Spring SAVY 2017, Day 1- Writing and Reflection
What a phenomenal first day of our SAVY course, “Writing and Reflection”! Students were very excited to learn how to read literature like college students and to write poetry and prose like the authors they love. We kicked off our class with a concept map exercise, in which students wrote down everything they knew about the subject, “Creative Writing.” In our next exercise, students were challenged to remember not only the names of everyone in our group, but also their favorite books. Students learned that many others in class liked the same series that they liked, and they received many new recommendations for future reading.
After these exercises, students considered the following quotation by the Turkish writer, Orhan Pamuk: “I read a book one day and my whole life was changed.” After thinking about the different meanings of the word “changed,” they considered the question: “Can reading transform the world around you?” Students wrote down three sentences in response to the question and then shared their insightful ideas with partners. Each group then had a difficult task – they had to discuss their agreements and disagreements with their partners to come to a single answer to the question. Between themselves, students debated their competing theories of reading and transformation, and then shared their answers with their peers. One group astutely argued that the answer “depended on the book and on the reader,” but that reading was able to bring transformation by inspiring readers to act in a certain way. Another perceptive group argued that, if we consider “the world” to be the imagined world of the mind, then a particularly good book can completely transform that space, even if it does not have an impact on the physical world.
We used our new ideas about the importance of reading and writing to talk about the five “rules” of writing that we will be following in our course: 1) be concrete; 2) be specific; 3) use the five senses; 4) don’t rhyme; and 5) be weird. Students pointed out that the more imagistic and “concrete” a passage is, the more easily the reader can imagine it. In addition, after composing a small rhyming poem together, students were quick to notice that rhyme can make a poem sound interesting, but can also limit what we’re able to say and can sometimes make our poems feel too familiar and predictable. Meanwhile, writing “weirdly” keeps our readers interested and makes our imagery and characters seem more alive.
To better understand these rules, we read small segments of Walt Whitman’s foundational free verse poem, Song of Myself. Even though the language of this poem could be difficult, the students persevered, offering original analyses for many of Whitman’s creative decisions. We talked about why Whitman chose to write unrhymed poetry. Students concluded that rhyming would feel too formal for what he wants to say and that free verse allows him to explain his ideas for a longer period of time. We also discussed how Whitman’s use of the five senses contributes to the vividness of the imagery, and whether it is true (as Whitman’s speaker at times seems to argue) that a writer can ever really think the same thoughts as their reader thinks or can be in two places at once.
From there, students began the exciting task of writing their own versions of Song of Myself while following the five “rules.” Students wrote fantastic first poems, whether they were writing about “making time as slow as possible/ to conceal the real beauty behind/ a dancing pink flamingo” or how “The song of the sea calls/ to me, my song, my music.” It will be a thrilling six weeks watching these talented young writers develop their skills, and I’m looking forward to our next class, when we will discuss how to avoid clichés and will read Madeleine L’Engle’s celebrated science fiction book, A Wrinkle in Time!