Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Short Vine Reading tomorrow

As I mentioned at our meeting today, there'll be a short reading tomorrow afternoon (June 9th) at 5:00 PM in McMicken 255 featuring students published in the winter and spring issues of Short Vine, UC's undergrad literary journal.  You can pick up copies of the new spring print issue tomorrow at the reading tomorrow and check out the winter issue online at

Don't forget that Short Vine will be reading submissions again in the fall for our next online issue.  Be sure to send some of the great work you produced this term in for the students to look at!  You can follow Short Vine on Facebook through this page.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Writing Prompt #10: The Lipogram

A lipogrammatic text is one that's contrained by the omission of one (or a group of) letters.  Perhaps it's easier to demonstrate the possibilities of the form by giving you a few examples:

  • Georges Perec's 1969 novel, La Disparation (translated as A Void) runs for approximately 300 pages without using the letter E (the most common letter in French).  Gilbert Adair pulled off an amazing feat by translating the original as A Void in 1995, remaining faithful not only to the storyline, but also its linguistic restriction.  Perec wrote several additional texts in this fashion, including the shorter novella, Les Revenentes (translated by Ian Monk as The Exeter Text: Jewels, Secrets, Sex).
  • Walter Abish's 1974 novel,  Alphabetical Africa, contains 52 chapters, the first of which only contains words beginning with the letter A, the second, words beginning with A and B, and so on until, in chapter 26 any and all words are permissible.  Abish then starts taking letters away again, starting with Z, until the final chapter which, once again, consists solely of words starting with A.  
  • Christian Bök's 2001 book (its genre is ambiguous) Eunoia, which consists of five chapters, each named for one of the vowels and comprised solely of words containing that respective vowel.  In addition,  Bök has instituted several other rules, including making use of at least 98% of all existing words featuring the given vowel, as well as specific tasks, including writing about the act of writing, a feast, a debauch, a nautical journey, etc.  

The purpose of such writing exercises is two-fold: first to provide restrictions that might ultimately yield worthwhile work, and second to force the writer to avoid common words and phrases and/or discover atypical language to suit their expressive purposes.  For your final prompt, I'd like you to write a poem that's restricted in some lipogrammatic fashion but I'll leave the specifics up to you: you can chose to avoid a certain letter or group of letters (one possibility: choose a brief word and avoid all those letters), to use only one vowel or to narrow your restrictions to words beginning with certain letters; you can also shift your restriction from stanza to stanza (or section to section) as you see fit.  Be sure to note what restriction you set for yourself when you post your poem.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Submit to Short Vine!

Here's the message regarding Short Vine submissions.  If you get them in today (even after the 5:00 deadline), that'll be fine.

If you've submitted poetry or fiction to any of the English department's annual writing contests, your work is already under consideration for publication in Short Vine, but we wanted to provide an opportunity for students who missed that deadline to send their work our way.

Please send up to three poems or one short story (up to 25 pages in length) to along with a brief bio, no later than 5:00 PM this Friday.  Work should be sent as attachments in Word or Rich Text Format, with your name and title in the filename.  Please indicate in the subject line whether your submission is poetry or fiction.

All UC undergraduates are welcome to submit work to Short Vine regardless of their major.  Those students who were published in our online winter issue are welcome to submit to our spring print issue as well. 

We look forward to seeing your work!

- the Short Vine editorial team []

Monday, May 16, 2011

Writing Prompt #9: The Sum of Its Parts

We've talked about this several times over the course of the term, but since it came up again in Friday's class, I thought it might be worth making a prompt out of the idea of fragmentation and linking.   

At the heart of this technique is the notion that what we're trying to say in a poem doesn't have to be accomplished in one continuous train of thought.  Much like the way in which line and stanza breaks can create a necessary pause or add emphasis, breaking your poem into discreet sections can give you the room to make dramatic shifts in perspective or characterization or let a particularly resonant idea ring out in your readers minds.  This technique is most effective when the connection between the fragments isn't explicitly clear (leaving it to your reader to bridge those gaps) or if you choose to work around a topic in an abstract fashion, considering different facets of the idea at hand with each section.

