULD, Leonard Michaels
COLLECTED STORIES, Eudora Welty
THE 0RANGING OF AMERICA, Max Apple
COLLECTED STORIES, Flannery O'Connor
MUMBO JUMBO, Ishmael Reed
SONG OF SOLOMON, Toni Morrison
THE DEATH OF ARTEMIO CRUZ, Carlos Fuentes
BOOK OF LAUGHTER AND FORGETTING, Milan Kundera
THE RHETORIC OF FICTION, Wayne C. Booth
HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES, Joseph Campbell
HENDERSON THE RAIN KING, Saul Bellow
THE COUP, John Updike
RABBIT RUN, John Updike
PARIS REVIEW INTERVIEWS
HOW WE LIVE, edited by Rust Hills
SUPERFICTION, edited by Joe David Bellamy
PUSHCART PRIZE ANTHOLOGIES
THE WRITER ON HER WORK, edited by Janet Sternburg
MANIFESTOS OF SURREALISM. Andre Breton
DOCUMENTS OF MODERN ART, series edited by Robert Motherwell
AGAINST INTERPRETATION, Susan Sontag
A HOMEMADE WORLD, Hugh Kenner
FLAUBERT, Letters
SEXUAL PERVERSITY IN CHICAGO, David Mamet
THE CHANGELING, Joy Williams
THE NEW FICTION, edited by Joe David Bellamy
GOING AFTER CACC1AT0, Tim O'Brien
THE PALM-WINE DRINKARD, Amos Tutuola
SEARCHING FOR CALEB, Ann Tyler
THANK YOU, Kenneth Koch
COLLECTED POEMS, Frank O'Hara
RIVERS AND MOUTAINS, John Ashbery
TRAGIC MAGIC, Wesley Brown
MYTHOLOGIES, Roland Barthes
THE PLEASURE OF THE TEXT, Roland Barthes
FOR A NEW NOVEL, Alain Robbe-Grillet

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Suggestions for Your “Reports”


In a couple of weeks, I’d like you to submit your Midterm Reports. So, a few times this week, I will post suggestions for how to approach this, adding to what I’ve suggested on the Syllabus:

First, what I don’t really want: a high-school or (really) middle-school sort of report that lacks insight, effort, or personal connection. This doesn’t need to be more than a couple of pages, but it should be a tool you use to dig deeper into the possibilities of writing and the culture of writers. Use it to connect yourself more to those things in some way, and such that it will be of value to the rest of us.

I have posted here to “Lectures & Notes” during a previous semester a list of movies that in some way relate to poets; you can watch any of these, or any film about a writer in general (that’s a list I’ll start compiling one of these days), and this version of the “Poetry and Poets on Film” is a bit out of date as well – several films have come out that I will add in later. But you might start here, and watch one or two – two allows you to compare strategies or effects. From one, do more than merely summarize the plot.  Some suggestions:

Research the poet in some quick & easy way – Wikipedia is fine for this sort of quick, hit-and-run research (read a biography if you have time, though). How well does the film present a true sense of the poet’s life and personality?

What role does poetry or the poet’s life seem to play in the film? Is it of significance to the plot, is it clich├ęd or innovative, is it related to death, seduction, self-discovery, a mystery, or some other theme or device of the narrative?

How is poetry read or performed in the film?

Find reviews of the film; to what extent do they discuss the use of poetry in the film?

Here is the list:

http://lundayengl2307.blogspot.com/2009/09/poetry-poets-in-film.html


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If you are more interested in fiction, one way to connect film to novels, obviously, is to read a novel and then watch the film version. Which is better, or are they not comparable? Does the film add to your sense of the novel? What do they leave out from the book – or add in? How does it fit your imagined sense of character, scene, and situation? If there is more than one film version of a novel, which is better, in your view?

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If you do a report on a writer’s life, although the report is brief, take time to compare two or three different biographical accounts. For more established writers, you can easily find memoirs, autobiography, biographies, and biographical notes in critical works. USE PRINT – don’t just sit and Google! Walk, ride, drive to a library or bookstore; dig around. In the different versions, are there discrepancies? What matters are highlighted or minimized? What matters in the writer’s life story seem most relevant to our understanding of his or her work?

