University of Montana, Creative Writing Program (Special Topics in Creative Writing Seminar, Spring 2016)

Tense, duration, chronology, perception, memory, rhythm. Time travel, flash back, simultaneity, linear progression, dream-time. “Time remains the central yet forgotten force that motivates and informs the universe, from its most cosmological principles to its most intimate living details,” argues feminist theorist Elizabeth Grosz. It is also, necessarily, a central force in the making and experiencing of literature: at once organizing principle, subject, and emotional catalyst. From the arrested, “timeless” lyric to the immersive novel through whose duration you feel yourself to exist simultaneously in multiple planes, writers and readers inhabit, manipulate, and construct time.

In this course we will engage time not as a consequence of other aspects of our writing or a formal problem that must be solved, but as a central inquiry and field of play in its own right. Necessarily multi-genre and interdisciplinary, our joint project will interrogate epistemological and creative strategies from different fields and fori and manipulate and revel in them in our own. Time will be our topic of study (as we explore political, cosmological, theological, and literary arguments about the organization and apprehension of time) and our tool (as we conduct experiments in duration, representation, rhythm, and framing time). Creative writing assignments appropriate for poets, fiction writers, and non-fiction writers alike will grow from and respond to our various readings.

War Poems

Duke University, Thompson Writing Program (Writing 101 First-Year Seminar, Spring 2017)

In the traditional view, “War Poetry” is a discrete genre that depicts the glories and horrors of the battlefield, ideally rooted in actual combat experience. But in the middle of the 20th century – which she called “the first century of world wars” – American poet Muriel Rukeyser declared, “There is no way to speak of war as a subject for poetry. War enters all our lives, but even that horror is only a beginning.” If one argument for the value of poetry is that, as language pushed to its imaginative limits, it has the flexibility and acuity to represent the extremes of human experience, to express that which cannot be expressed, then war must have no better medium. In this course, we will engage the potentials and pitfalls of the genre of “War Poetry” both as writers ourselves and from the vantage point of our current century of pervasive, diffuse, constant, and varied war.

Far from viewing War Poetry as a kind of writing whose extreme subject matter separates it from comparison with other pieces, we will read and write in response to particular war poems in order to ask questions of speaker, audience, representation, and purpose that are at the heart of all writing. In particular: What constitutes a war poem? Who gets to write war poems? What or who gives them that authority? What purpose does this writing serve? Who is its intended audience? What is its impact on a readership beyond that audience? How do the semantic and creative choices writers make respond to the realities of war make meaning and feeling possible? Does extreme experience require extreme or fractured language? Each of these questions has political, ethical, emotional, and intellectual ramifications that extend far beyond the particular page. Thus, we will undertake a series of written responses – both creative and analytical, individual and collaborative – that will follow and make arguments about these texts and their work in the wider world. Course texts will range from sections of Homer’s Iliad to recent volumes of poetry, including Don Mee Choi’s Hardly War and Solmaz Sharif’s Look.

EXTRA-POETIC: The Poetic Imagination Across the Disciplines

Duke University, Thompson Writing Program (Writing 101 First-Year Seminar, Fall 2015)

The American poet Muriel Rukeyser describes poetry not by way of its formal strategies of historical tradition, but epistemologically, as “one kind of knowledge.” This course heeds Rukeyser’s description, asking: how does writing constitute, create, and communicate knowledge? How do poetic forms and techniques (metaphor, elision, repetition, juxtaposition, and white space among them) affect our understanding of broad, interdisciplinary fields of thought? When poets practice their art, they scrutinize each word as well as the relationships between words: we can see this in the structure of sentences and lines, as they follow or reject the rules of grammar, for example, or as they focus on music as much as sense. This attention makes poetry an exciting forum for exploring the relationships between writing and thinking, process and knowledge. The ways in which questions of audience, purpose, and subject matter shape and compel formal choices and strategies — for these poets as well as for ourselves as we write about, beside, and through their works — will be our focus throughout the semester.

Diagram of class discussion
Diagram a of class discussion