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FREE! A 35th Anniversary Reading
FREE! A 35th Anniversary Reading
A compilation of readings by Larry Levis, Agha Shahid Ali, Tom Andrews, Renate Wood, and Steve Orlen. Note: this reading is free with any purchase. Simply add it to your cart along with your additional purchase(s).
  MIXING IT UP (Panel): Marianne Boruch, Karen Brennan, Jeremy Gavron, Robin Romm, Alan Shapiro, David Shields (January 2014)
MIXING IT UP (Panel): Marianne Boruch, Karen Brennan, Jeremy Gavron, Robin Romm, Alan Shapiro, David Shields (January 2014)
What prompts a poet to write fiction, or poets/fiction writers to undertake a memoir? Is the impulse toward “another genre” purely a formal choice, or is it made necessary by the material to be served? Are valuable lessons brought back to one’s “primary” genre? Or, will some of us spend our writing lives happily alternating among poems, novels, stories, essays, memoir and admixtures that defy taxonomy? Six faculty members report from own their experiences crossing the genre divide.
ALESHIRE, JOAN:  Out of Extremity: Emotion and Conscience (July 1989)
ALESHIRE, JOAN: Out of Extremity: Emotion and Conscience (July 1989)
Joan Aleshire considers how literature addressing extremes of human experience must establish a balance between the personal and the universal, the inner and the outer world. Looking at poems by Bishop, Kunitz, Lowell, Mandelstam, Olds and others, she warns against glorifying or overdramatizing the pain which is a fundamental part of life. At the same time, she argues, with Kafka, that the well-made work of literature wields the power of an ax “to break the frozen sea within us” and deliver us to ourselves.
ALI, AGHA SHAHID:  Defense of the Canon: A Darkly Defense of Dead White Males (January 1998)
ALI, AGHA SHAHID: Defense of the Canon: A Darkly Defense of Dead White Males (January 1998)
Agha Shahid Ali examines the difference between subject matter and form, asserting that “the more realized the form, the deeper the content.” He tests his principle in the context of the English Canon formed in India to serve the purposes of colonialism. Quoting the provocative claim that “One shelf of English literature is superior to all the art in the history of the world,” Ali offers an historical and political understanding of the standards set by English literature and the effect of these standards on writers today. Among the texts considered are Paul Celan’s “Death Fugue,” Wallace Stevens’ “Snow Man,” and essays by T.S. Eliot, Salman Rushdie, John Ashbery, V.S. Naipaul and others.
ALLBERY, DEBRA: Learning to Read (January 2013)
ALLBERY, DEBRA: Learning to Read (January 2013)
“One cannot read a book,” Nabokov wrote, “one can only reread it.” Delivered as the opening talk of the January 2013 residency, this meditation on rereading explores how our ongoing and evolving relationships with signal texts mirror the development and re-vision of individual and cultural aesthetics.
BAKER, DAVID: Daring, Drama, and Melodrama (July 2007)
BAKER, DAVID: Daring, Drama, and Melodrama (July 2007)
Writing teachers frequently urge students to “take a risk,” but what, asks David Baker, does taking a risk really mean? Through close readings of poems by Charles Wright, Carolyn Forché, Czeslaw Miłosz, Louise Glück, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Franz Wright, Linda Gregerson and others, Baker reflects on what makes a poem successfully daring as opposed to melodramatic; he argues that we substitute “drama” for “daring,” focusing on qualities of text rather than poet--the drama infused through narrative, rhetoric, and form.
BAKOPOULOS, DEAN: Baby I've Changed, I Swear: Creating Turning Points in Prose & Poetry (January 2012)
BAKOPOULOS, DEAN: Baby I've Changed, I Swear: Creating Turning Points in Prose & Poetry (January 2012)
Fiction writer Dean Bakopoulos defines a “turning point” as an internal process in a speaker or character that affects the course of the poem or story, and sets into motion what will become the climax, resolution, conclusion, or epiphany. He identifies and considers the internal moments that are seeds of change, leaps towards epiphany, or transformations in stories and poems, including Richard Bausch’s “The Fireman’s Wife,” Junot Diaz’s “Nilda,” Mary Gaitskill’s “Tiny Smiling Daddy,” Reginald McKnight’s “The Kind of Lights That Shines on Texas,” Donald Hall’s “Affirmation,” Franz Wright’s “To Myself,” J. Allyn Rosser’s “As If,” and Richard Hugo’s, “Degrees of Gray in Philipsburg.”
BAKOPOULOS, DEAN: Let Us Consider the Kitchen: The User's Guide to Lists, Maps, and Inventories (January 2014)
BAKOPOULOS, DEAN: Let Us Consider the Kitchen: The User's Guide to Lists, Maps, and Inventories (January 2014)
Bakopoulos’s discussion class examines the uses of lists and litanies in poetry and prose as a way to heighten momentum and illuminate syntax. Among the texts discussed are William Maxwell’s So Long, See You Tomorrow and works by Tillie Olsen, Susan Minot, and Stuart Dybek.
BAKOPOULOS, DEAN: Postponement in Fiction (January 2010)
BAKOPOULOS, DEAN: Postponement in Fiction (January 2010)
Shaped by Lorca’s concept of duende, Dean Bakopoulos’ lecture explores the effect that moments of stillness can have when they come against backdrops of intense action. Bakoupolos draws on fiction by John Cheever, James Joyce, and Jane Smiley, poetry by Richard Hugo and James Wright, and Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” to consider how these writers allow their characters, and their readers, to access the “deep song” in their lives.
BAKOPOULOS, DEAN: Rainbows for All God's Children (& Other Horror Stories) (January 2013)
BAKOPOULOS, DEAN: Rainbows for All God's Children (& Other Horror Stories) (January 2013)
A meditation on the challenges of narrative momentum in prose and poetry, this lecture attempts to use lessons from the horror genre and apply them to writing that is not always plot-driven. Among the stories discussed are Z.Z. Packer’s “Brownies,” Stuart Dybek’s “Paper Lanterns,” and “Dance in America” by Lorrie Moore.
