Sketching Poetry advice from Robert Hass

April 17, 2015 § Leave a comment

In my last post I had mentioned the first of my online classes through the University of Iowa and the Canvas project- did I mention this course was free? There is good in the world. I had really enjoyed some of the suggestions that Robert Hass had offered for coming up with ideas for poems and which are all apart of the beginning of the course of How Writers Write. I’ve been journaling/notebooking, scraping, and sketching since I was a teenager, but I had never really thought of it as a part of my writing process. Honestly, I’d never really been sure what I was doing and I definitely didn’t know what to do with all of the words, ideas, and thoughts. My notes and writing have always lacked discipline and I’ve gone months with out writing a word, so having this class is a nice way to start jotting down some randomness.

In my last post I also wrote out Robert Hass‘s breakdown of sketching. My understanding of it is that you don’t really plan out your thoughts or words but just let things fall as they may. It could be nonsense, it could be bad, or you could get something really inspiring, but the outcome at this point doesn’t matter. What matters is that you are generating some ideas, some words onto the paper.

  1. Start with a basic line
  2. write a second line: try the call and response- let the second line surprise you.
  3. Write out three lines which is the rhythm of the body
  4. Write out four lines- the rhythm of the mind.

His first video instruction was to look around your room, and your space and write a single line. I had stopped the video and wrote down 5 lines based on observations around me.

  1. This empty bottle waits for me to fill it.
  2. On my night stand I see a Chinese warrior with a bronze Japanese rabbit at his feet, and the bone of an ancient civilization safely kept behind a framed piece of glass.
  3. My laundry hangs like wilted flowers over an overturned bed frame and opened lockers.
  4. Oh these books these awful books.
  5. How I wish my lamp were a crystal ball.

Next was to write the second line. I could do either a call and response or whatever came to my mind. In the next following sentences I didn’t really take much time to think about what I was writing but just to allow myself to write- something whatever. The most important point that I’m taking away from it is not to critic what I’m writing but to just write it.

  1. This empty bottle waits for me to fill it
    but who will drink from it when I’m gone?
  2. Dear Chinese warrior with the bronze Japanese rabbit at your feet- do you know what is behind you?
    Ancient words carved into bone as fragile as glass and as clear as stone.
  3. Oh these books these awful books
    lies of little children.
  4. I wish my lamp were a crystal ball.
    And if it were, what would you ask for?

 

For the three lines he suggested another approach- one was to quickly write out a paragraph that came to your mind and then to pull the three lines from the paragraph.

  1. I awoke with a panic this morning. The same if not worse than before. There was drool, actual drool on my pillow, my heart was racing, and my mind was sunk into some kind of a hole. Where was I? What kind of anxiety was attacking my dreams, and what were my dreams telling me? There is no manual for this kind of suffering.
  2. I awoke with panic
    The same and worse then before
    dreams lost in the whole of my mind

Then for finding the four line poem he went back to suggesting that we take our ideas from the room that we are in. To use your observations and to just let the lines fall into place one after the other.

  1. I’m sitting on the dirty floor
    watching and listing to you read poetry
    We’ve never met before
    but I’m here, listening to your stories.

Anyway, something like that. Are they poems? No. Can they be? Sure it’s possible. Can I scrap them and toss them away? If I want- that’s my choice. It’s just the beginning. Only the beginning.

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Poetry Lessons Day 1

April 17, 2015 § Leave a comment

The online course from The University of Iowa’s International Writers’ Program has begun. The course is “How Writers Write Poetry”. I found the course on the Canvas Network which has many free online classes.  I’m really very thrilled that taking this course is a possibility for me, and even though I can’t afford to get the certificate (I like that it’s an option) I can still take the course and do the work.

The first lesson was on Note-taking, basically the beginning steps that any kind of writer needs to gather information and to practice writing and capturing images, conversations- anything that you need to build your poems or stories. I watched a video with three poets discussing their note-taking processes.

The first was Lia Purpura who spoke about keeping journals and the process of note booking which is different than keeping a diary. The key points were to keep an active journal and to keep it with you all the time. You could also just have scraps of paper or small notepads both of which can be transferred to your main journal. The point is to capture the world around you. She also mentioned a way of collecting your thoughts through something she called a found journal. This is a journal that is created from all of your notes of life; meaning your check book, your lists, your calendars, e-mails, whatever you do to record and archive your own life can be transferred to your journal. I had liked this idea because it is new to me. I’ve kept journals since I was 16 (not always active journals) and I’ve done the scrap method, and attempted to use note pads, but unfortunately I’m pretty bad at keeping them on me and remembering to take notes. This found journal is something I think can be fun to try because I have tons of scrap notes that keep reminding me of what I need to do and what I haven’t done.
A couple of things that she noted that I found to be useful to hear was her opinion of the reason behind the journalling and how it is different from a diary. The reason that we journal for the purpose of writing poems or stories is to look for patterns. Patterns of thoughts, images, types of conversations. To see what you gravitate toward in your observations of the world. According to Purpura the purpose of taking notes and  keeping a writing journal is to teach yourself about yourself. I thought this was very insightful because as a person who has kept a journal for years I had never quiet figured out how to make use of the journals which tend to be a combination of observations, and diary. and story ideas. I had never thought to look for patterns of what I tend to capture, and I like the idea of looking at my jottings in this objective manner.

The next person on the video was Kate Greenstreet who spoke about her notebook or collection of words that she called “The Epic”. For Greenstreet “The Epic” is her way of collecting her words and then swirling them around until she gathered or saw what she wanted from her words.

Lastly, Robert Hass spoke and offered his experience of what he called “sketching” a way of collecting your fleeting bits of thoughts and words. Hass also offered up a loose formula to play around with your thoughts and ideas and he numbered this sketching 1-4.

  1. Start with a basic line
  2. write a second line: try the call and response- let the second line surprise you.
  3. Write a third line which is the rhythm of the body
  4. Write a fourth line- the rhythm of the mind.

I will explain more on Robert Hass’s sketching in my next post since he offered some moments in the video to pause and to try some writing.

On thing he did was give out a sentence like this one:

I’m asleep on skis, and, The rain fell all afternoon

Then he said for us (students of the course) to write our own response- what are the first thoughts that come to your mind? Below are my responses to Hass’s first lines:

I’m asleep on skies
and you are not here.

The rain fell all afternoon,
and still the grass did not grow.

So far I’m enjoying the course, and I’m grateful to have found it. Although, I won’t be getting the certificate I’ll at least be writing and listening to people talk about writing- and right now- I need that.

 

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