Poetic Prose: The Prose Poem (10 weeks)
The prose poem for writers of poetry, fiction, essays, and memoir
Which of us, in his ambitious moments, has not dreamed of the miracle of a poetic prose, musical, without rhyme and without rhythm, supple enough and rugged enough to adapt itself to the lyrical impulses of the soul, the undulations of the psyche, the prickings of consciousness? ..... Baudelaire (Paris Spleen)
The prose poem is a border genre that seems particularly suited to speaking a consciousness, the consciousness that the reader and writer encounter line by line, paragraph by paragraph, a natural prose lyricism composed from ordinary thought and speech. A paragraph can also be seen as a block, a visual space, a different type of border.
Besides introducing you to the prose poem, this course is designed to survey some of the theories and poems from movements in modern and contemporary off-center poetry, such as imagism, surrealism, objectivism, the New York School, Language writing, Oulipo, etc. This course is a combination of a literature course and workshop. You will write poems in prose that interact with the ideas and theories put forth in the lectures and readings
If you are a poet, working with sentences and paragraph might change your idea about what a poem is, revealing new possible rhythms, forms, approaches and genre sliding. If you are a fiction writer, working with the prose poem may help you work on style and inventive structures for writing.
Class outline --
Week 1: Imagism. We will read and discuss a short text about Ezra Pound's Imagism, classical ideas about writing with precision and directness ("luminous details"), as well as William Carlos Williams' call for writing that focuses on concrete particulars ("no ideas but in things"), especially things from one's locality. Pre-writing and discussion.
Week 2.Definitions & Continuations. We will read and discuss some definitions of the prose poem. There will be a prose poem/short story assignment that privileges images and things, coming from a place you know very well. Class critiques of each other's work.
Week 3. Dreams & Improvisations. We will explore some surreal approaches for writing. There will also be a selection of prose poems to read by Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Jacobs and improvisations by William Carlos Williams. One of the assignments will be to write a short prose account of a dream, daydream or improvisation following the mind as it wanders.
Week 4. Epiphanies. We will continue working with images and writing that traces consciousness. We will read some epiphanies written by James Joyce, and the assignment will focus on writing short prose epiphanies.
Week 5. Steinian Portrait. Gertrude Stein has been a major influence on many modernist and contemporary writers. We will read Stein's portrait of Picasso, as well as Laura Riding's Mademoiselle Comet. The assignment will be to write a prose portrait beginning with one theme or motif and then playing with repetition and accumulation.
Week 6.The cubists broke apart traditional literary ways of experiencing time and space. As a way of calling sequential ordering into question, they worked with collage methods, as well as unusual punctuation and fractured syntax. One of the possible assignments will be to write a prose poem, then find another text that has a slanted relationship to the subject in the prose poem, cut up both texts and then collage them together.
Week 7. We'll read about the objectivist poets and their ideas about historic and contemporary particulars, an extension of Williams' manifesto about "no idea but in things." Perhaps we will work with collecting and assembling material, perhaps the fragments of one particular day (or hour).
Week 8. Projective Verse & the Beats. If the line is related to be the breath, how can we translate projectivism into written prose? We'll read a few poems by Allen Ginsberg and parts of Charles Olson's essay and then we'll write prose poems that use space in unusual ways, reflecting the expressive nature of the individual writer, the relation of sound to body to paragraph. We'll also read an essay and some poems by Robert Bly whose ideas were "contrary" to Olson's.
Week 9.The New York School. We'll read a short essay and poems by New York School writers, first and second generation. One of the assignments will be to write a lunch hour poem in prose.
Week 10. NY School & Oulipo. We'll continue reading, thinking and writing in the New York School way, expanding experimentation through an Oulipo type constraints. One of the possible assignments will be to write prose poems as fourteen sentence sonnets. We'll read a transcript of sonnet workshop by Ted Berrigan.
Assignments to Go: At the end of the class, I will give you one extra lecture on language writing with an assignment and an anthology of prose poems with process notes and assignments that I collected from 28 contemporary poets.