BAKOPOULOS, DEAN: The Lyricism of Upheaval (January 2011)
BAKOPOULOS, DEAN: The Lyricism of Upheaval (January 2011)
Dean Bakopoulos challenges the workshop maxim that “less is more” and asks what happens when writers drop “the cloak of restraint” and move into the “realm of excess.” Fiction which seeks to enact emotional upheaval and intensity need not be melodramatic, he argues. Drawing on examples from fiction, poetry, and music, Bakopoulos looks at the strategies used in Nathaniel West’s Miss Lonelyhearts, Barry Hannah’s “Love Too Long,” Aleksander Hemon’s Nowhere Man, and Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, as well as Sufjan Stevens’ “Chicago.”
BAKOPOULOS, DEAN: We Never Close: A Heartbroken Manifesto against Tidiness, Resolution, and Brevity (January 2016)
BAKOPOULOS, DEAN: We Never Close: A Heartbroken Manifesto against Tidiness, Resolution, and Brevity (January 2016)
Dean Bakopoulos examines work fueled by heartbreak so surreal it cannot follow the tidy or predictable forms of traditional stories and poems. Instead, the work rambles, digresses, glosses over the important, elevates the mundane, forces a form, and then kicks the form apart. Looking at work by Lorrie Moore, Edward Hirsch, and James Baldwin, Bakopoulos explores how such works manipulate the reader and build conflict, even in the absence of plot.
BARNHARDT, WILTON: Don't Take That Tone With Me (January 2008)
BARNHARDT, WILTON: Don't Take That Tone With Me (January 2008)
Wilton Barnhardt: Don’t Take That Tone With Me How often are we tempted to write solemnly about solemn subjects and joyfully about joyful subjects, matching style with content to achieve a so-called appropriate tone? In this lecture, Wilton Barnhardt reflects on the surprise and rich layers of meaning that can be produced when the writer uses an “anomalous tone,” or a tone that is seemingly at odds with the subject matter; Barnhardt looks at work by John Brehm, James Joyce, Randall Kenan, and Imre Kertesz for examples.
BAROT, RICK: Poems and the Impure (January 2006)
BAROT, RICK: Poems and the Impure (January 2006)
Neruda described the “poetry we are seeking” as “corroded as if by acid…a poetry as impure as a suit or a body.” In this lecture, Rick Barot examines the categories of the pure and impure in poetry, and reflects on how a poem might inhabit the “brilliant threshold between these two energies.” Drawing on examples by Petrarch, Susan Stewart, Marianne Moore and Campbell McGrath, Barot argues that it is precisely their thematic and formal “impurities” that make the best poems what they are.
BAROT, RICK: The First Herbert (January 2007)
BAROT, RICK: The First Herbert (January 2007)
Through close attention to the “ingenious formal strategies” in poems by George Herbert, Rick Barot argues both the importance and modernity of this early 17th century Metaphysical poet, showing how Herbert navigates the dialectic between faith and doubt through “intricate craft.” Barot reflects on how this dialectic runs “in the bloodstream” of poetry now, and looks at the ways in which Herbert’s lineage is apparent in contemporary poets from Louise Glück to Paul Tillick to Olena Kalytiak Davis.
BAROT, RICK: The Sea and the Zebra: Visual Effects in Poems (January 2011)
BAROT, RICK: The Sea and the Zebra: Visual Effects in Poems (January 2011)
Rick Barot explores the differences between description and image and examines the ways in which images in poetry are arranged, presented, or withheld. While description is often used to clarify, Barot points out that the most effective images rely on distortion. Through close readings of Philip Larkin’s “As Bad As a Mile,” Elaine Scarry’s “Dreaming by the Book”, Philip Larkin’s “As Bad as a Mile,” Robert Creeley’s “Something,” Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73, Robert Frost’s “Out, Out—,” Laura Jensen’s “As the Window Darkens,” C.K. Williams’ “Droplets” and others, Barot demonstrates how poets can manipulate images to communicate more than what mere description can.
BAROT, RICK: The Voice In Question (January 2012)
BAROT, RICK: The Voice In Question (January 2012)
How does a writer craft a voice which is able to compel a reader’s belief as well as surprise her? Investigating works as diverse as Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot,” Thomas McGuane’s “War and Peace,” and Adrienne Rich’s “The Trees,” Barot demonstrates the ways in which tone, conveyed through a poem’s syntax, diction, and formal elements, is crucial to creating a truly individualized voice rather than one of mere caricature.
BAXTER, CHARLES: Dramatic Interventions: The Request Moment (July 2013)
BAXTER, CHARLES: Dramatic Interventions: The Request Moment (July 2013)
Dramatic situations are often set into motion when one character makes a request of another; poems, too, may acquire a certain energy from requests made within them. These requests tell us something about the social group in which they occur, and they tell us about the obligations one character may have for another. Examples are offered from Shakespeare, A. E. Housman, Shirley Jackson, Mario Puzo's The Godfather, and others.
BAXTER, CHARLES: Fugitive Subjectivity (July 2014)
BAXTER, CHARLES: Fugitive Subjectivity (July 2014)
What happens within a story when there may be no one to whom a story can be told, or the story itself is somehow unspeakable? Baxter explores “fugitive subjectivity”—subjectivity without an outlet—in the toxic narratives that result, focusing on John Cheever’s “The Country Husband.”
