This program is made possible through a generous gift from Ruth and Russell Bolton
in conjunction with the Eberly College of Arts & Sciences.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sensory Memories

This past Thursday, residents of Summitt Hall and I focused on writing about memories through our senses.  I read an excerpt from Tell it Slant in which Virginia Woolf describes those first somewhat dim memories beyond our initial understanding-- a mother's look as she sips coffee, a floral pattern on her dress, blind chords in the living room.  As we ate RFL Caleb's homemade tomato soup, RFL Kelly mentioned foods that remind her of home (Idaho fry bread for her, pasta with no sauce for me).  I brought Bernard Cooper's essay "The Fine Art of Sighing" to show how an essay can be structured from memories based on a particular sense (in that case, sound).  Summitt resident Caroline read the piece aloud for us.  We then wrote memories from each sense with the eventual idea of finding connections between them that might sustain itself in the form of a brief essay.

One student wrote a meditation on burning couches.  Where else had these couches been before?  What scenes had they played in?  She wrote with humor and specificity.  She then brought her piece around to a couch she'd recently purchased for her dorm room and ruminated on its history.  After she read it, I mentioned Marquez' magical realism in unveiling objects' histories and Kelly mentioned giving a craft talk about how objects are a great thing to use in essays.  (Look for Caroline's piece in the Summitt Newsletter!).

Another student wrote about a dog she had lost and how the fall leaves reminds her of his playfulness.  We reflected on how easily grief can come forth from a prompt like, "Write about the memories inside your senses" and how writing might have a place in that process and can also be an homage to what was lost.  

Another wrote about the sound of an old TV show that was often on in the background of her childhood.  She wrote of sounds and images at an angle, speaking to that dimness of memory with clear, concise language.  Another wrote about her experiences in bathrooms during travels-- both humorous and intriguing and left us wanting more.  And still another, the taste of a tongue ring in a first kiss.

As always, lots of good writing and thoughtful conversation.  Summitt Hall Residents: Join us for our last Bolton Workshop of the semester on Thursday Nov. 29th at 7:30 in the RFL apartment!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

How Do Poets Bring Fear to the Page?

Last Thursday, the Dadisman/Stalnaker writers used the distinct feeling of fright to access suspense, imagery, and sometimes comfort. First, we discussed what’s scary in Morgantown: the hard heart beats of public speaking, unidentifiable roadkill on the PRT tracks (bunnies? squirrels?), a bird stuck in a grate, and football frenzy couch-fire riots. Using Zachary Schomburg’s “Your Limbs Will Be Torn Off in a Farm Accident” and William Stafford’s “Traveling through the Dark,” we decided how poets bring their fears to the page: building syntax, strange imagery, and some sort of release. The writers used Rita Dove’s prompt words (cliff, needle, voice, whir, mother, blackberry, cloud, lick) as starting points to create their own versions of disorder.

Notice how Garrett Hooton captures suspense and tension:

You wake up in your dorm room The morning is still and cold. You sense something different about this day. You disregard this feeling and go about your day. As you’re walking, you notice a faint whirring sound. You look around, and no one seems to be paying attention to it. You turn back around and notice you’re now alone. The group you were following behind is gone. You notice the whirring sound again. This time it’s louder and intensifies with each second. It grows to be all you can hear and you realize it’s the sound of a voice--your mother’s voice--screaming--the sound continues to grow. It is now a horrifying shriek. It stops. You look around, still alone, still calm and cold, but day has become night. Pitch black darkness. You woke up in your dorm room. The morning is still and cold.

Notice how Alexis NoƩ uses questions to access the surreal:

This place is mine. These are my things. Why is it still so strange? The carpet is a soothing blackberry color, very soft and comfortable. My bed, yes my bed, is like a cloud. So why is everything still so wrong? Everything is in its place, yet nothing has a place.

The lights flick off. The darkness is like a needle in my eye for a moment. It is so instant. My loss of sight causes me to listen closely. What is that whir sound over there? Or was it an echo from the hallway? Could it be someone’s voice?

I gather my thoughts and calm myself. This is silly. As my vision slowly returns, I venture across the blackberry sea and climb up the edge of the cliff to my fluffy cloud bed. I gaze into dark and see it all. Everything that is wrong. It will be another restless night ahead.

Notice how Jonathan Serino brings rhyme to the streets:

The moon was shining on the street
Shining with all her might
Glowing through the clouds
To illuminate the fight.

A whisper came and went but
No ear would hear the word
And as he slowly closed the gap, came a sound;
a quicked whir.

Two minutes time then all was still
Lest for his nervous tick
And to the blackberry colored blade
He gave a single, sickly lick.

Notice how Jamie Winter captures the senses and finds comfort:

I feel like I’m falling off a cliff;
with pins and needles in my arms and legs.

There is a whir in the background;
sounds like home.

My mother’s voice calling me;
I hear.

I’m startled,
I feel like I’m lying on a cloud.
The smell of blackberries enters my nose;
I lick my lips.

When I lick my lips;
I awaken.

My mother has made me breakfast.

Join us Wednesday, Nov. 7 for more freewrite fun!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Running from Abstraction

Last Thursday, the Honors Hall dorm was anything but abstract. In fact, we were pretty darn specific. Eating muffins and sitting around the dining room table, we talked about what makes fall fall. Someone mentioned the crunch of leaves. Another, about the way the leaves fell in front of her car on the way home. There was even talk of a fall song (and yes, she did sing it for us). In all of this, we realized that when we talk about fall, there might be common themes -- pumpkins, football, leaves -- but we all have very specific images. We realized that when we want someone to experience fall with us it's much better to be as specific as possible rather than talk in abstract terms.

And so it is in writing, especially poetry. We read a few poems, paying attention to how they illustrated abstract ideas like first love or grief. We marveled, really (and how can you not marvel at William Meredith's "The Illiterate" or Tomas Transtromer's "After a Death"?).  We then tried to write about an abstraction ourselves. We each got an abstract idea, wrote a poem, and then the others had to guess what the abstraction was.  As we heard each poem filled with striking images and incantatory repetition, it was clear -- these Boltoneer poets had conquered abstraction. Long live the concrete detail!

Below is one of the poems born out of an abstraction.

An Addition to the Family
Emily Buras

My big sister winks at me
And sends my first shooting star
Across the night ceiling,
To me
Because I’m the one sleeping
Out on the deck.
Under my quilt
Where she can see me,
Now I know, for sure, where she’s been
For those 18 odd years
Since she was cut out
And cried over
To save Mom.
She’s been burning with light
Waiting for me
To sleep in the firefly dark
And let my glasses
Reflect the moon
So she can wave across the sky
And we can meet.
She’s swimming up in the blue black waters;
Splashing around
Watching me
Watch her.
It’s exciting, not to be
The firstborn anymore.

When I was a kid,
I never wanted a younger sister.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Incongruity and the Spooky

Last Bolton meeting at Dadisman/Stalnaker, our writers created experimental nonfiction essays about the smells of our childhood, parts of people we love, freely associated memories, and those snippets of conversation we will never forget. The results were, needless to say, edgy, brilliant, and entertaining!

And we even let the sounds of Debbi's dog, the smell of the barbeque chicken, and the sweet chill of Cold Stone ice cream creep into our senses to unleash on the page.

Hope to see you all this week for dinner and an exploration of spookiness through poetry--what new, weird things in Morgantown, in your dorm room, haunt you? Have you ever been actually scared on Halloween? How do we choose an ending for a poem when our life's endings are so uncertain? Bring your pens and smiles! It's okay to be dark when there's warm food on the table.

See you Thursday, Oct. 11 at 6:00!