Flash Fiction: Writing the Short-Short Story (10 weeks)
In the first volume of Sudden Fiction, the editor writes, "It may well be that the new popularity of the short-short story began in the spirit of experiment and wordplay in the 1960's" (xiv). In this class, we will approach writing flash fiction as an opportunity to experiment with approach, form, structure and style.
Attention to style and structure is very important to the writer of tiny fictions, just as it is important to poets. That's why this genre is often described as a borderline genre, in between poetry and prose. With that in mind, some of our assignments will begin with a form typically used in poetry, but instead of the line, we will be working with the sentence and the paragraph.
You will be able to write ten new tiny fictions during this course or you may choose instead to work on writing less and instead work on revisions. Each week you will read some fiction and some theory, engage in discussion, write and post your story, and give others in the class feedback on their writing. I will post a lecture and an assignment each week, and I will respond to your weekly submissions, giving you critical and supportive feedback. My objective is to introduce you to new approaches for writing and to encourage a supportive community of writers.
Please note that this course might be an intense graduate-like course (if you are inclined that way), involving reading stories and theory, writing fiction and responding to the fiction of others; however, it is possible to participate without reading all the theory or the links. Each week I provide a lot of material but you do not have to read it all. By just reading my lecture, writing your weekly story and responding to the works of others, you can learn a lot about the art of writing flash fiction.
Tentative Weekly Plan
Week One: Introduction: An Overview of the Class.
Discussion of some elements in fiction with excerpts from critics on fiction, as well as Ernest Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants" and a chapter from Ann Carson's Autobiography of Red. Informal journal writing for the first week.
Week Two: Haiku in Prose
Discussion of haiku and the importance of images and detail in fiction. Read examples of haiku by Kerouac, Richard Wright, Basho and Issa. Read a short selection from Banana Yoshimoto's novel, Kitchen. Write a short travel narrative with at least three or more haiku embedded. Class critiques of each other's work (to continue every week).
Week Three: Experimental Fiction?
Discuss the differences between experimental and traditional fiction writing, as well as stories by Bobbie Louise Hawkins, Lydia Davis, Anne Waldman, Grace Paley and William Carlos Williams. Assignment: Write an auto-flash fiction using material from your journal.
Week Four: Auto-Flash Fiction
Discuss automatic/autobiographical fiction writing and stories by Kenneth Koch and Yasunari Kawabata. Descriptive writing assignment.
Week Five: The New Novel Writers
Read selections from Alain Robbe- Grillet and Nathalie Sarraute. Discussion of the new novel project. Three possible assignments: Writing long sentences, sestina prose, or dream assignment.
Week Six: Vertical Fields & Dream Narratives
Discussion of stories by Fielding Dawson, Robert Walser, Lynn Crawford, Harry Matthews, Barry Yourgrau, Richard Brautigan, Robert Creeley, Lydia Davis, Jayne Anne Philips and Kenneth Koch. Text-inside-a-text assignment, following-a- line-or-a-shade, retelling an old story, or the hyper-language- conscious narrator assignment.
Week Seven: A Text Inside a Text/ Retelling/ or/Tilling the Telling
Discussion of stories by Julio Cortazar, Dale Herd, David Kaplan, Charles Baxter, Raymond Carver, Steve Katz, Robert Walser, Franz Kafka, Lydia Davis and Gertrude Stein. Assignment options: Sentence- paragraph life story; a fictional monologue that mostly tells rather than shows; a modern parable; a narrative with disruption.
Week Eight: One Sentence at a Time & Anti-Stories
Discussion of stories by T. Coraghessan Boyle, Lewis Warsh, Linh Dinh, Laura Riding, Ron Sukenick, Ed Dorn and Franz Kafka. Assignments options: restricted senses; I wanna be someone else; writing about a crime while resisting focusing on the crime; and accepting the unacceptable.
Week Nine: Something's Wrong Here.
Discussion of stories by Pagan Kennedy, Mitch Berman, Eugenia Montale, Ferdinando Sorrentino, Ed Dorn. Assignments: Write a story that unfolds from a list.
Week Ten: Narrative Lists & Exercises in Style
Discussion of stories by Steve Katz, Jamaica Kincaid, Bobbie Louise Hawkins and Cathryn Alpert. Transformation assignment with examples from Raymond Queneau and Clarice Lispector.