BAXTER, CHARLES: Narrative Urgency (July 2010)
BAXTER, CHARLES: Narrative Urgency (July 2010)
Narratives should be organized, Charles Baxter remarks in this lecture, “around the truth of the material and not the deployment of devices.” Yet urgency is crucial to good fiction. Drawing on Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Paula Fox’s The Widow’s Children, Joan Silber’s The Size of the World, Anton Chekhov’s “The Lady with the Pet Dog,” and Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust, Baxter offers a variety of strategies writers can use to deepen suspense and tension in their work.
BAXTER, CHARLES: Regarding Happiness (July 2008)
BAXTER, CHARLES: Regarding Happiness (July 2008)
Why, Charles Baxter asks, is happiness such an intractable subject for treatment in extended dramatic forms, whether poetry or fiction? While reflecting on the difficulties in writing about happiness, Baxter offers several strategies writers can use to approach the subject; he turns to Czeslaw Milosz’s “Gift,” Ernest Hemingway’s “Big Two-Hearted River,” and John Cheever’s “The Worm in the Apple” for examples.
BAXTER, CHARLES: Sonia's Last Speech (July 2006)
BAXTER, CHARLES: Sonia's Last Speech (July 2006)
Charles Baxter examines Sonia’s closing speech in Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya as a lens to look at sentimentality in relation to the need to fend off despair in fiction. While Sonia’s speech at first feels unconvincing even to her, Baxter argues, at a certain point she begins to “believe her own stories”; this complicated moment produces a kind of “double-voicing,” or a tension between what is real and what is hoped for. Baxter goes on to discuss double-voicing in work by Paula Fox, Gustave Flaubert, and Donald Justice.
BAXTER, CHARLES: The Poet's Story and the Dramatic Image (July 2015)
BAXTER, CHARLES: The Poet's Story and the Dramatic Image (July 2015)
Looking at work by Sherwood Anderson, Janet Kauffman, Wright Morris, and others, Baxter’s six-part lecture investigates dramatic images which carry the weight of a story’s emotions—which “stop time altogether for the sake of an almost mythic intensity.”
BERNARDI, ADRIA: Narrative Distance and the Visual Image and Hemingway (January 2006)
BERNARDI, ADRIA: Narrative Distance and the Visual Image and Hemingway (January 2006)
Beginning by admitting that she has never been able to “get” Hemingway, Adria Bernardi explores what it is about Hemingway’s narrators that leave her feeling “locked-out,” unable to access these characters’ emotional worlds. Through careful readings of several of Hemingway’s stories, Bernardi investigates how Hemingway’s use of narrative distance in relationship to visual images allows the reader to stand next to the narrator, and she reflects on what makes this narrative distance both challenging and rewarding.
BERNARDI, ADRIA: Spandrels, Spark, and a Leap Over the Tombstone: A Discussion of (Swift) Connections and (Unexpected) Associations Made Outside Chronological Sequence (January 2005)
BERNARDI, ADRIA: Spandrels, Spark, and a Leap Over the Tombstone: A Discussion of (Swift) Connections and (Unexpected) Associations Made Outside Chronological Sequence (January 2005)
How can fiction writers, as Muriel Spark put it, give “disjointed happenings a shape”? Adria Bernardi considers the ways that narrative can be driven by association, often of the resonant, seemingly small image, as well as craft strategies of voice and tonality, and precision of image and language. Drawing on non-fiction about writing by Robert Boswell and Italo Calvino, Bernardi looks, for examples in fiction, at Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron and Muriel Spark’s The Girls of Slender Means.
BERNARDI, ADRIA: Visual Image and Noise in Eudora Welty (January 2007)
BERNARDI, ADRIA: Visual Image and Noise in Eudora Welty (January 2007)
The movement between the inner and the outer, and the primacy of the visual image, are central to the poetics of Eudora Welty, Adria Bernardi argues. Bernardi looks at essays and three stories by Welty to consider how visual images can function at moments of transition, and in particular moments of transition into different ways of seeing; she suggests that such images can offer the writer opportunities to move into an alternative point of view or level of consciousness.
BETTY ADCOCK: Imperfect Wonders: A Look at Some Poems by James Dickey (January 2004)
BETTY ADCOCK: Imperfect Wonders: A Look at Some Poems by James Dickey (January 2004)
Betty Adcock explores themes of death, survival, and guilt in the work of James Dickey, tracing these themes to biographical circumstances but arguing, too, that the poems should be considered in their own right. Adcock focuses on poems Dickey wrote before 1967, including “The Driver,” “The Lifeguard,” “Scarred Girl,” “Chenille,” “Reincarnation 1,” and “A Screened Porch in the Country,” considering how the sense of the mystical in them is rooted in the immediate and real.
BORUCH, MARIANNE: Heavy Lifting (January 2006)
BORUCH, MARIANNE: Heavy Lifting (January 2006)
“Let’s face it,” Marianne Boruch remarks, “a poem matters because it’s about eternal things: death, love, knowledge, time.” Using metaphors of lightness and weight, Boruch asks how poets can lift these heavy subjects and give them new life, how poems can manage “the problem of flying.” To consider this question, she turns to Leonardo Da Vinci’s journals, accounts of the Wright brothers, as well as poems by Adrien Stoutenburg, Robert Hayden, Philip Larkin, John Berryman, and Emily Dickinson.
BORUCH, MARIANNE: Is and Was (January 2007)
BORUCH, MARIANNE: Is and Was (January 2007)
If meaning, as George Oppen argued, is “the instant of meaning,” then, Marianne Boruch remarks, “that instant, that click, involves time.” It also, in our representation of it, involves verbs—a whole category of language that “we’ve invented to mime that click.” In this lecture, Boruch looks at poems by Eavan Boland, William Stafford, and Carl Phillips to consider how poems can manage shifts between the present and past tense as a way to open up into the “potentially infinite.”
