Monday, September 26, 2016

Masterclass: Backpack Literature by XJ Kennedy and Dana Gioia Chapters 1-3

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          In continuation of the post of September 5th, I’ve completed the first three chapters of the textbook Backpack Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing 4th edition by XJ Kennedy and Dana Gioia. It’s as informative and engaging as the authors promised.

          Even if you don’t want to complete the writing exercises, I highly recommend reading the text filled with pieces by Somerset Maugham, Aesop, Bidpai, Chuang Tzu, John Updike, William Faulkner, Edgar Allan Poe, Jamaica Kincaid, Virginia Woolf, Katherine Anne Porter, Katherine Mansfield, Alice Walker, and Raymond Carver. (At the end of each writer’s piece there is a list of questions. Answering them will make you both a better writer and a better reader.) Then read the Writing Effectively points, Checklist, and Terms for Review at the end of each chapter—that’s an education in itself.

          The Writing Effectively section lists items to consider for each chapter’s topic. The Checklist is a series of questions to ensure you aren’t leaving anything important out of your work. The Terms of Review are concisely defined.  

          In the future, if I need more information or inspiration about plots, points of view, or characters (the topics of the first three chapters) I’ll pick this book up first for clarification.

          Then there are the Writing Assignments and the More Topics for Writing sections at the end of each chapter. You can choose to complete any or all of them, whatever you feel you need to improve your writing. I read them all, considered my answers, but only had time to write one piece for each chapter.

          My completed writing assignments:

I wrote down the answers to most of the questions after each piece in all three chapters because they forced me to pay attention. This attention to detail is important in every piece of writing whether you are the reader or the writer—and an active reader makes for a better writer.

          For Chapter One, rather than analyzing another writer’s plot, I worked on writing my own fable.

          For Chapter Two, I wrote a different point of view piece. I chose to write from Homer Barron’s point of view in “My Affair with Miss Emily.” No specifics to avoid spoilers.

          For Chapter Three, I wrote a short essay on what motivates the narrator to overcome his antipathy to the blind man in “Cathedral” by Raymond Carver. This was my favorite of the short stories which surprised me as I had strong negative feelings about one character. No more specifics to avoid spoilers.

          I made the right choice to audit this class. The chapter lessons are clear, comprehensive, and well illuminated by the various writers. The questions and assignments are thoughtful and creative. Also, the Writing Effectively points, Checklist, and Terms for Review at the end of each chapter are worth the price of this textbook.

          I’m looking forward to completing chapters 4-7 which I’ll discuss in my post on October 24th.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Ten Poems to...series by Roger Housden

From Kate’s Writing Crate…     

          Poetry is something most people identify with school—bad flashbacks of memorizing poems or analyzing them to death.

          I’ve since realized poetry enriches my writing and my life. I’m in awe of the poet’s genius.

I think all writers would benefit from reading poems.             

          Poets are a cut above as most writers could write fiction, nonfiction, short stories, essays, articles, etc. Poetry, not so much.

          Poets use few words on a short canvas. They write concisely and precisely conveying what we cannot find the words to say.

          “…great poetry reaches down into the depths of our humanity and captures the very essence of our experience. Then delivers it up in exactly the right words. This is why we shudder with recognition when we hear the right poem at the right time.” Introduction to ten poems to say goodbye by Roger Housden, page 13.

          This is the last book in his poetry series that includes ten poems to change your life; ten poems to open your heart; ten poems to set you free; and ten poems to last a lifetime. If you want to read poetry but don’t know where to start, this series is a good one to begin with.

          Housden chooses each poem reproduced in his books. After the poems are his essays sharing what the poems mean to him and to humanity.

          In response to Mary Oliver’s poem “Have You Ever Tried to Enter the Long Black Branches?” on pp. 61-64 of ten poems to set you free, Housden wrote on page 65: “Mary Oliver’s body of work is a pure litany of rapture, a song of ecstatic praise in honor of the physical world.” (As she is one of my favorite poets, I completely agree.)

After reading “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota” by James Wright, Housden noted on page 79 of ten poems to last a lifetime “…That shocks me awake to a greater aliveness still, awake to a sensation, below words, of the complexity, the beauty, the tensions, that make up my life.”

I had never read Naomi Shihab Nye before, but I love her poem “The Art of Disappearing” on pp. 91-92 of ten poems to last a lifetime. She reminds readers why to decline invitations from people you barely know, lost touch with or don’t care for—time-wasters all.

On pp 35-36 of ten poems to say goodbye, “How It Will Happen, When” by Dorianne Laux is about the death of her husband. Through little details, she shares her grief and the passing of time.