One well-known poem written in this form is Wallace Stevens' "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird":

 Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

Among twenty snowy mountains,   
The only moving thing   
Was the eye of the blackbird.   

I was of three minds,   
Like a tree   
In which there are three blackbirds.   

The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.   
It was a small part of the pantomime.   

A man and a woman   
Are one.   
A man and a woman and a blackbird   
Are one.   

I do not know which to prefer,   
The beauty of inflections   
Or the beauty of innuendoes,   
The blackbird whistling   
Or just after.   

Icicles filled the long window   
With barbaric glass.   
The shadow of the blackbird   
Crossed it, to and fro.   
The mood   
Traced in the shadow   
An indecipherable cause.   

O thin men of Haddam,   
Why do you imagine golden birds?   
Do you not see how the blackbird   
Walks around the feet   
Of the women about you?   

I know noble accents   
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;   
But I know, too,   
That the blackbird is involved   
In what I know.   

When the blackbird flew out of sight,   
It marked the edge   
Of one of many circles.   

At the sight of blackbirds   
Flying in a green light,   
Even the bawds of euphony   
Would cry out sharply.   

He rode over Connecticut   
In a glass coach.   
Once, a fear pierced him,   
In that he mistook   
The shadow of his equipage   
For blackbirds.   

The river is moving.   
The blackbird must be flying.   

It was evening all afternoon.   
It was snowing   
And it was going to snow.   
The blackbird sat   
In the cedar-limbs.

While Stevens' poem doesn't necessarily add up to a clear and definitive picture he does approach his topic from many unique angles.  A more contemporary master of this style is Rae Armantrout, who works in a minimalist style, frequently combining seemingly disconnected segments to create a wide-ranging poetic picture.  Here's her poem, "The Subject":

The Subject

It’s as if we’ve just been turned human   
in order to learn   
that the beetle we’ve caught   
and are now devouring   
is our elder brother   
and that we   
are a young prince.


I was just going to click   
on “Phoebe is changed   
into a mermaid   
tomorrow!” when suddenly   
it all changed   
into the image   
of a Citizen watch.


If each moment is in love   
with its image   
in the mirror of   
adjacent moments   

(as if matter stuttered),

then, of course, we’re restless!

“What is a surface?”
we ask,

trying to change the subject. 
Here are a few more examples of her work: "Fact," "Passage" and "Apartment."

While this technique works well in a more abstract fashion, it can also quite successfully be used in a narrative fashion, with each section serving as a micro-chapter of sorts.  Two great examples of this are Allen Ginsberg's "After Lalon" and Richard Brautigan's "The Galilee Hitchhiker."

Armed with these examples, I'd like you to try to write a poem that works in a similar fashion, using fragmentation and linking to great poetic effect.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Writing Prompt #8: The O'Hara-esque Walk Poem

The late Frank O'Hara, a key member of the New York School's first generation, had an all-too-brief poetic career — he was tragically killed in a freak accident in 1966 — and yet he left behind a prodigious body of work, largely because he successfully integrated his writing habits into his daily life, creating a characteristic style.  Here's the poet's tongue-in-cheek back cover blurb to one of his best known collections, Lunch Poems

Often this poet, strolling through the noisy splintered glare of a Manhattan noon, has paused at a sample Olivetti to type up thirty or forty lines of ruminations, or pondering more deeply has withdrawn to a darkened ware- or firehouse to limn his computed misunderstandings of the eternal questions of life, coexistence, and depth, while never forgetting to eat lunch, his favorite meal.