BORUCH, MARIANNE: O'Connor and Bishop: Closely, at a Distance (July 2011)
BORUCH, MARIANNE: O'Connor and Bishop: Closely, at a Distance (July 2011)
Marianne Boruch examines tonal distance and imagistic precision in the work of two perhaps unlikely correspondents—Flannery O’Connor and Elizabeth Bishop. Drawing on O’Connor’s fiction, Bishop’s poetry, their visual art, and the letters they exchanged, Boruch explores the mutual influence and respect between the two writers.
BORUCH, MARIANNE: Plath's Bees (July 1990)
BORUCH, MARIANNE: Plath's Bees (July 1990)
Marianne Boruch traces the growth of Sylvia Plath’s bee sequence in Ariel from obsessive image to transcendent poetry. Using passages from early fiction as well as later letters and journal entries, Boruch shows us how Plath turned again and again to details of her actual experience of keeping a hive as she slowly developed her totemic image. Boruch argues that this lived experience of bee-keeping allowed Plath to ground her astonishing lyric sequence, “five poems written in one sleepless week,” in “the lucidity and vigor of narrative.”
BORUCH, MARIANNE: The Little Death of the Self (January 2010)
BORUCH, MARIANNE: The Little Death of the Self (January 2010)
Framed as a response to the contemporary impulse to “kill the ‘I’ in the poem,” Marianne Boruch’s lecture considers the possibilities of the lyric voice. What if, rather than narrowing the poem, the “I” opened it up to a wider perspective? Boruch looks at footage from the Hindenburg disaster and at poems by Perillo, Dickinson, Plath, Frost, Hopkins, and others to demonstrate ways in which the “I” can be both personal and more than personal.
BORUCH, MARIANNE: Three Blakes (January 2013)
BORUCH, MARIANNE: Three Blakes (January 2013)
To read Blake or to stare into his engravings and paintings is to be taken back to the source of what we do. Focusing on Songs of Innocence and Experience, Boruch’s lecture presents a triptych of Blakes, as she investigates his brilliant, quirky, often heroic way with image as artist and poet—as well as “the sound of it, song, in our time and his,” which she explores with the bravura accompaniment of William Bolcom’s settings of Blake’s work.
BOSWELL, ROBERT: Complex Moments in Fiction (July 2010)
BOSWELL, ROBERT: Complex Moments in Fiction (July 2010)
Most readers have had the experience of responding viscerally to a particular moment in a piece of fiction; in this lecture, Robert Boswell considers how such “complex moments” are made. Through close readings of work by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Evelyn Waugh, E.M. Forster, William Faulkner, and Kazuo Ishiguro, Boswell suggests that narratives have horizontal and vertical planes, and that writers can manage the intersections between these planes to create moments of lasting resonance.
BOSWELL, ROBERT: Having Gravity and Having Weight: On Meaning in Fiction (July 2013)
BOSWELL, ROBERT: Having Gravity and Having Weight: On Meaning in Fiction (July 2013)
The lecture muses on meaning, focusing on rarely discussed aspects of craft. Texts referred to include Eudora Welty's "A Worn Path" and Sherwood Anderson's "Death in the Woods."
BOSWELL, ROBERT: On Characters and Characterization (January 2012)
BOSWELL, ROBERT: On Characters and Characterization (January 2012)
Looking at Joyce’s “The Dead,” Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener,” Munro’s “Friend of my Youth,” and Welty’s “The Wide Net,” Boswell develops twelve possible useful stratagems for establishing complex and believable characters, including imagining a character’s approach to the inscrutable, describing the illusions to which a character clings, and exposing a character’s darkest and ugliest motivations.
BOSWELL, ROBERT: Take Me to the River: Stories that Invent and Manipulate Rituals (July 2015)
BOSWELL, ROBERT: Take Me to the River: Stories that Invent and Manipulate Rituals (July 2015)
Presented in thirty parts, Boswell’s modular lecture weaves a personal narrative with investigations of ritual in works by Eudora Welty, Alice Munro, Peter Taylor, John Cheever, and others.
BOSWELL, ROBERT: The Man in the Water: Sub-Aqua Commerce in Maximal Short Fiction (July 2011)
BOSWELL, ROBERT: The Man in the Water: Sub-Aqua Commerce in Maximal Short Fiction (July 2011)
Robert Boswell examines what he calls “big stories,” or short stories which manage in relatively few pages to convey the complexity and expansiveness of the larger world. How can a writer generate this sense of expansiveness? And what strategies can be used to make a “big story” cohere? Boswell explores these questions, focusing on examples from William Trevor and Alice Munro.
BRENNAN, KAREN: Beyond Accessibility (July 2007)
BRENNAN, KAREN: Beyond Accessibility (July 2007)
Karen Brennan interrogates the idea that contemporary creative writing must be “accessible.” Through readings of Moby Dick by Herman Melville, “Cockroaches in Autumn” by Lydia Davis, “The Garden” by Andrew Marvell and "The Voice Imitator" by Thomas Bernhard, Brennan argues that the enigmatic is a crucial part of what makes art important to us; she considers how meaning can be made not through eliding the mysterious or difficult to interpret, but through acknowledging and embracing it.
CALLANAN, LIAM: Distraction, Displacement, and Discourse: On Dialogue in Poetry and Fiction (January 2015)
CALLANAN, LIAM: Distraction, Displacement, and Discourse: On Dialogue in Poetry and Fiction (January 2015)
Looking beyond mechanics, Liam Callanan discusses how dialogue works in fiction and poetry: what is conveyed, what is concealed, and what, in the end, does effective dialogue sound like—aand look like—on the page? Authors discussed include Theocritus, Robert Frost, Louise Gluck, Toni Morrison, Alice McDermott, and others.