Housden shares, “…Only one of my close friends has died, and no one I have ever lived with. Perhaps it is because I am a stranger to the grief in this poem that it felt like an initiation of sorts when I first read it, a baptism into a dimension of being human that I never knew. A poem can do this for us.”

Yes, it can.

Monday, September 12, 2016

What Do Artists Do All Day? Katie Paterson is Creating The Future Library

Kate’s Writing Crate…

          Recently, artist Katie Paterson was highlighted on the BBC America show What Do Artists Do All Day? She was working on a sculpture created from wood from 10,000 trees—every species in the world including the oldest tree (over 4,000 years old) and the tallest tree in England. The samples are all polished rectangles of various sizes. In the art piece, the wood “grows” from ground level to a canopy high above so people will be able to walk into the sculpture like walking into a forest.

          While this was an interesting project, Paterson explained she had another wood project she was working on called The Future Library. To complete this project, she has planted a forest outside of Oslo. In 100 years, these trees are to be felled, pulped, and made into paper for books.

          In the meantime, 100 authors are being chosen now, one each year, to write books that will be printed on this paper. The first author is Margaret Atwood. The second is David Mitchell. Their books are only to be read as part of this project.

          Will paper books still be prevalent in 100 years? Will people know how to pulp wood and make paper then? I guess instructions will be included with the 100 manuscripts just in case. It’s difficult to believe that things we take for granted today may be faint memories a century from now.

          Of course, this happens all the time. I just read an earlier book (1989) written by a current author. In it, a woman couldn’t call for help from her bedroom because a receiver was off the hook in her kitchen. This was a minor shock to me as cell phones have made this problem inconsequential. How much more of our everyday lives will be inconsequential 100 years from now?

          I keep considering that someday our culture will be considered primitive. How is this possible with computers, tablets, wi-fi, etc.? We’ve sent a Rover to Mars! Except 100 years ago imagine how modern people felt with indoor plumbing, electricity, and now ordinary household appliances.

As a writer, I’m interested mostly in the authors writing books that won’t be read for up to 100 years. They are writing through time. Knowing the audience will have different sensibilities, will that change their work? Or will they just stay true to themselves and write it as just their next book to give the future audience a feel for life as it is now?

          A book takes a lot of time and effort to finish. Imagine, after all that work, getting no appreciation or feedback from your audience. Of course, if the project is completed as planned, the authors will have whole new audiences.

          I hope Katie Paterson’s Future Library is a success. I’d like to think book readers continue on long after most everything else is obsolete.

UPDATE: Reported on BBC the next day: Sony’s new digital books bringing characters to life by swiping the illustrations from the page on to any table top where they danced around were highlighted at a Tech Expo in Germany. It’s getting harder to believe books on paper will be available 10 years from now let alone 100.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Reads for Writers: Backpack Literature by XJ Kennedy and Dana Gioia

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          It’s September so I’ve decided to go back to school—well “audit” a writing class using the textbook Backpack Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing 4th edition by XJ Kennedy and Dana Gioia. I’m going back to Beginner’s Mind to remember things I’ve forgotten and learn things I never knew.

In the preface, authors Kennedy and Gioia believe:

“…that textbooks should not only be informative and accurate but also lively, accessible, and engaging…read with enjoyment and which will inspire [students] to take their own writing more seriously…” (page xxx)

          I wish I had taken a class like this in college!

          In this textbook, there are short stories, poetry, and plays by many well-known writers including John Updike, Amy Tan, Tim O’Brien, Kate Chopin, Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, Anna Deavere Smith, and August Wilson along with some classic writers like William Faulkner, Emily Dickinson, and Shakespeare. After reading these pieces, there are questions then writing assignments. This will sharpen my critical thinking and writing skills as well as introduce me to some writers new to me.

          After the questions at the end of each chapter, there is a Writing Effectively section about the chapter’s topic like plot or point of view followed by a Checklist for your writing and then a Writing Assignment as well as More Topics For Writing. I will complete or just review items as I wish since I’m auditing this class.

          If you are a beginning writer or you need assignments and deadlines to get you writing or you just want to hone your skills, this textbook in the 4th, 5th, or any edition may work for you.

I’ll let you know how it’s working for me. There are 30 chapters. My plan is to complete a chapter a week. I’ll post an update of the course as the masterclass post of every month until completion, September through April. Then I will write a summary in May.

I love to read. I love to learn. I love to write. I think I’m going to love this “lively, accessible, and engaging” textbook.

Professionally, I publish on average three book reviews, seven essays, and four articles a month while also working on writing projects. I edit two monthly magazines as well as work as a freelance editor. I’m adding this textbook project to my writing schedule because I believe it will be fun and educational while improving my writing across the board. Writers write! Deadlines rule!