Exercise #1:      Ghost book narrative

Many of my books have a kind of “ghost book,” a book that secretly—or not so secretly, as the case may be—stands behind my book, not just as its muse, but often as its literal stylistic and/or structural model.  … In the case of Philosophical Investigations and Bluets, the leaning against not only entailed working from Wittgenstein’s ideas qua ideas but also involved lifting concrete sentence constructions, locutions, and so on.  But there are insurmountable differences between us, which made the lifting productive.           

—Maggie Nelson, “A Sort of Leaning Against,” Writer’s Notebook II: Craft Essays from Tin House, p. 94

Using as your ghost book the text you selected from The Public Domain Review—or, if you like, another text entirely—write a 2-3 page piece that “leans against” the ghost book in whatever way(s) you choose.  Due April 18.


Exercise #2:     Documentary piece

Writing about Jane: A Murder, Raymond Danielson says:

[The book] poses difficult epistemological questions and struggles to resolve them by using poetic imagination to reconstruct the flotsam and jetsam of documentary remains, the scrap and trash left in the wake of ruin, the evidence of both what was once whole and how it was broken.         (“Narrative and Crime,” Michigan Quarterly Review, vol. XLIV, no. 4, Fall 2005)

Writing about Christian Hawkey’s Ventraki, Maggie Nelson says:

Is Ventrakl nonfiction? “Documentary Poetics”? Who cares—and I would hesitate to cast about for magic-stealing phrases which might detract from Hawkey’s rich investigation of the life and work of German poet Georg Trakl. Hawkey approaches his subject from every angle under the sun, ever-deepening the stakes of identification and translation, ever-reveling in the glory of strange & beautiful language.        (“Maggie Nelson on Nonfiction,” HTML Giant, May 25, 2011)

Pick a subject from “real life” that matters acutely to you.  A person, a mystery, a loss, a(n) historical disaster, something amazing seen from a train.  In a 3-page piece of any genre-stripe, approach this subject from as many angles as possible; reconstruct its scraps, assemble its remains.  Throw your voice into the evidence.  Due May 2.


Exercise #3:     Poem(s)

Pick two poems from Shiner, The Latest Winter, and/or Something Bright, Then Holes.  Identify an element in each poem that you’d like to play with in your own work.  The element can be macro (a particular approach to subject matter, a certain kind of voice, a pattern of repetition, a strategy of ligature, etc) or it can be at the level of the sentence (syntax, orthography, lineation, acoustics, diction, etc).  Drawing upon both of the elements you’ve selected, write 2-3 pages of poetry (a single poem, or two, or several—up to you).  Due May 16.


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