CALVOCORESSI, GABRIELLE: The Beams of Our House(s) Are Cedar(s): Erotic Specificity in the Song of Songs (July 2012)
CALVOCORESSI, GABRIELLE: The Beams of Our House(s) Are Cedar(s): Erotic Specificity in the Song of Songs (July 2012)
Gabrielle Calvocoressi leads a discussion on specificity in the Song of Songs, focusing on how use of detail creates narrative clarity and also deepens mystery. The class examines the language used to describe intense physical love and highlights the ways in which linguistic choices radically affect understanding of content.
CARL DENNIS: Generosity (January 2002)
CARL DENNIS: Generosity (January 2002)
What does it mean, Carl Dennis asks, for the speaker of a poem to be generous? And how might such generosity serve as an aesthetic as well as a moral virtue? Focusing on poems by Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, but turning, too, to work by Robert Lowell and Amy Gerstler, Dennis considers how generosity manifests at the level of craft, exploring its relationship to other elements of a poem such as irony, empathy, and narrative distance.
CASEY, MAUD: It's a Wooden Leg First: Paying Narrative Attention to the Literal Story (January 2008)
CASEY, MAUD: It's a Wooden Leg First: Paying Narrative Attention to the Literal Story (January 2008)
About her story “Good Country People,” in which a Bible salesman steals a woman’s leg, Flannery O’Connor wrote, “If you want to say that the wooden leg is a symbol, you can say that. But it is a wooden leg first.” Similarly, Maud Casey warns against symbol-hunting and symbol-planting; she argues, instead, for the resonant power of lavishing attention on the literal level, and turns for examples to O’Connor’s story as well as to fiction by James Baldwin, Tim O’Brien, Deborah Eisenberg and Chris Abani.
CASEY, MAUD: Mystery: On Unmaking and Being Undone (January 2016)
CASEY, MAUD: Mystery: On Unmaking and Being Undone (January 2016)
There’s a lot that needs making in fiction but creating space for mystery in fiction requires a certain amount of unmaking. Un doesn’t merely undo a word and turn it into its opposite; un is a release from, a freeing, a bringing out of, all of which are effects of mystery and part of its purpose. Through an examination of works by Henry James, Jane Bowles, and James Baldwin, Maud Casey’s lecture considers a few of the ways mystery, that essential literary quality, is conjured in fiction.
CASEY, MAUD: States of Wonder (January 2012)
CASEY, MAUD: States of Wonder (January 2012)
“Wonder in art, as in life, is difficult to pin down and hard to talk about,” says Maud Casey. “It is a state of marveling in the face of something inexplicable, perplexing, bewildering, and yet utterly compelling.” Casey offers a meditation on this elusive state, exploring the tensions between the implausible and the credible in Deszo Kosztolanyi’s Skylark, Stephen Milhauser’s “In the Reign of Harad IV,” as well as in works by Werner Herzog and Isaac Babel.
CASEY, MAUD: The Art of Sensibility (July 2010)
CASEY, MAUD: The Art of Sensibility (July 2010)
In order to make a character compelling, the author must capture a specific human consciousness on the page. But how can writers make palpable that aspect of a person that often eludes description—his or her sensibility? Maud Casey offers three methods for depicting sensibility in fiction, looking to Barbara Comyns’ The Vet’s Daughter, Jean Rhys’ Voyage in the Dark, and Muriel Spark’s Loitering with Intent as examples.
CASEY, MAUD: Watching the Clock (July 2009)
CASEY, MAUD: Watching the Clock (July 2009)
Fiction is not an expression of real time, Maud Casey notes, and yet it is very much occupied by time; novels and stories are shaped and organized, their revelations dramatized, by the illusion of time passing. Through close readings of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, Paula Fox’s Desperate Characters, and Paul LaFarge’s Haussmann, Casey considers different ways fiction writers can depict chronological as well as what she calls “emotional time” and the complex relationship between past and present.
CASTELLANI, CHRISTOPHER: Objective Correlative (July 2012)
CASTELLANI, CHRISTOPHER: Objective Correlative (July 2012)
Christopher Castellani examines the usefulness of T.S. Eliot’s concept of the objective correlative for the fiction writer. Through a close reading of Peter Cameron’s novel Coral Glynn and James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, Castellani explores the power of the objective correlative to evoke strong emotion in the reader, as well as to seamlessly introduce back-story and necessary information into a narrative.
CHARLES BAXTER: Great Faces (July 2003)
CHARLES BAXTER: Great Faces (July 2003)
In nineteenth-century novels faces were often presented as indicators of character, Charles Baxter notes, but now, because of cynicism about facial insincerity, fiction writers shy away from describing faces at all. What do we lose when we can’t see a character’s expression? Baxter considers the importance of different kinds of faces in work by Thomas Hardy, F.Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Flannery O’Conner and Paula Fox, among others.
CHRIS FORHAN: What Happens When I Say “I” (July 2002)
CHRIS FORHAN: What Happens When I Say “I” (July 2002)
While poets in the U.S. have generally shown little reticence about placing the “I” at the center of a poem, Chris Forhan adds that contemporary poets have had an uneasy relationship with that “I,” an uncertainty about the self that can actually produce a more expansive and complicated first person voice. Forhan demonstrates this, along with the limitations and possibilities of the “I,” in work by Thoreau, Lowell, Williams, Simic, Carson and Ashbery, who grapple with what is both unknowable and universal in the self.
COHEN, ROBERT:
COHEN, ROBERT: "Refer Madness": Writing in an Age of Allusion (July 2012)
In this lecture, Robert Cohen considers the dilemma faced by contemporary fiction writers seeking to create work not reliant on allusion or reference. Using as a jumping-off point Franz Kafka’s short story, “The Wish to be a Red Indian,” Cohen discusses reference and allusion in Joyce’s Dubliners, David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas and William Gaddis’s The Recognitions. Cohen demonstrates how difficult it is for contemporary writers to avoid these stratagems, but argues that therein lies opportunity for new kinds of creativity.