O'Hara's peripatetic style is often shorthanded as "I do this, I do that," and one of his best known poems in this style is "The Day Lady Died," written upon hearing news of the passing of jazz singer Billie Holiday, also known as Lady Day:

The Day Lady Died

It is 12:20 in New York a Friday
three days after Bastille day, yes
it is 1959 and I go get a shoeshine
because I will get off the 4:19 in Easthampton   
at 7:15 and then go straight to dinner
and I don’t know the people who will feed me

I walk up the muggy street beginning to sun   
and have a hamburger and a malted and buy
an ugly NEW WORLD WRITING to see what the poets   
in Ghana are doing these days
                                           I go on to the bank
and Miss Stillwagon (first name Linda I once heard)   
doesn’t even look up my balance for once in her life   
and in the GOLDEN GRIFFIN I get a little Verlaine   
for Patsy with drawings by Bonnard although I do   
think of Hesiod, trans. Richmond Lattimore or   
Brendan Behan’s new play or Le Balcon or Les Nègres
of Genet, but I don’t, I stick with Verlaine
after practically going to sleep with quandariness

and for Mike I just stroll into the PARK LANE
Liquor Store and ask for a bottle of Strega and   
then I go back where I came from to 6th Avenue   
and the tobacconist in the Ziegfeld Theatre and   
casually ask for a carton of Gauloises and a carton
of Picayunes, and a NEW YORK POST with her face on it

and I am sweating a lot by now and thinking of
leaning on the john door in the 5 SPOT
while she whispered a song along the keyboard
to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing

A few other favorites written in this style are "A Step Away From Them" and "Personal Poem," and you can see traces of this style in the work of Ted Berrigan, particularly in poems like "Today in Ann Arbor" and (in a very compact form) "10 Things I Do Every Day":

10 Things I Do Every Day

wake up
smoke pot
see the cat
love my wife
think of Frank
eat lunch
make noises
sing songs
go out
dig the streets
go home for dinner
read the Post
make pee-pee
two kids
read books
see my friends
get pissed-off
have a Pepsi

Part of the beauty of this style is its all-inclusiveness — this form admits all occurrences and emotions, and it's list-like order is set up beautifully for experiments with flow, pacing, repetition, etc.  The everyday events of your life can have great poetic resonance and the people who surround you can be just as interesting in their humanness as grand heroic figures.  The trick, in part, is finding the aesthetic in the mundane, and letting your ear (and eye) guide you through your world, finding the interesting elements, the names, sounds, sights and bits of speech that will make your poem feel both true to your life but also engaging to your reader.

So for this week, I'd like you to play around a little with this form, finding poetry in your daily routines.  Use the O'Hara and Berrigan poems as inspirations, but feel free to adapt the form however you see fit to match your own needs.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Your Final Portfolios

As mentioned at the start of the term, you'll be expected to hand in a final portfolio at the end of the term.  This will include the following things:
  1. Revisions of 5-6 poems that you wrote this term (either poems that were workshopped formally or poems that you wrote in response to our various prompts), including both the original and revised versions along with a brief explanation (a few sentences for each) of what changes you made, how workshop comments affected your alterations, etc.
  2. Two (2) copies of your finished chapbook (for me), plus a copy for everyone else in the workshop (so 20 copies altogether). * 
  3. A final evaluation of your experience in our workshop (details below).
* However,  I encourage you to make a larger set (say 40-50 copies) so you can distribute them to friends and family.  While printing/photocopying costs will increase in this case, you won't really be spending more in terms of paper, cover stock, etc. as you'll be buying a lot more than you'll use, even if you split with a few classmates.

For your final evaluation, I'd like you to answer the following questions, with your overall essay running to about 2.5-3 pages in length:
  1. In what ways have your poetics — or the way in which you think about poetry, it's meaning, its usefulness, etc. — changed over the course of this workshop?  How would you describe your poetics now?
  2. Have your compositional habits changed at all due to this workshop, and if so, how?  What prompt(s) did you find most useful and which one(s) could you just not get into?
  3. Did this workshop live up to your expectations (or, perhaps, exceed them)?  What would you say were the most useful things that you'll take away from this experience?