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Do a brief survey of criticism of a writer; for this, you can, if you want, stick to library databases and open-Internet searches. Find reviews of books that appeared at the time the book was published; compare, perhaps, to critical reviews published further along in the writer’s career.

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A useful research project: dig deep into the web and find writers’ blog sites that seem interesting. Give us a blogroll: a list of the best you found. Annotate, perhaps: tell what seems good about each one. Or: what “memes” do you discover? That is, what issues do literary bloggers seem to discuss with frequency?

Or, look at writers’ web pages (could be blogs, but also simply static pages): what materials do they tend to post there?

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Another useful report: what are the best resources for writers on the web? Other than what I’ve been listing, that is: rhyming dictionaries, writer’s software, reference sites, craft sites, discussion forums, or anything you think many writers would be able to use.

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or – the same “Writer’s toolkit” idea – but of print resources.

More ideas later this week…

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day: Love Poems

Read some of the poems linked here, on the Poetry Foundation web site; as one of your exercises, consider borrowing strategies from one or more of these poems in writing your own love poem.

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/journal/article.html?id=238572

Friday, February 11, 2011

Poems to Oprah

If you have a poem you're proud of, or one you like by someone else, consider sending it to O magazine:

http://www.oprah.com/spirit/Maria-Shriver-Will-Guest-Edit-O-Magazines-April-Poetry-Themed-Issue

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Mark Twain, "A Restless Night"

The following tome is available as a free download from Google Books -- or, in newer printings at your local bookstore. I post it here so you can have a look at one of my favorites, "A Restless Night," which is a good model for an additional Exercise: call it your "insomnia story" (or poem), or more broadly, an improvisation on a singular theme: what's wonderful about this one is that Twain gets so much out of one little concept. Take up a simple gesture, problem, encounter, etc. -- go inside, and see how many ways you can twist and turn it. What other scenarios would work with this: "first dates," "homeroom," "the dentist," "playing hooky," "on the bus," "in the elevator" -- make a list until something strikes you.

It's worth noting that most of American humor (sitcoms, movies, humorists like Dave Barry or Erma Bombeck) comes from Twain and stories like this one. Look at old Lucille Ball sitcom episodes, or even contemporary TV fare, and you'll see the Twain DNA in it.

"Howl" Excerpt: Invention

In the following clip from the recent film based on poet Allen Ginsberg's famous poem "Howl," the poet's life, and the obscenity trial that helped broaden the poem's audience, Ginsberg talks about how a particular line came to him. We can take it, I think, as exemplary of one way creativity works: form preceding content, or more particularly, a pulse in the yet-to-be-written line or passage that seems to lead the poet toward the words themselves.

This is not the only way poets invent, but it is a common occurrence. It might sound counter-intuitive to new writers, but I think the impetus to such experiences is the intensive reading that I have already argued for in my lecturing: read, read, read, widely and deeply, out loud, silently, listen to others read, and then, when you write, voices and the patterns of language, will rise in you. Better, sometimes, not to know what theme you'e aiming for; just listen to the pulse. But first, you have to jolt it into being by listening to its permutations in poem after poem.



After watching this clip, you might read an earlier post about the poet Robert Frost, whose argument about the sources of a poem is very similar:


Friday, January 28, 2011

A Very Long Post on a Very Big Topic


As we get this semester under way, I want to talk about Creativity itself, as a psychological and aesthetic concept. However, to get to “Creativity,” I will first talk about other concepts that I feel will support what I want to argue.

Why talk specifically about Creativity in a Creative Writing course? Why not just launch into being “creative”? Because I believe, from my own experience and study, that it is helpful to take a cognitive approach in our efforts (though perhaps modified from what contemporary psychologists mean by Cognitivism) – in any area of endeavor. That is, it is helpful to think about how we think, because greater awareness, “meta-thinking,” more of a focused self-consciousness about what we do, can improve how we do it – even though it is perhaps also true that sometimes we want to NOT think too much about what we’re doing: sometimes, we should probably have more of a “Zen mind” – not-thinking, or at least not thinking too much, about what we’re doing.

That itself is an important cognitive principle, for me: experience is marked here and there by paradoxes. Rules of thumb, corollaries, principles – there are always exceptions, and context, occasion, circumstance always matter. Few things are absolute, as I see it.