COHEN, ROBERT: Emblem, Essence, Naming and its Discontents (July 2006)
COHEN, ROBERT: Emblem, Essence, Naming and its Discontents (July 2006)
Robert Cohen explores, as he puts it, the “dark, forbidding, all but impenetrable jungle” of naming characters in fiction. Arguing that a character’s name should strike the reader as inevitable, and preferably not allegorical, Cohen looks at a range of ways in which authors approach the task of naming, from the satirical to the emblematic. Cohen gives emphasis to Melville’s Moby Dick and Nabokov’s Lolita, but draws, too, on examples from John Kennedy Toole, Norman Mailer, and Henry James.
CRONIN, JUSTIN:
CRONIN, JUSTIN: "Baby, It's Yu": Einstein, Jung, One Really Awful Dream, and the Problem of Meaning in Fiction (January 2006)
In this lecture, Justin Cronin argues that meaning in fiction originates in “deep structure,” or the ways in which subsurface patterns of metaphor in a text are organized to replicate the living, physical world. Using the language of physics as he explores works by Alan Furst, Susan Minot, Virginia Woolf, and Michael Cunningham, Cronin juxtaposes the rigid or predictable “Newtonian” world of genre fiction with a richer set of relationships in “Einsteinian” fiction.
D'ERASMO, STACEY: After the World Ends: Writers and Artists Respond to Crisis (January 2016)
D'ERASMO, STACEY: After the World Ends: Writers and Artists Respond to Crisis (January 2016)
Focusing on the fiction of Paul Monette and Gwendolyn Brooks as well as the photography of Cartier-Bresson, D’Erasmo’s lecture offers an exploration of the radical shifts in theme, technique, and genre that writers and artists have undergone following massive upheavals on global, cultural, and personal levels.
D'ERASMO, STACEY: Creation of Intimacy (July 2009)
D'ERASMO, STACEY: Creation of Intimacy (July 2009)
Most of us know, Stacey D’Erasmo suggests, how to put characters in a room and get them to talk, fight, trouble and/or seduce one another— we know, that is, how to create an impression of intimacy through dialogue and action. But intimacy can be expressed by means of a variety of subtle textual strategies far more deeply implicating the reader in the characters’ emotional lives; D’Erasmo draws on fiction by D.H. Lawrence, Elizabeth Bowen, William Maxwell, Virginia Woolf and Charles Baxter for examples.
D'ERASMO, STACEY: Love Among the Ruins (July 2008)
D'ERASMO, STACEY: Love Among the Ruins (July 2008)
Stacey D’Erasmo argues that the novel of sexual identity is no longer, on its own, compelling. Yet certain of the sexual identity novel’s tropes—the narratives of passing and of double lives, of desire stifled by circumstance and of discontinuous selves—remain compelling to contemporary writers. D’Erasmo looks at work by Michael Cunningham, Jeannette Winterson, Colm Toibin, Monique Truong and others to explore how the architecture of the sexual identity novel has been recycled and transformed.
D'ERASMO, STACEY: On the Unsayable (January 2011)
D'ERASMO, STACEY: On the Unsayable (January 2011)
What, Stacey D’Erasmo asks, is the meaning of “the unsayable” for a writer today? She argues that the heart of the question lies not in which topics may be taboo and why, but rather in subject matter which “we fear language will be inadequate” to portray. Looking closely at Toni Morrison’s Beloved and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, D’Erasmo explores how these novelists use indirection to narrate stories about the horrors of slavery and nuclear apocalypse.
DAVID BAKER: The Figure of Grief (January 2004)
DAVID BAKER: The Figure of Grief (January 2004)
Elegy, David Baker suggests, typically contains two figures—the grieving poet or speaker, and the beloved departed. What happens, then, when an elegy makes use of a kind of triangulation in which death too is figured, even praised? Baker examines how Walt Whitman’s “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed” and Emily Dickinson’s “Because I could not stop for Death” convey a kind of embrace of death, and, in doing so, transform and eroticize the elegiac form.
DEBRA SPARK: Cheer Up—Why Don’t You? (July 2002)
DEBRA SPARK: Cheer Up—Why Don’t You? (July 2002)
“In literature,” Debra Spark quotes Janet Burroway, “only trouble is interesting. Only trouble.” Is there any room for happiness in fiction? What might “happy fiction” look like? Spark considers different kinds of happiness—including the formal satisfactions of a work itself— and how happiness manifests in fiction by Anton Chekhov, Laurie Colwin, Bill Roorbach and Barbara Klein Moss.
DEBRA SPARK: Speaking of Style (July 2003)
DEBRA SPARK: Speaking of Style (July 2003)
We often point to a writer’s style as what makes the work distinct. But, like tone, style can be hard to locate or define. In this lecture, fiction writer Debra Spark, with reference to Stephen Minot’s Three Genres, considers the various elements that contribute to style, such as diction, syntax, verb tense and the balance of narrative modes; she looks at how these elements work in a range of writers, and how they convey a writer’s vision of the world, giving particular attention to the work of Raymond Carver and John Cheever.
DEBRA SPARK: Stand Back (July 2004)
DEBRA SPARK: Stand Back (July 2004)
Noting that narrators of much contemporary American fiction tend to be so close to their subjects that they inhibit creative freedom and limit vision, Spark explores the benefits of “standing back,” including the paradox that narrative distance from the action being described actually permits greater emotional intimacy. She looks at successful examples of such narrative distance in work by Deborah Eisenberg, Margaret Atwood, Angela Carter, Elizabeth Strout, Akhil Sharma and others.
DISCHELL, STUART: State of Alert (July 2006)
DISCHELL, STUART: State of Alert (July 2006)
Stuart Dischell weaves together autobiography and Parisian history in this lecture about the surrealist poet Robert Desnos, who participated in the French resistance to the Nazi occupation. Focusing on Desnos’ collection State of Alert, written during and in response to the occupation, Dischell offers a window into this crucial moment in French political and literary history.