Also, it goes without saying that you should be caught up with any and all workshop evaluations of your classmates, and should have posted responses to at least 8 of the 10 workshop prompts I've posted throughout the quarter. 
I haven't yet decided whether we'll gather for one last class meeting during our allotted exam period or whether we'll have our last meeting on the final Friday of the quarter.  I'm leaning towards exam week as a) it'll give you more time to finish everything, and b) we'll have more than 50 minutes to discuss your work.  If we go with the exam week meeting, it will be from 12:00-2:00 on Wednesday, June 8th.

During this time, everyone will distribute their chapbooks to the rest of the workshop and we'll spend a little time looking them over and talking about the process of making them.  We'll also spend some time summing up our experiences throughout the quarter, guided by your responses to the self-evaluation above.  Because this is our last chance to meet, I must insist that everyone is present for our final meeting and ready with everything that needs to be handed in (and failing to do this will have negative consequences).

Some Useful Information For Your Chapbooks

In addition to thinking about the poems you'll select for your final portfolio and chapbook, you should already be giving some thought to the design and binding for your chapbook.  Hopefully the time we spend today going through a wide array of possible constructions, sizes, shapes and bindings will be useful, and to help you as you more actively start planning, here are a few how-tos that might be of use:

Aside from the content of your book, you'll want to think about things like your cover materials, art and layout.  The easiest and cheapest option is to buy what's called cover stock (here's an example from Staples; Office Depot has some different options for colors) — it's a sturdy card stock that comes in a variety of colors, from pastels and neutrals to brights, and that will pass through either a photocopier or a printer without difficulty.  You might want to simply print in black on your covers, or use a combination of stamps, cut-outs glued to the cover, or embossing to create your design.  A variety images will print well over this sort of stock, from simpler line drawings to photographs, or you can go with a purely textual design.  An interesting compromise might be to make a design that uses only text, but manipulated in an abstract way.  Ron Silliman's latest book, The Alphabet, has a cover by Geof Huth that's constructed out of letters (see at right, you'll recall seeing this image as part of this week's concrete poetry prompt).  Once your card stock comes out of the printer or copier it will likely have warped a little from the heat of the condenser, so stack them (waiting until they've dried if the ink hasn't set) and then put a few heavy books over them so they'll flatten out again.  Another option that a number of students pursued last quarter was using wallpaper as cover stock, then gluing a small title card onto the front cover.

You might also wish to use endpapers — a single sheet of paper, often colored, patterned or textured — that goes between the cover and the interior pages.  Again, browsing the aisles of your local office supply warehouse will give you some ideas for possibilities: you might wish to use a complementary color (the last book I made, for example, had bright red endpapers to liven up the ash-grey covers), or you can use vellum (tracing paper), some sort of patterned writing paper, or hell, cut sheets to fit out of the newspaper.  I've always done layout for covers in PowerPoint (my favorite free and ubiquitous image compositor), which allows you to easily resize images, match them in terms of size, create and manipulate text boxes, etc.  When putting your covers together, don't forget that the front will be the righthand side, the back the left.

