All WRT courses are restricted to graduate students in the Michener Center’s MFA program or graduate students in our affiliated programs in English, Theatre or RTF, unless special permission is granted. Click for other departments’ workshops in fiction, poetry, playwriting, or screenwriting.
WRT 380S: THE PERCEPTION SHIFT
Wednesday, 2:00 pm – 5:00 pm
FDH Seminar Room
HOW MEANING IS MADE IN TIME BOUND ART
A perception shift is, broadly, a surprising, significant relationship between two things. It is what happens when we re-see something. When we have an “Ah, ha!” or “Oh! Now I see!” moment. Or, it’s the moment we get the punch line of a joke and we see that it should have been obvious to us all along. Or it’s the moment we suddenly get something that’s been staring us in the face. Or, it’s when an optical illusion resolves, say, Wittgenstein’s duck rabbit, where we see the duck, we see the duck, we see the duck, and then–BAM, we see the rabbit and then we can’t figure out why we didn’t see it all along.
IMAGINE AN ILLUSTRATION HERE OF THE DUCK RABBIT
It is the pleasure that blooms inside us in the moment we feel the surprising rightness of a good rhyme. It is the deep inevitability we feel as a short story ends both the only way it could and a way we never imagined, at the same time.
A play, a story, or a poem is a unique, self-organizing process that generates new states of order spontaneously out of nothing: like a cartoon character drawing herself. And every poem, every short story, and every play has a perception shift, it has that “oh, now I see” moment as its climax.
Most of us have been taught to think of a play (and while I believe the perception shift to be the great triggering mechanism of all our art forms, I’m going to primarily talk about plays for the purpose of this description) as a straight line, heading up at an incline—they may be some periods when the action or pace of the play slows, there may be the occasional moment of chaos when the movement of the action is uncertain, but, in the end, a play generates/is generated by a dramatic climb that arrives at a climax.
But a play is nothing like that climb, that straight line. A play is a mobius strip that the play builds inside the audience member that takes them back to where they started, changed.
IMAGINE AN ILLUSTRATION HERE OF A MOBIUS STRIP
A work of art happens inside us. We are acted upon, and we are changed. And that is what we long for, and why we are willing to pay our money and spend the treasure of our time and attention for two hours in the theatre, for a weekend with a book. When we go to the theatre, or read a poem or story, it doesn’t matter whether the characters change or not, as long as we are changed.
The transformation that matters to us is our own.
This is an audience/reader centric way of looking at work. Nothing on the stage or page can ever matter as much as what happens in the house—or rather: what happens in our fictions happens in order to make something happen in the audience. The things we write are not the ultimate product we generate: that product is insight.
This class is about how the perception shift creates and triggers that insight. We will discuss not what a given work means, but how it means it.
We’ll be investigating at least 2 texts every class period, mostly plays, but also essays, poems, novels. The question of how art is and is not a moral instrument may be asked. We’ll be investigating the relationship of time and memory and how they are manipulated in the time bound art forms. We’ll take about metaphor all the time, and explore the great beauty and utility of visual metaphor and how it can collect and organize the dramatic forces of a play.
Work for the class will range from short assignments, some critical, some creative, to class presentations.
Writers we will read include Sam Shepard, Elizabeth Bishop, Lynn Nottage, Martin Amis, Ben Lerner, Sarah Ruhl, Oscar Wilde, Ta Nehisi Coates, Carl Dennis, Martin McDonagh, Tennesse Williams, August Wilson.
WRT 380W: POETRY WORKSHOP
Mondays, 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm
FDH Seminar Room
Your own writing is the text for this course. Together we will scrutinize your poems with traditional, experimental, and developing discourses in mind. Bring poems to class that are rough, with something at stake. We will begin by sight-reading single poems, asking:
What is the strategy of your poem? Is there an argument? Is it / how is it voiced? Is there a structure? What is its form trying to accomplish?
Advancing to poems-in-portfolio, we will ask:
Is there an inquiry being shaped that fulfills the destiny of a polished manuscript? What activities of the “poetic” could travel into other literary genres and other art forms?
Your portfolios will be due one week before they are discussed so that we may study them.
We will investigate your relationship to historical and current practices. One of the subtexts of this course will regard our assumptions about truth and beauty, which abound in Middle Eastern, European, African, and Asian thought as much as in British romanticism. What is the current thinking about truth and beauty in American poetry, and how are these inherent assumptions, their substitutes, or their counter-arguments represented in your work?
WRT 380W: NOVEL WRITING WORKSHOP
Wednesday, 9:00 am – 12:00 noon
FDH Seminar Room
The sole focus of this course will be on helping students either to finish a novel or to finish a substantial portion and have a confident understanding of where the story is going. There will be no required reading other than material I may bring in to illustrate a practical story-telling point. We will meet once a week as a group to read and discuss work-in-progress, but from time to time I may use the classroom hours to meet individually with the students to talk about plotting, character development, etc. as it applies to their own projects. Because every novel is different, and every writer works in his or her own manner, I want to keep the structure of the course somewhat loose and open to improvisation. I will function less as a professor than as a hands-on editor, reacting to the work, suggesting changes, offering guidance about marketing and other practical matters. In addition, I anticipate inviting a few successful novelists or publishing professionals to visit the class and talk about their experiences, both in writing and in selling their work.