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: A Sense of Space (January 2010)
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: A Sense of Space (January 2010)
Stephen Dobyns conducts close readings of the first paragraph of Henry James’ The Middle Years and William Butler Yeats’ poem “Her Praise” to examine how both writers create a sense of spaciousness in a small amount of text. Drawing on Yeats’ biography and on information about his writing process, Dobyns shows how James and Yeats use a range of craft strategies to imply the larger world.
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: Baudelaire (January 2012)
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: Baudelaire (January 2012)
Stephen Dobyns provides an introduction to the life, poetic project, and influence of Charles Baudelaire, often called the first modern poet. Drawing on biographical material as well as some of the poet’s essays, Dobyns offers close readings of poems from The Flowers of Evil, tracing in them an inherent tension between passionate love and the spiritual life, as well as early and influential gestures of Symbolism.
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: Context and Causality (January 2009)
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: Context and Causality (January 2009)
Stephen Dobyns examines how we read poems that rely on outside context, such as Berryman’s “Dream Song 18, A Strut for Roethke” and W.B. Yeats’ “Leda and the Swan.” Our reading of Berryman’s poem, for example, is shaped by knowledge of Roethke’s death and of the elegiac tradition. Arguing that such knowledge can help us understand the writer’s intention, Dobyns proposes ways in which the poet can establish context for the reader, regardless of the poem’s subject.
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: Economy, Intensity, and Ferocity: Poems by R.S. Thomas (July 2011)
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: Economy, Intensity, and Ferocity: Poems by R.S. Thomas (July 2011)
Stephen Dobyns investigates Welsh poet R.S. Thomas’s uses of elements of form, in particular sonic qualities, to create tension, energy and emotion within his poems. Drawing on work from throughout Thomas’ career, Dobyns examines how his methods changed over a fifty-year period.
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: Linebreaks (July 2008)
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: Linebreaks (July 2008)
In this lecture, Stephen Dobyns considers the function of linebreaks in metered and non-metered poetry, focusing on how they can be used to convey nuance. Drawing on poems by Walt Whitman, William Shakespeare, John Milton, Matthew Arnold, Emily Dickinson, William Blake, W.H. Auden, T.S. Eliot, James Wright and Louise Glück, Dobyns explores a variety of types of line breaks and examines how they work, in the context of each particular poem, to create rhythm and meaning.
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: Metaphysical Counterpoint (July 2005)
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: Metaphysical Counterpoint (July 2005)
Drawing on the musical idea of counterpoint, in which two melodies exist at the same time, Stephen Dobyns suggests that departures from prescribed forms create a kind of metaphysical counterpoint between an ideal and an actual world. Looking at examples by authors as diverse as Flaubert, Yuri Trifinov, Flannery O’Conner, T.S. Eliot, Zbigniew Herbert and Jane Kenyon, Dobyns suggests that these writers provide perspective on this counterpoint through strategic release of specific sensual details.
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: On Structure (January 1990)
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: On Structure (January 1990)
Offering close readings of Philip Larkin’s “The Explosion” and Lon Otto’s “A Very Short Story,” Stephen Dobyns argues that structure is both the means by which information is released and the information itself. He states that structure, whether in poetry or prose, represents the means by which formal elements (language, texture, pacing, and tone) may be imposed upon informal elements (action, emotion, setting and idea). In conclusion, Dobyns cautions that a work’s structure can only be determined when the writer has fully understood its purpose.
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: Poetic Closure (July 2009)
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: Poetic Closure (July 2009)
“Closure,” Stephen Dobyns remarks, “usually means putting something behind us.” But in a good poem, he argues, “it means something ahead.” Through close readings of poems by Billy Collins, Philip Larkin, Kay Ryan, W.S. Merwin, Charles Simic, Carol Ann Duffy and Miroslav Holub, Dobyns examines different types of poetic closure that, by suggesting other levels of meaning, can pull the reader back into the poem again.
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: Rimbaud (July 2012)
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: Rimbaud (July 2012)
Stephen Dobyns meditates on the nature and extent of Arthur Rimbaud’s influence on 20th century poetry. Examining Rimbaud’s biography, aesthetic theories, and poetry, Dobyns observes the genius and complexity of Rimbaud’s work and to this end offers a close reading of The Drunken Boat.
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: The Advent of the Romantic Lyric (January 2015)
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: The Advent of the Romantic Lyric (January 2015)
Beginning with Pope and the Enlightenment, this lecture traces how the modern lyric rose out of Romanticism, discussing early and continuing tropes and the nature of the lyric or affective element in form as well as content. Among the poems explored are works by Baudelaire, Lord Byron, Apollinaire, and Trakl.
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: The Poetic Development of James Wright (July 2013)
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: The Poetic Development of James Wright (July 2013)
The lecture looks at the change in James Wright's poetry from the formal verse of The Green Wall and Saint Judas through the free verse poetry of The Branch Will Not Break, focusing on Wrights' early years in Martins Ferry, Ohio, through his time in the army, Kenyon College and his year in Vienna on a Fulbright where he discovered the poetry of Georg Trakl, which showed him a path his own poetry could take and led a few years later with his friendship with Robert Bly. Biographical information is drawn from letters and six interviews with Wright.
DOENGES, JUDY: The
DOENGES, JUDY: The "Secret Communion" (July 2005)
The world, Judy Doenges points out, is full of unreliable narrators—“government hacks [and] conservative talk show hosts” among them. In this lecture, Doenges explores the charm and appeal of the unreliable narrator in fiction to readers, who are happy to surrender to the teller of tales. She gives particular attention to the narrator of Thomas Mann’s Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man, arguing that his unreliability humanizes him and cultivates intimacy with the reader.
