Tuesday, June 21, 2011

But What Art Thou, Winery, When Thou Hast No Wine?

Yes, tonight we went to a reading at the Elk Cove Winery. It wasn't that the winery didn't have any wine. In fact, there was plenty to go around and everybody had a great time. It's just that it slipped my mind to bring an I.D. with me. And since most people generally guess I'm between 15 and 17, I didn't bother to try approaching the counter. But the food was good, the conversation was good, and the reading was great. Jack Driscoll and Peter Sears. And both of those guys are nuts. The wine enhanced it, but they're just plain nuts, lol. It was really fun. I got to talk to Judy Blunt and ask her if, sometime soon, she would sign my book while we're here, and she agreed. She's been tough to corner. Sandra Alcosser actually stopped and talked to me, rather than the other way around. She was asking me why I was so far back in the food line, and I told her about the whole 'I don't like wine' thing. She said that everyone was just going to think I was holding back so I would stay sharper longer. And that I'm young. I'm getting that a lot here. A woman in my workshop keeps saying that I'm twelve. Sigh. Such is my life ;)

I also had a good discussion with my roommate. She had a tough time in workshop today, I guess she hasn't really been in workshops before and the criticism kind of got to her. I told her some of the strategies I've used to come to terms with revisions, and we talked about ways she could work with the layout of her poems to give her readers a better idea of the lines. She tends to write her poems out in prosaic style and doesn't want to change that, so I suggested markers such as / or // or some such thing to indicate a break in the line whether she actually dropped it beneath the previous one or not. I think she was encouraged by the time we finished, so I hope it helps. We also discussed syntax and diction. I guess she likes to write more abstract poems, and poetry about beliefs and feelings. She asked what I thought of poetry like that and I told her I didn't usually do well with it, but if she could ground her reader in an image she'd have a better chance than trying to engage in abstract poetic philosophy. I don't know whether I'll have a chance to read any of the stuff she comes up with, but hopefully, as I said, it helps.

Ok, Craft Talks! Let's see if I can get to bed on time tonight.
We had two especially scintillating talks today, but I guess three in a row was too much to ask for. I found myself sort of falling asleep on the third presenter, and the handout she gave us told us pretty much everything I would have written down for notes so I had nothing to hold my attention. It's kind of hard to be presented with one small element to use (mostly applied to fiction) and see endless examples of the same one thing over and over for an hour. Tomorrow I'll have to get a bigger coffee...

1st Talk:
Thrilling, Death-Defying Adventures in Point of View - Jess Walter

The second person and the first person plural are difficult points of view to use in writing. In most cases, they are avoided or fall flat on the first attempt. Some first time writers make great use of these points of view however. It can be useful for seeing a character in a different light. Of Jay McInerney's novel "Bright Lights, Big City", Jess said that McInerney was having trouble casting his protagonist in the first person. He adjusted his method to writing about him in the second person and gained an entirely new perspective of the character. Second person exists in an interesting place. First person plural can create a haunting resonance in a story.
Jess gave us the end of his talk first, offering us these rules for the use of the second person narrative:
  • Works best small, like in short shorts/short stories
  • It can slip in and out of second person
  • Works best when it eventually fades away
  • Experimentation for experimentation's sake usually falls flat.
    • Find the place where the story transcends itself.
Second person often comes off as a gimmicky first person. We need to know who is listening to the speaker. It can also change the writer's perpective on the speaker in the story. By way of letting us know how second person works best, Jess read us most of his craft talk. The written portion was about how he became a writer, and how he met his idol, Kurt Vonnegut. The entire presentation was written in the second person. And it was darn fine if I do say so myself.

First person plural offers a collective world we don't often find it fiction. It transcends itself. The 'we' voice is harder than the second person. It is, in fact, nearly impossible to write, as fiction conflicts community values with personal values.

We must open ourselves up for "The chance of splendid failure". We must be willing to take risks and be playful. Breaking the rules is fiction's highest calling. Sometimes things work, sometimes they don't. But it's best to have tried it. Writing comes from reading and stealing until you develop your own voice. Follow your own drive until you find your own voice.

2nd Talk:

The Body Never Lies - Ellen Bass. (This one is coming straight out of notes. Way too incredible to parse down)

These ideas are simple, but you have to use them. Practice a lot to make it natural.
  • Body can move us from telling to showing, abstract to concrete, reporting to describing.
The reader must feel that the poem touches their own experience. The poem must become about the reader. It must be about people in general and the reader in particular.
  • How do we do it?
Everything we know, we know through the body. All the information we take in, our direct experience, comes to the brain through the body itself.
  • Pay attention to the actual experience
    • We want to enact the experience rather than report it. An emotion and a literal feeling are different. Expressing emotion directly is rarely, but sometimes, effective. However, it is unlikely, and you can't do it too many times in one poem. Mostly it needs to be conveyed through description and detail.
The body is the source of our first knowing. Using the body can give the poem a very resonant nature. Often, bodily functions are, at this point in writing history, cliche. Usually, we must rely on a gesture (such as the "Last Meeting" poem Sandra Alcosser used in her talk on Friday...I think it was Friday). How do we figure out what that gesture is? One way to find the exact gesture necessary is to try and go inside your own body, like method acting. Imagine yourself as the narrator, get inside that body. Then you know that gesture more easily.
Sometimes you want to be less obvious. That brings in the tension. When, in acting, you portray a character who has a feeling, you play them fighting that feeling, such as trying not to cry instead of crying. Trying not to reveal and be undone by what they're feeling.
The precise description of the physical is the greatest way to earn the reader's trust. It's hard, but it's not that hard. If it weren't true, writing would be even harder than it already is. If you can describe it, whether what comes after that description is true or not true, the reader will believe you.
"As poets, we're trying to show the thing itself, and not overemphasize how we feel about it."
~Look through 'Poetics of Space' by Gaston B.
Writing comes through listening, touching, smelling, observation. If you do this, the chance to describe things accurately increase astronomically.

How can you be clear without sacrificing great description or language?

Don't forget that in a poem, you get to say what you want. And we learn craft so we can say what we want.
When reading, look at the ones who seem anti-poetic. Many times, those ones are incredibly powerful. Sometimes, as an opening, these lines work. You can't follow all the rules all the time.
Part of what sustains us in poetry is that someone is actually talking to us.

And since it's getting late, I'm going to pass on adding in the third talk here tonight and hit the hay. Suffice it to say that when you have a lot of general description in a narrative, you can drop in 'Once' or a similar word or phrase in order to create a little aside and give the reader a specific scene to stand in before sweeping them back into the narrative. If there are questions, I'll go ahead and post the rest of the talk tomorrow or Wednesday during the free time.

I'm headed for bed so I can just drink sixteen ounces of coffee tomorrow rather than buying a four shot Venti....we'll see how it goes.

Good Night all :)

1 comment:

  1. Dear Hannah . . . I've been enjoying your blogs immensely. Thanks for being so thorough. Sounds like you are getting a quality education. I'm excited for you. Can't wait to see you in Bandon and get the whole story! Yours, Lowell