is the director of Northwestern University’s MFA program in creative writing and the author of ten collections of poetry, including Last Lake; the book of criticism How Poems Think (both University of Chicago); and the collection of short stories An Orchard in the Street (BOA). A new poetry collection is forthcoming from Four Way Books next year. With Ilya Kutik, he recently completed a translation of Boris Pasternak’s poems.
Saturday, March 14, 2020
This class has already happened.
In his famous early poem, “Digging,” Seamus Heaney says that to write poems he’ll “dig,” as his farmer father did, but he’ll do it in the earth of life and language—with a pen. In such digging and planting and harvesting, where are the “seeds” or “roots” of the poem or story or essay? What’s underneath what we can see—in our limited way—of our own work-in-progress in its various stages? We all work with the earth and water that writing is made of—language, craft, memory, feeling, thought, experience, awareness, perceptiveness, and we work with many devices of language, structure, rhetoric and other resources of each genre. These are all interrelated: craft may seem external, a set of learned artistic tools, but “inner craft” too is a kind of “technique,” if we follow Heaney’s unusual use of that word; by this term, he meant what he called “a stance toward life.”
So this workshop is about how to help the work we’re writing find what it needs within us, and how to allow language to find things for the sake of the work. If we were to workshop some of your existing writing, we’d have only 10 minutes to talk about each one, which would be pointless, but please bring with you two poems of fewer than 20 lines each, or two very short pieces of fiction or creative nonfiction—preferably work that may be resisting your efforts, that is behaving somewhat stubbornly about what it wants and doesn’t want to do. We’re not going to distribute this work; it’s for yourself that you bring it. And bring also a notebook you’re currently using for occasional notes, jotting down overheard speech, catching hold of an image, a phrase, the title of a book you want to read, a sketch of a scene, a mini-plot, a train of thought that has come to you, quotations you’ve pulled out of what you read, poem and prose “ideas” for work you haven’t yet drafted, etc. Your notebook and work-in-progress will serve as your material for entering your new thinking about how and what you write. We’ll have a handout for thinking about “Inner Craft,” we’ll do some thinking together, and then try to use, right away, what we’ve pondered, to open up the work you’ve brought with you.
Saturday, March 14
2:00 - 5:00 pm
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