Posted in Teaching, Writing

ENG 126: Poetry Workshop, Session 1

The presence of double slash marks in one of our workshop poems led me to reflect on the ways we use slashes in writing and how they both connect and separate (and/or). In a passage of prose that quotes lines of poetry, we use slashes, or virgules, to indicate a line break. Some playwrights use a slash mark to indicate the start of the next spoken line when one character talks over another. Since that stylistic convention doesn’t figure in the plays that we read in Imaginative Writing, I’m including an example here. David Lindsay-Abaire uses slash marks repeatedly in Good People to denote Margaret’s, “Margie”‘s habit of talking over Stevie:

STEVIE: Margaret, listen for a / second—

MARGARET: (But she keeps going) I don’t think they did Christmas dinners though. And your grandmother had passed by then, so there was no dinner to go to. So your mother comes into Flanagan’s, and she’s out to here. (Indicates belly) When’s Jimmy’s birthday? (6)

As you read the poems for this week’s workshop, consider where the writers indicate pauses with punctuation and line breaks. In Imaginative Writing, Janet Burroway notes that “[t]he line directs the breath; the rhythm of the line is played against the rhythm of the sense, and this is one of the ways that poets alter, stress, and redirect their meaning” (305-06). As an example, she offers the opening lines of John Milton’s Paradise Lost:

Of Man’s First Disobedience, and the Fruit
Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal tast*
Brought Death into the World, and all our woe. (qtd. in Burroway 305-06)

Milton gives prominence to the apple, the forbidden fruit, by placing it at the end of the line. As Burroway observes, “the end of just about anything—line, paragraph, stanza, story—is the strongest position, and the beginning is the second strongest” (306). With that in mind, pay close attention to the first and last words of each line. Also look carefully at any caesuras, or pauses within the line (such as after “Disobedience” above). Do the poems include any enjambment, the running of a thought from one line to the next (“and the Fruit / Of that Forbidden Tree . . .”)? Are the lines of the poems end-stopped? In other words, does the end of each line coincide with the end of each thought?

To supplement our study of the poetic line, I have developed a short exercise to accompany your workshop comments this week.

Directions:

  1. Read aloud the poem or stanza beside your name in the list below.
  2. Read the poem again, and consider how caesuras or enjambments would alter its effect.
  3. Revise two or more lines of the poem or stanza without changing any of the words. Change only line breaks and/or punctuation.
  4. At the end of your comment for the poet, include the revised lines and a brief explanation of the changes you made.

This exercise isn’t meant to be prescriptive. It’s not a way of saying, these are changes that the poet should make. Instead, it’s a way of showing how someone else might see and hear the words.

  • Brennan: “He is the Man”
  • Zane: “Change”
  • Mia: “Dependent”
  • Brandy: “Self-Preservation,” stanza 1 or 3
  • Trevor: “Self-Preservation,” stanza 2

As always, the points I have included below are not ones that you’re required to address in your comments. I offer them as suggestions only. I will address some of them in the follow-up remarks that I’ll post at the beginning of our next session.

He is the Man” and “Change

  • Where in the poems does the writer use assonance, internal rhyme, and slant rhyme?
  • How might the writer develop the exploration of one or both notions of change in the second poem?
  • Might these two thematically similar poems evolve into two stanzas of one poem, or alternately evolve into two poems in a longer sequence of poems on the same theme?

Dependent

  • Where in the poem does the writer depict the abstract idea of dependence with concrete images?
  • Where do metaphors or similes appear in the poem?
  • Where might the poet add figurative language?

Self-Preservation

  • What discrepancy does the poet create with “slivers” in line one and “chunks” in line three? How and where might the writer develop that apparent contradiction?
  • Consider the sequence of pronoun shifts (I > we > I > they > I). What does the distancing effect of third person indicate about the poem’s speaker or persona? What change, if any, does the return to first person signify?
  • Why might the writer have chosen to use double slash marks?

Remember to check your CVCC email and Blackboard regularly for updates and assignments.

Works Cited

Burroway, Janet. Imaginative Writing. 4th ed. Pearson, 2014.

Lindsay-Abaire, David. Good People. TCG, 2011.

*Seventeenth-century spelling of taste.

Posted in Teaching, Theatre

Niagara Falls Again: A Postscript

Thank-you card by Mallory Taylor
Thank-you card by Mallory Taylor
Thank-you card by Kiyah Davender
Thank-you card by Kiyah Davender

When Stephanie Lindsay, who played Karla in the recent LR Playmakers’ production of Wonder of the World, first visited class on February 6, the students had not begun drafting their analyses of the play and opening night was more than a week away. Today when Lindsay returned for a follow-up visit, the students had submitted their revisions of their papers and many had also seen one of the performances of the show. After all of the students projected their analyses-turned-blog posts on the big screen and spoke briefly about the focus of their writing, Lindsay led them in a discussion that traced the journey of the play from page  to stage.