Building Fiction Image by Image (10 weeks)
For writers of fiction, memoir or flash.
Richard Wright was a great fiction writer and at the end of his life he wrote a phenomenal collection of haiku. (Haiku are simple poems constructed with two images.) In Jack Kerouac's novels, many of his sentences walk a haiku line. As a poet, fiction writer and a teacher, I have learned that at almost every level of writing (from beginner to advanced) can be improved by adding more particulars, more detail. Most of the poetry I love is full of particularities. In this class we will use short Asian forms, such as the haiku, to get as close as possible to experience and then to inspire and help develop short fictions or memoirs. Every other week, we will write image-poems. Then in the intermittent weeks we will write and respond to the prose stories. You will have the option of writing individual flash stories or building a short story in five sections. Besides, becoming more skilled at working with detail in narrative, writing haiku may also bring more meditative moments into your life and more awareness of the natural world. The teacher will write along with the students.
Haiku Workshop: Imagine a character (or yourself) taking a walk. The character is worried or concerned about something and he/she has a secret. Write as many haiku as you can about what he/she observes in this quiet walk. Remember haiku are always in the present tense.
Prose workshop: Write the first section of your story (2-3 pages max) incorporating these haiku into the prose.
Haiku Workshop: Your character moves faster in the second section. Maybe she/he runs or climbs. Write as many haiku as you can, with her observations. (Remember the secret or problem as you write the haiku.)
Prose Workshop: Incorporate these haiku into the second section of the story. Make sure the secret or the problem is alluded to (or developed)
Haiku Workshop: She/he is searching somewhere. Again write the haiku.
Prose workshop: Critiquing sections at 1-3
Haiku Workshop: She/he is traveling somewhere.
Prose Workshop for section 4
Haiku Workshop: She/he is standing still. Some sense resolution or hesitation.
Prose workshop: critiquing sections 1-5
This class was one of the best courses I have done. It gave me new insight, as well as practical experience, into writing prose which is alive with concrete images. Barbara's guidance and enabling feedback pushed my writing to a new level. I highly recommend it.
From FLASH to SUDDEN to SHORT FICTION (10 weeks)
For writers of fiction, memoir or flash.
When I was a beginning writer, I worked with a writer, composing stories from various points of view. This was immensely helpful to me and so I have taught this course in fiction writing workshops at the university. In this on-line workshop you will practice writing from various points of view and with various forms, moving further and further away from the self. Each week, you will read a selection of short stories that have been written from the weekly point of view. You should purchase Points of View: An Anthology of Short Stories, Revised Edition, edited by James Moffett and Kenneth R. McElheny, (NY: Mentor, 1995). (Click here to view the book on Amazon in a new tab.) I will also provide other reading material and some theory regarding fiction and narrative.
The structure of the class will somewhat resemble the following--
Week One: Introductions and Discussion
Week Two: stream of consciousness
Write a one page story
Week Three: interior monologue and dramatic monologue
Write a two to three page story
Week Four and Five: letter and diary narration and / or unreliable narrator
Write a four to five page story
Week Six: detached autobiography
Write a one page story
Week Seven: memoir
Write a two to three page story
Week Eight and Nine: Subjective narration, single/dual/multiple
Write a four to five page story
Week Ten: camera eye/ear and myth/folk tales
Write a one page story
Borderline Writing: A Writing/Lit Workshop (10 weeks)
New ideas for writing often emerge at the borderline between genres. In this class we will read exciting contemporary-modern writing and look closely at what happens when a writer is able to maintain our interest in story while at the same time moving away from an emphasis on time toward the space of the page and/or the moment. Then we are closer to poetry. And we wonder-is this a poem or a novel? In this class you will read five novel-like poems (or poetic stories) where the author experiments with combining line and sentence and/or image and story. One week we will read a book and respond with some journal writing and discussion; in this week, we will also work together to invent a list of potential writing situations stemming from our reading and discussion. The following week will be a writing workshop and you will bring copies of your writing for the class to read, respond to and critique. I will provide you with some critical and biographical essays as we go along. There will be an optional reading for a free eleventh week.
