Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Class Notes from Feb. 24

All information given here is attributable to Sandy Dorr (unless prefaced with "My notes").  Dorr is teaching a series of eight writing sessions in Grand Junction, Colorado

Notes: Discussed two poems by Ellen Bass, with emphasis on Irony and Ambiguity
  • "Looking at a Diadegma Insulare Wasp Under a Microscope" from Like a Beggar
  • "Birdsong from my Patio" from The Human Line. then these authors....
  • Annunciation by Meridele Le Sueur (Salute to Spring)
  • writings from The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, including the prologue by Elizabeth Kolbert (pp. 148-172) entitled "The Forest and the Trees"
from Dorr's Notes:

Irony...the reader's or audience's awareness of a reality that differs from the reality the characters perceive (dramatic irony) or the literal meaning of the author's words (verbal irony).  In Annunciation, we look at the irony present in a a pregnant woman's narrative during the 1930's, an American writer trying to understand trees and their significance to the world's warming, in a Peruvian forest, and a poet's attempt to understand the beauty of birds eating contaminated food, or a wasp whose head-polishing reminds her of a girl across the alley, brushing her hair

Ambiguity...A situation expressed in such a way as to admit more than one possible interpretation; also, the way of expressing such a situation.  Often writers intend some element of their work to be ambiguous, but sometimes create unintentional ambiguity, vague or confusing to the reader

1)  My notes from "...Wasp Under a Microscope":

Descriptions of the wasp's waist, the breathing of her thorax, brushing her hair almost like a human; all strange ways of describing actions of a wasp, but familiar.  She stirs up more than one emotion as we need differing emotions and feelings to keep us interested.  Oppositional forces make good writings and readings.

Actions and formations need to take place, as in there is a beginning, a middle and an end.  The more mysterious the transitions, the more interesting the read.

Looking at Ellen Bass, she goes from known truths and examinations to realizations of sorrow and tragedy. There is something Wrong in Paradise with loss, then at the end of the poem "Birdsong," the
songs impale the air: the opposition of despair, going on to hope

2)  My notes from "The Forest and the Trees"

She describes in a physical way what is happening across the world, giving explanations, theories, all fair and balanced
from page 157: Images: tree plots of 2.5 acres; she compares trees to teenagers running, then more comparisons of growth of trees to growth of children
from page 158: Images and distance: good uses and very playful as she enjoys the use of language
from page 163: imagery of "headlamps like coal miners"
from page 172: she has an "odd sense of pride"
Kolbert steps back, explains, often uses research in her writings for further impact

3)  My notes from "Annunciation"

Imagery is used throughout as in "I feel like a pear"  hanging ripe from the trees,

For next class on March 10: (copied from Sandra Dorr's handout)

  • Shawn Lowe (read her piece and respond)
  • A short writing exercise naming twelve important events in your life
  • Read as background to writing assignment the following "The Lover of Horses" by Tess Gallagher, an autobiographical short story (Sandy will email these)
  • First chapters of Books & Islands in Ojibwe Country by Louise Erdrich (Sandy will email this)
  • "Veteran's Day" by Sandra Dorr, radio essay from The Milk of Paradise (Sandy provided on 2/24/15 in class)
  • All of these stories concern ancestral roots, each writer giving us her sense of struggle, joy and truth in what she has inherited from her family, told with certainty as well as ambiguity and mystery, sincerity as well as irony.    Note that what was strange, odd, weird, or bewildering in writers' lives - our ancestral memories, recovered -- transform into the richness of our narratives.
  • Assignment: write a short piece, a poem or fictional or autobiographical story, that comes from your ancestral memories, as far back as you can remember (as a child or adult).  Tell us a story that gives us one or more specific ways of being you have inherited from your ancestors, and its effect on you.  Look at this as an exercise in circling the universe you have grown up within, and try to express the largest circle of your life.

Critiques from my writing of "Woman with Open Eyes"

  • Need to use more verbs in writing, set the story as on a stage
  • Perhaps use first person throughout
  • Tighten up the story
  • Say what Nancy is doing sooner in the story, at the very beginning, her current role. what exactly?
  • Clarify her earlier role and how she knew to interact with "client" or "patient"
  • Why is she a volunteer?  for how long?
  • Use more intereaction among characters
  • use shorter sentences for tightening up
  • if the focus of the story is Nancy's focus, say it early on
  • Use more physicality in the bodies of the characters
  • Why was Nancy there?  Begin with explanation, don't try to let reader figure it out
  • Take out HCFA rules or else explain it; how did I know it was a good facility?
  • Too much railing and maybe too many "maybes"
  • Too much questioning...distracting
  • Write more about my faith that brought me to the woman with open eyes
  • Talk more about my visit with the person
  • Why did I not talk to the woman with open eyes if I knew her name?? Was that a turning point?
  • Why was I there as a Eucharistic minister and what is a Eucharistic minister?
  • Why not speak to the woman?  What prevented that?
  • Why write the story?  What did I want people to learn or hear?  Go more into motives
  • Use more adjectives, use more color; it all seemed grey and it seemed too stark, too cold
  • Give more descriptions of the roommate
  • Way too much detail of the product Ensure; cut lots of that out
  • More about what the woman would have been like if her eyes were opened during her life
  • The Post Script might be a prayer at the end for both the woman and Nancy

Sandy Dorr's specifics on "Woman with the Open Eyes" (paraphrased...)
perhaps use first person;  let's see what Nancy does, step by step, give her more to do so that the physicality of the story is more convincing. Her interior monologue is strong but we need a real physical structure and more of it.  The deliberate pacing builds suspense of the story.  In any work, the characters must undergo change.  Nancy needs to gain more insight after her visit.  What else might she recognize?    lots of notes on the and re-read for revision

Many thanks for all who read and critiqued !

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