JS Sargent, "Apollo & the Muses"
I’m being deliberately philosophical; bear with me, and we’ll get to some more concrete, practical points later (well, in the second part of this Creativity series, I hope!).

“Zen mind” or intuition, second nature…yes, often we need to let loose and see what comes. Another approach to what lies behind those concepts is to redefine “mind”: we tend to think of it as concomitant with the brain itself, which anatomy tells us is inside the skull. However, the brain is the center of the nervous system, which goes everywhere (like the blood and lymph systems), so in a way, the whole body “thinks” – and by our senses, and by our words and deeds, we leave the mark of our thoughts far and wide – some of us (Napoleons and Einsteins, etc.) more than others. 

To digress: “leaving one’s mark” is one goal of the artist, I suppose. Art, writing, and so forth are ways that people leave their traces: the old poets wrote extensively about how their poems were a way to become immortal – or to immortalize their poem’s subjects (often women the poets desired – and so, that trick or immortality was essentially a seduction device).

The body thinks. When I tried learning piano many years ago, it was hard to get the left hand to do one thing, and the right hand to do another thing, and to make both things come out sounding harmonious. That’s what training and practice were for: doing scales over and over, learning a little theory and hoping it would sink in, learning proper posture and hand position… but it felt as if my hands had to learn their roles, so that my conscious mind could go elsewhere – or, perhaps, shut down altogether, while the unity of my playing took over: a center, not in my brain or hands, but balanced between me, the keys, the music, the listener – all of it.

The body thinks: years ago, I tried to teach my son to memorize passages from literature. We started with Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address.” (Why do rote memorization? – to cram yourself with wonderful words, and hope that it steeps you in brilliance; again, paradox! Being smart, thinking critically, creatively, or originally, depend on the opposite: copying others.)

After some practice in his own room, my son came into my little home-office to show what he could do; he faltered a bit, went and practiced some more, came back, and pretty much got through it without mistake, but also without a lot of fluency or expressiveness.

What was lacking? I noticed, when he recited, that his mouth and his above-the-neck area generally (he squinted his eyes, he tensed his scalp, it seemed) were very busy, but the rest of his body – and the impromptu “stage” area around him, the performance space – were not involved. So, I thought about what really was involved in learning something “by heart.” Recordare is the root word in Latin: to record; but that cord part is also related to cardio, or the heart. “Heart” is metonymic, perhaps: of the whole body, the whole form, and of feeling, generally; and also symbolic, of the soul.
page from an emblem book

So, looking back at the great Age of Memorization and recitation – the nineteenth century, one might argue – I noticed that people studied such things as elocution (how to properly pronounce words), "chironomia" and variations (how to use your hands when speaking and gesturing), oratory, debate, and so on. Theater, too, was very popular; and going to lectures at lycea was the rage, for a time, in nineteenth-century America. That is, people knew that memorization was an activity involving the whole body: if you took a certain stance when reciting, if you thought about how to frame and punctuate your words with your gestures, if you scripted the intonation, pacing, pitch, and volume of your words, and if you imaging the performative space itself – where you were standing in relation to audience, to any objects or props, and how that performative space corresponded to spatial reference within your words (a battlefield, for instance, or the divided nation at war, as in the address Lincoln gave), then memory was greatly enhanced – and also, for the audience, memorability was enhanced.

How is this related to Creativity?

First, memory and imagination are possibly the same thing, somewhere down into the brain and how it functions. To remember is to imagine; we might attempt to re-vision a memory from the first impressions of an experience, but every time we remember, we reconstruct; and something is a little different, each time. That’s partly why memory is so tricky, but I think it works in our favor, overall. We might often remember incorrectly, but we are also capable of seeing things that aren’t there yet – hallucinations, which are usually troubling, but also visions of a better life and a better world: you’re getting a degree because you’ve envisioned yourself in a specific career, perhaps.