Along with her insightful remarks regarding the actors’ and the director’s roles in bringing the characters to life, Lindsay reflected on the vital opportunity that live theatre offers us in the digital age: the experience of sharing stories together face to face in real time in an increasingly fragmented culture.

thank-you-card-4As Lindsay spoke, my thoughts turned to the readings that I selected for the course, ones that we can see performed on stage or that we can see addressed by the visiting writers who wrote them. In a course titled Critical Thinking and Writing, virtually any texts could serve as our subjects of inquiry. But studying plays produced at Lenoir-Rhyne and books written by the university’s visiting writers creates opportunities for face-to-face, real-time experiences that the study of other texts doesn’t allow.

Thank you, Stephanie Lindsay, for bringing Karla to life, both on the stage and in the classroom, and thank you for your observations on live theatre and stage craft. And thanks also to Kiyah and Mallory for producing cards to express our gratitude.

 

Posted in Theatre

Signs in Niagara Land: The Quest for Meaning in “Wonder of the World”

David Lindsay-Abaire’s farce Wonder of the World chronicles Cass Harris’ search for meaning as she embarks on a new life in Niagara after discovering that her husband of seven years, Kip, has harbored a secret sexual perversion. Once she reaches her destination, she finds that life away from Kip is no honeymoon either but a series of encounters with an assortment of eccentrics grappling with their own losses.

For Cass, the loss is one of innocence. No longer innocent of the knowledge of her husband’s bizarre fetish, she ww-script-notesstruggles to come to terms with it. Though Cass chooses to start a new life, she continues to see the world through the lens of the ninth-grade teaching job that she leaves behind (along with Kip), equating her mistake of marriage to a mathematical miscalculation. As she explains to Kip: “Look, I agreed to marry you based on what I knew to be true. Kip equals X. X will make me happy. Everything added up. Seven years later I find out that you’re not X at all, you’re Z. And if you’re Z, then I did the math wrong” (1.1). Ever the math teacher, Cass perceives the world as a series of signs with determinate meaning, a tendency that seems to compound the difficulty of her quest. On the bus to Niagara, where Cass adopts fellow traveler Lois Coleman as her sidekick, Cass continues to think in terms of numbers, measuring her old life as “463 road signs behind me” (1.2). Though she eventually loses track of the signs, she remains focused on her numbered to-do list, which includes becoming a contestant on The Newlywed Game, a show that turns couples’ compatibility into a numbers game.

Unlike Cass, her husband, Kip, does not seek meaning in numbers. When Karla and Glen (partners in marriage as well as private investigation), confide to Lois that Kip has hired them to track down Cass, Glen notes that Kip “[s]tarted to put two and two together” (1.7). For Kip, “started” is the operative term. He is not a numbers man. The proof that he offers of their undying love—including the ring they found, “the sign,” as Kip a calls it (2.1) —is insubstantial evidence in the eyes of Cass. Their sign systems aren’t the same; they speak different languages. For Kip, numbers games are “crass and divisive” (1.2).

When couples counselor Janie, clad in a clown suit, leads Cass and her cohort of misfits through a Newlywed-style ww-draft-1therapy session, Cass says that “[i]t’s not just a game! Things have meaning. Or at least they should” (2.3). Her emphasis on “should” indicates that she has embraced the concept that meaning may be indeterminate. But neither she nor the other characters can leave numbers behind, not altogether. After Captain Mike, Kip’s rival for Cass’ affection, accidentally shoots himself, rather than reflecting on his death, the characters attempt to quantify fears as they quibble over which is number one: being alone, public speaking, or needles (2.3).

Only Karla seems to yield to the idea that answers may elude us. As she observes to Lois: “I don’t even think about my marriage anymore. Why this, why that? I have no idea how it works, and that’s fine by me. It’s like Stonehenge, an unknowable mystery that the world has come to accept” (2.4).

ww-draft-2The final scene on the river leaves the audience, along with Cass and Lois, in a holding pattern. What happens remains unclear. The ambiguity comes at a risk; it may try the patience of audience members who find the play’s farcical humor too ridiculous or contrived, or as New York Times reviewer Ben Brantley wrote “forced rather than organic.” For others, though, the grotesqueness of Cass’ Niagara Land may serve as an apt metaphor for our own absurd political terrain with its crass and divisive stream of fake news and alternative facts. Perhaps asking “[w]hen does the clarity come?” (2.4) and persisting in our quest for it will sustain us, like Cass and Lois, as we find ourselves over a barrel.

Works Cited

Brantley, Ben. “Setting Forth, the Wind in Her Sails.” Review of Wonder of the World, by David Lindsay- Abaire, The New York Times, 2 Nov. 2001, http://www.nytimes.com, Accessed 18 Jan.  2017.

Lindsay-Abaire, David. Wonder of the World. Dramatists Play Service, 2003.