The books for the class will be:
Jean Toomer. Cane New York: Boni and Liveright, 1923.
Anne Carson. Autobiography of Red. New York: Random House Vintage, 1998.
Marguerite Duras. The Lover. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.
Alice Notley. The Descent of Alette. New York: Penguin, 1996.
Michael Ondaatje. Coming Through Slaughter. New York: Penguin, 1976.
Selah Saterstrom. The Pink Institution<. New York: Coffee House, 2004. (Optional reading/extra week)
Week One and Two: Toomer
Week Three and Four: Duras
Week Five and Six: Carson
Week Seven and Eight: Notley
Week Nine and Ten: Ondaatje
Week Eleven: Saterstrom (Optional)
Refresher Composition: Writing from Narrative to Essay (4 weeks)
This course is meant to be a refresher essay writing course. We will focus on writing the full essay: exploring the topic with various pre-writing exercises, focusing, developing the thesis and organizing the material. There will be two essay assignments and you will write one draft of each.
For each assignment, we will read and discuss a short story or a narrative essay. During the course, you will write a literary narrative and a personal essay. You should become more comfortable with finding and organizing ideas through free-writing and note-taking, and you will learn how to write effective introductions and conclusions.
This will not be a grammar-centered course. Instead this course will be ideal for someone who is fairly comfortable with writing sentences and thinking about topics, but feels insecure about putting it all together. In short, this course will help you to engage your critical thinking and present your perspectives with more awareness, clarity and grace.
About Barbara Henning
BARBARA HENNING, is a poet and fiction writer, author of three novels and seven books of poetry. Her latest book of poems, Cities and Memory was published in 2010 by Chax Press and My Autobiography was published in 2007 by United Artists. She has published three novels, Thirty Miles to Rosebud (Blazevox 2009);You Me and the Insects (2005), and Black Lace (2001), were published by Spuyten Duyvil. Other works include a series of photo-poem pamphlets; Detective Sentences (S.D., 2001), In Between (Spectacular Diseases, England); Me & My Dog (Poetry New York, 1999); Love Makes Thinking Dark (United Artists, 1995); The Passion of Signs (Leave Books, 1994); Smoking in the Twilight Bar (United Artists, l988). Poems and stories have been published in many magazines, including Poetry International, Zen Monster, Jacket Magazine, the Paris Review, Fiction International, The Brooklyn Rail, The World, Talisman, Lingo, Shiny, Not Enough Night, Hanging Loose and many others. During the early nineties, she was the editor of Long News in the Short Century, a journal of art and writing.
Barbara holds an MA in Creative Writing and a Ph.D.in English (Narrative Theory and Fiction Writing). She is Professor Emerita from Long Island University in Brooklyn, teaching creative writing and literature courses. In addition to teaching with us (and LIU), she teaches in Naropa University's on-line MFA program, as well as courses for the Poetry Center at University of Arizona in Tucson.
For more information visit her web site here.
I loved the class content & assignments... The content was of a very professional/university level; it is exactly what I would want from an on-line class... Barbara's critiques were very clear, delivered as ideas to ponder and consider; and gave me much to work with during the class and even now, as I continue to revise & study.
The prose poem course with Barbara Henning was excellent. She was a generous and stimulating teacher, and gave us great ideas and materials. I'd really like to take her course again.
The lessons and assignments were well conceived and comprehensive. Considerable effort went into designing the content of the course. Barbara was a very attentive mentor, gave honest and valuable feedback, and a pleasure to work with.
Barbara is a superb teacher. She tailors her comments precisely to each student's needs. She is a joy to study with. Your classes are fantastic!
This was my first online class experience and I must say that it exceeded all of my expectations. Barbara was the best! She is so competent, receptive, and generous with her time and attention to our writing that I can only say she could not have been better. The resource materials she provided as well as each week's assignments will be useful to me for years to come. In summary, it was a terrific experience and one that I will highly recommend to others.
I want to thank Barbara for such an enlightening, hands-on flash fiction class. She introduced us to some wonderful new authors and challenged us with an array of writing techniques.
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