That’s part of it; but I start with memory also because the writer needs to know some things: he or she needs to pack into memory a wealth of learning about the world.  The writer or artist needs to observe, absorb, question, follow up, connect, discuss, reflect, and courageously confront knowledge that seems wrong in some way, or deal with contradictions (Walt Whitman: Do I contradict myself?/Very well then I contradict myself,/(I am large, I contain multitudes.); to be unafraid of the unknown (because the more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know), and to be unafraid of paradoxes and other forms of inconsistency (R. W. Emerson: “Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”).

So, by “memory” I mean the processes of learning and taking possession of what we learn, so that we can draw upon it as we engage in creative acts – not only in writing poetry and stories, but in every other task of living: parenting, paying bills, doing our jobs (“creative accounting” is something else, though).

People have always been creative, but Creativity as a study is fairly new; psychologists are very interested in the topic, but artists, scientists, and other creative types contribute to the discussion. One writer who early on offered an interesting formulation of creative process was the Englishman Graham Wallas in 1926, in his book The Art of Thought. In fact, what he offers is a kind of flow chart, or perhaps an algorithm: a series of steps. No, I don’t mean to say that one can necessarily be “creative” or become a Shakespeare or Da Vinci by following a checklist; not exactly. But to get back to what I said above about the cognitive approach, I believe that if one is aware of what takes place during a process (which is to argue that artistic inspiration can be analyzed as a process), we can at least increase our chances of having ideas – more ideas, more frequently, with more variety, from more directions, which is, I think, how anyone gets to having BETTER ideas: by increasing the flow of ALL ideas, including the “bad” or “dumb” ideas.

Here is the essential part of Wallas’ argument about creative process (as modified by some of his interpreters, at least):
  1. Preparation: having defined a problem, question, or challenge in some form, the thinker “works” – drawing, writing, mapping, studying, talking, arguing, handling, testing, etc.
  2. Incubation: the thinker moves away from the problem. He or she sleeps (as we all must), relaxes, works on other problems or questions, goes for a walk, listens to music, plays a sport, or anything that is consciously other than the problem itself.
  3. Intimation (this part is often added to Wallas' original series): one feels that an answer or a solution is coming.
  4. The heart of it all: illumination. The idea (or answer, or solution) reveals itself.
  5. The final stage in Wallas’ formulation of creative process is verification: in the arts, this is perhaps when the audience, reader, critic, or fellow artists review the work that was developed from the idea (and the artist’s own self-judgments); for a scientist, this is standard scientific review, testing, duplication of experiments, etc. In business, this is the marketplace: do people like the product? Do they buy it?
It’s easy to imagine other ways to define the process: fewer or more steps, different ways to name and define them, etc. There are, in fact, other patterns, going back at least to the concept of the Muse that was popular among the ancient Greeks, and still given lip service by poets and artists today. In fact, one way to engage this process theory is to critique it, to challenge it, extend it, and revise it to suit your own experience and sensibilities.

My argument is this: if you meditate on this process theory, considering its implications, opportunities, and limitations, it will make you more attuned to your own mental processes, however best they can be described.It might be hard to imagine how Steps 3 and 4 can be manipulated (besides drugs or alcohol, which are dubious enhancements to creativity, although some folks swear by them – see Coleridge’s story; or chanting, or intense prayer); however, what about the other steps?
S. T. Coleridge

Certainly Step 1is in our control: READ, READ, READ as I have already (elsewhere) emphasized; re-read, discuss your reading, read what you love and love what you read!

Then go out and explore, take trips, stop and study things, take notes – copious notes: most artists and scientists are inveterate note-takers, and their journals and diaries and field books are available in museums for review. They also marked up their books, and whole academic careers have been devoted to studying Melville’s or Coleridge’s annotations and notes.

Also, Step 2 is in our control, although less obviously.  How do you incubate? When we sleep, we dream; as you lie down, prepare yourself for dreaming: try telling yourself what you want to dream about (I find it works a lot of the time, although not always as I expect – which is good!); have an intense waking dream, perhaps the same one each night (I often place myself on a desert island, each night with different problems to solve, and different resources at my disposal, or on different kinds of desert islands) that will entrance you and draw you into sleep; read or study something right before sleep; keep a dream journal by your bedside.

Also, spend time alone: give yourself space, and maybe a particular space (your “querencia,” your bower or special private place), where you can feel free to daydream. Take walks; walking (the body thinks, remember) stimulates the mind, as William Wordsworth and (long before him) the Peripatetic philosophers knew.