For interior layout, here are a few recommendations.  First, you can accomplish a lot in Microsoft Word, setting the page layout as landscape and then creating two columns.  You have built-in rulers to measure distance from edges and widths of text, which is helpful.  Be sure to leave enough breathing room around the edges of of the page, as well as on the left margin of the righthand column (for the last project I put together, I left a half-inch at both the top and the bottom, set the right margin and the space between columns at an inch each, and left a half-inch as the far-right margin).  You'll want to decide upon a standard format for your chapbook: What font will you use?  What size (I recommend using a 10 or 11 pt., no larger)?  What size will you make your titles (you can make them the same size or increase by 2pts. of the body text)?  Will you underline them?  Will you center them or make them flush left?  How many lines will you skip before your title, and how many between your title and the start of the poem?  Finally, after you've decided on your list of poems, I wholeheartedly making two different page layouts — start by posting the title page, blank pages and poems in the order you want them to appear, simply going from column to column, and getting an idea of when and where a poem will go over to a second page, if there will be issues with margins, etc.  Then save this document once under some name, and resave under a second name.  Keep both documents open at the same time, and start shifting around the material so that it'll be in the order you'll want to print in.  If all else fails and this becomes way too frustrating for you, it's fine to either construct a chapbook that doesn't require folding or to just print on one side of the page (technically, this is called the "recto," i.e. the righthand page; the lefthand page is the "verso").

Before printing sufficient numbers of covers and book guts to make your print run, I recommend printing just one copy and assembling it, so that you can troubleshoot problematic layouts, issues with fonts, margins, etc.  Once you've made any necessary changes, then go ahead and print.  When I've done these sorts of projects in the past, I've used a laserwriter printer (usually at the office I was working in) to print the covers, and have used a photocopier with duplexing capabilities to produce the necessary number of sets of book guts (note: if you opt to photocopy, never use the photo settings — I know that it seems like it will produce a higher-quality image, but it will make your text fuzzy).  One final decision you'll need to make is what paper to use.  In the past, I've used thicker, higher-quality paper with a high cotton content (what's called thesis or resume paper), and this not only gives the book more heft, but also makes your pages less transparent.  A box of this sort of paper can run you $30-40 however, so a few of you might want to chip in and split one, or just use regular copy paper.  Think of the math this way: if you're making a 16-page book, then you're going to need 4 sheets per book, and say you're making 40 books, then that's 160 pages altogether.  A ream has 500 sheets, so three of you can split a box of thesis paper, have 20 sheets leftover for screwups or damaged pages, and pay about $10 each.  Or if you're making 40 24-page books (6 sheets) two of you can split a ream for $15 each.

Also, don't forget that you can literally cut your costs in half by making smaller chapbooks (two to a sheet/set of paper) and then cutting them in half with a guillotine, however this isn't for the faint of heart, and you run the risk of ruining huge amounts of your printed components with imprecise cutting.  I don't recommend the guillotine for the faint of heart.  And though copying and/or printing costs something there are ways around it — hit up a parent or sibling who has access to a copier or laserwriter at work, or shop around to find a cheaper option.  The print shop in the basement of McMicken is relatively cheap, only a few cents a page.

In general, I recommend splitting costs if at all possible, whether that's buying a sampler of cover stock and divvying up the individual colors, splitting paper, sharing a needle and a spool of thread, or going in on a stapler together.  It's also not a terrible idea to team up in terms of production.  You might not believe it, but once all of your printing is done, you can put together 40 or 50 books in half an hour while watching television, but you can invite a few classmate over, and knock out all of your books in an hour then celebrate with the non-alcoholic beverage of your choice.

We can talk about the ins and outs of book production in our free time over the next few classes, and I'm more than happy to answer any questions you might have via e-mail or during my office hours as well.

Additionally, here are some supplies you might want to consider purchasing, depending on how you want to lay out your chapbooks:

Saddle/Booklet Staplers: I've looked around the web and haven't been able to find a small hand-held booklet stapler like the one I showed you in class, but here are a few relatively inexpensive options if you'd like to invest in one:

Of course, there are a number of ways you can design/bind your chapbooks that won't require a saddle stapler (including using a size smaller than 8.5 x 6.5 [i.e. standard copy paper folded in half], stapling through the edge of the cover, sewing, using elastic thread in a loop, etc.), but if you want to minimize some other complications, you'll likely need a long-reach or saddle stapler.  You might also want to purchase some sort of bone folder or guitar slide, to help you make a hard crease easily and without the risk of papercuts.  Here are some options on Amazon: