OVERVIEW: Creative Nonfiction is an exciting genre and one that gives writers a wide range of options for telling their (true) stories. Nonfiction is also a very old genre--If you've read Emerson, you've read in the tradition of nonfiction in American literature. But it's even older than that. Addison and Steele in 18th Century England wrote for and published The Spectator, which was essentially a collection of nonfiction, of essays and reportage, of London at the time. The tradition of the essay is a long one and rich one. I don't mean the five paragraph MCAS essay that you learned how to write, or even the essay you write for your college classes, but the kinds of writing that we read for and are talking about in today's class.
The word "essay," coopted as it has been by things like MCAS, make essays sound awful. But in truth, the very idea of the essay comes from the French "essayer" the verb for "to try." And, at its best, that's what this genre does, it is an author trying to seek an answer to their own question--sometimes a question about the wider world and sometimes a question about some part of their lives (memoir--also from the French for "to remember").
THE PROMPT: The "creative" part of creative nonfiction sometimes gets lost in discussions, but that is what I would like us to focus on this week. Creative nonfiction borrows heavily from the the characteristics of fiction--characterization, metaphor, imagery, the list goes on and on. For today's ICRN, select one of the essays we read for class--not to be confused with the short essay we are working on in-class--and write about the following:
English majors and folks who write have a complicated relationship to grammar and punctuation. On the one hand, there is often an expectation on the part of the writer as well as those who know that this person is a writer, of a level of expertise that they will have accumulated--or that they are naturally gifted in the grammar and punctuation department.
At the same time, many folks who write and write a lot and often quite well, actually think they are terrible at grammar and punctuation. I will certainly admit to feeling that way for many years--and still have moments of existential doubt when I load a web page or send out an email to all faculty. And with good reason: one time I sent out an email that. had it's for its and a fellow faculty member emailed the entire faculty with one word: "its".
Which brings me to a larger point: there is a lot of shame around grammar and punctuation rules. And a conflation of other skills with correctness--like spelling, for instance. But folks who write a lot make a kind of peace with the imprecision and sometimes unuseful (made up word) adherence to correctness.
So as we enter into the back half of the semester, it's my hope to shift your relationship to grammar and punctuation--to make shift from fearing it to feeling empowered by it. Because owning your skills in this area really will bring your writing to the next (professional level). To begin, once you've taken and we've scored the editing test I gave you in class today, post your reaction to taking it.
USE THE FOLLOWING QUESTIONS AS GUIDES:
We'll use this test, your answers, and what I've read of your writing so far to focus in on some work with grammar and punctuation that will build your confidence in using both--to not feel burdened by the fear of error but to feel emboldened to try different constructions and rhetorical moves with grammar and punctuation to do it with.
And now a moment with Andre the Giant, wrestler and poet. . . .
You had to know this was coming. For our asynchronous work this week, take some time, don't be too self-conscious, write a poem. Just try. It's good for the soul.
Think about the list from our ICRN. Think about it from a writer's standpoint instead of a reader's standpoint this time:
Once you've posted, read your colleague's pieces. Congratulate each other. Identify a few poems that really speak to you and tell the writer how and why it speaks to you.
As a genre, there was a time when poetry and not fiction, certainly not novels, reigned supreme as a literary force. Harken back to your lit classes where Queen Elizabeth I patronized poets who wrote poetry in her honor. Poetry is a much different beast now that encompasses many more formalized kinds of verse structures (like sonnets or sestinas or rondeaus), as well as free and blank verse and everything in between. Poetry is also not the money-making endeavor it maybe once was (though patronage is a precarious way to earn money--and one could argue that patronage is still how people earn some kind of a living as a poet).
But, also, poetry is the bread and butter of teenage angst, of broken hearted 16 year old girls, etc. We've all written that poetry. We all, on some level, sort of regret it.
And yet, how much poetry has anyone actually read lately? I'll admit it, most of my poetry reading happens while I am reading other things in The New Yorker. And yet, I never regret reading the poems, even the ones I can't wrap my head around an upack. Because reading poetry makes me a better reader of everything else. That's not some big important theory; I'm telling you that's what reading poetry does for me.
And that's what I'd like the focus of this ICRN to be for our class. Choose one of the poems that you read for today's class and do a very close reading of it. What is this poem trying to get you to think about--and what does it seem to want you to understand about it? And, secondly, how do you know?
Connect to and build on one other person's interpretation. Point out some other aspect of the poem they are writing about that lends itself to meaning-making in the piece. Do you have a different reading than someone else? Offer it up, with evidence based on the bulleted list above.