Mainly, be prepared: the mind is an imp! It tends to toss out inspirations when we least expect them, and are least able to turn our full attention to them – when driving, or in the shower, for example. (I read once of an engineer who had so many brilliant ideas while in the shower that she designed a special pen and shower-stall coating so she could write her ideas down while wet. As for driving, I keep a digital voice recorder handy, and practice mnemonics.)

Also, talking your ideas out with people, at certain stages of development, is helpful: bouncing ideas off another person is good, because that person will perhaps question, extend, relate, or simply inadvertently remark on something that stimulates the thinker (which leads to a different category, Group Creativity, which we can discuss later). Also, talking about your projects helps you siphon out unformed thoughts, and leads to what I call “creative b.s.” – often, trying to make it look like you’ve done more on the problem than is really true, so in an effort to impress, you improvise your way into the solution. Or, you look like an idiot; but courage, risk, and even foolhardiness are part of being creative.

Also, practice juggling two or more problems/questions at a time. Edison supposedly had many work benches in his space, because he could leap from one to the other, trailing matters from one area to the next – cross-pollination.  Much good thinking is analogous thinking: seeking and discovering similarities between otherwise unlike categories of experience. Switching from one problem to another, even when they are seemingly unrelated, allows you to incubate or “slow cook” one problem, but also season it with flavoring from the other problems. Everything is related to everything else in this universe. It’s just that most of those relations, most of the time, appear meaningless to us, or do not appear at all.

And finally, verification: that is very much in our control, but one way to think of it, to extend or reshape Wallas’ series, is to see it as folded over on itself, or shaped like a helix: once you get to verification, you are also, often, back at the preparation stage: you do more study, more questioning, reading, talking, exploring, and define new problems, or pass the matter on to new problem-solvers.

The Workshop is our Verification Tank, but there are many other ways to “verify”: revision is a way to verify your work – even when something seems good, complete, or at a dead-end, there is always a variation, extension, connection (to another, separate work), redirection, inversion, or truncation that you might apply. Think of all the parts and references in a work as trap doors: in your poem about your father, your mother makes a brief appearance; next poem, go toward her, and see what you see. Or that object on the table in your memory: pick it up, see what’s underneath it, inside it – describe it so intensively (enargeia, which I will discuss more later) reveals that we always see more than we think we see, and can see much more, and say much more, or much less, or from many more perspectives, than we think.

 Ah, this is long – but I have much more to report! So, ponder these words, and ponder your pondering: consider how your mind works, and see where you can tweak it. Do not be afraid to write and speak; yes, there are dumb ideas, but some of them are squatting on top of brilliant ideas.

More later on this…although I might take up a different topic next week.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

2011 Readings in Houston

Among the earlier posts you will find similar information, but I'll re-post certain information, to make it more accessible. But remember -- you can push back through the earlier posts to find a great deal of valuable information!

Try to attend some live literary events this season; here are some options:

http://www.inprinthouston.org/20102011-brown-reading-series

The premier reading series in town -- Inprint Margaret Root Brown Reading Series. Next:

http://www.gulfcoastmag.org/index.php?n=6

The Gulf Coast Reading Series, sponsored by Gulf Coast magazine and the Brazos Bookstore -- which has other author events as well:

http://www.brazosbookstore.com/event

Also check out Houston's best used bookstore, Kaboom Books (two locations), which has a reading series in "nanofiction":

http://www.kaboombooks.com/

Let us know if you hear of any events!


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Paris Review

The Paris Review is one of the more important literary publications of our time. Find it in the library or in bookstores; meanwhile, visit their web site, where you can find selections in nonfiction, fiction, and poetry from many years' worth of issues. Most importantly, you can find an archive of their famous interviews with authors -- perhaps one of the best resources for discussion of craft you can find anywhere. There are print volumes of these,but why not read some online to get started?

Book Reviews

In my first group email on Blackboard, I spoke of reading book reviews as one way of learning critical vocabulary; here are a couple of web sites for finding reviews:

http://www.nytimes.com/pages/books/

and

http://www.complete-review.com/main/main.html

...but there are many other ways to find reviews, online and in print.