DOENGES, JUDY: We Are One: First Person Plural (July 2009)
DOENGES, JUDY: We Are One: First Person Plural (July 2009)
How does a literature focused almost exclusively on the life of the individual make room for the occasional work of fiction that uses a collective first-person narrator? How does using such a point of view impact the contract between writer and reader? In this lecture, Judy Doenges looks at Ayn Rand’s Anthem as a negative and Joshua Ferris’ Then We Came to the End as a positive example of the possibilities and ramifications, both aesthetic and political, of writing fiction in the first-person plural.
DOERR, ANTHONY: Suspense (January 2010)
DOERR, ANTHONY: Suspense (January 2010)
What makes suspense compelling instead of melodramatic? Through close readings of work by Camus, Joyce Carol Oates, Joseph Conrad, Cormac McCarthy, and Edgar Allen Poe, Anthony Doerr suggests that well-executed suspense functions at a number of levels, so that even as smaller moments of literal suspense are resolved, larger, figurative questions continue to grow.
EHUD HAVAZELET: A Stick in the Wheel: An Examination of Gimmickry (January 2002)
EHUD HAVAZELET: A Stick in the Wheel: An Examination of Gimmickry (January 2002)
Originally hidden devices grifters used to control the prize wheel, gimmicks, suggests Ehud Havazelet, are analogous to the craft devices all writers use. But what is the distinction between “mere trickery” and effective craft? How can ‘gimmicks’ strengthen rather than cheapen our writing? Havazelet considers these and other questions through close readings of O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi,” Graham Greene’s “I Spy,” Ida Fink’s “The Key Game” and Alice Munro’s “Five Points.”
ELEANOR WILNER: “Like as the waves…”: Vibrant Disturbance as Form and Message in Poetry and Nature (January 2002)
ELEANOR WILNER: “Like as the waves…”: Vibrant Disturbance as Form and Message in Poetry and Nature (January 2002)
Why can we stare for hours at waves or fire? What makes those waves so compelling, and what can wave motion, as described by physics, tell us about how meaning is carried through the medium of poetic language? Looking at poems by Shakespeare, Whitman and Roethke that draw both subject and motion from waves, Eleanor Wilner explores how pattern and random variation of waves speak to what is oldest and deepest in us—the receptors of our brains, our oceanic origins, the systole and diastole of the heart.
ELLEN BRYAN VOIGT: On and Off the Grid: Syntax Part II (July 2002)
ELLEN BRYAN VOIGT: On and Off the Grid: Syntax Part II (July 2002)
Meter organizes music on a small scale, the music theorist Robert Jordain has argued, while phrasing organizes it on a large scale. In this lecture, Ellen Bryant Voigt draws on Jordain’s terms to consider how poems by Philip Larkin, Donald Justice, and D.H. Lawrence are structured through pattern and variation; she examines how “meter” and “phrasing” are produced syntactically, and how conflict between these two kinds of rhythm gives these poems their “energetic formal tension.”
FREDERICK REIKEN: What is “True”?  Thoughts on Fictional “Truth,” Unconscious Metaphor, and Celery (January 2004)
FREDERICK REIKEN: What is “True”? Thoughts on Fictional “Truth,” Unconscious Metaphor, and Celery (January 2004)
Why is it that a transcription of an actual event can feel unconvincing, while an invented story can feel absolutely true? Frederick Reiken explores what Tim O’Brien has called “story truth,” or the feeling of authenticity that a successful work of fiction conveys; he draws on thinking about this topic by John Berger and John Gardner and on fiction by Tim O’Brien and Franz Kafka to consider how the textual space with its own internal logic makes this kind of “fictional truth” possible.
FRIED, DAISY:
FRIED, DAISY: "...ice/Is also great/And would Suffice": On Flatness (July 2015)
To allege flatness in a workshop is generally to level a criticism, but when is flatness an engine rather than an error? What’s exciting about lack of excitement? How is it achieved? Fried’s lecture draws upon poetry by William Carlos Williams, Robert Frost, Ai, Ross Gay, and others.
FRIED, DAISY: All My Pretty Hates (January 2013)
FRIED, DAISY: All My Pretty Hates (January 2013)
Looking at work by Frederick Seidel, Brenda Shaughnessy, and Charles Bernstein, among others, Fried’s lecture focuses on the importance of paying attention to, and learning from, poetic aversion. What can our strong reactions tell us about who we are, what our prejudices are made of, and what are the failings and successes in our own work? Ultimately, Fried’s talk is about the limits of taste, the importance of prejudice, and learning to learn from what rubs us all wrong.
FRIED, DAISY: Why Burn: An Exhortation in Eight Proposals (July 2014)
FRIED, DAISY: Why Burn: An Exhortation in Eight Proposals (July 2014)
Jeers, rants, outbursts, abrasions, invective—Fried’s lecture investigates varieties and effects of “heat” in poems by Robert Bly, John Donne, Les Murray, and others, and in the fiction of Charles Dickens.
GAVRON, JEREMY: In Praise of Omission (July 2012)
GAVRON, JEREMY: In Praise of Omission (July 2012)
In this class, Jeremy Gavron considers the question of how much information to include in a work of fiction, looking at choices made by several contemporary writers. Gavron compares the richness of the opening pages of Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections to the relative sparseness of Amoz Oz’s The Same Sea and Damon Galgut’s In a Strange Room and pays particular attention to how each writer subtly varies his approach.
GAVRON, JEREMY: Whose Story is it Anyway? (July 2011)
GAVRON, JEREMY: Whose Story is it Anyway? (July 2011)
Jeremy Gavron considers the limitations and benefits of using a secondary character as a narrator in a work of fiction. Looking at Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Alain-Fournier’s Le Grand Meaulnes and Willa Cather’s My Ántonia, among other novels, Gavron suggests that a narrator’s lack of full access to the “hero” of a story can intensify our attention to the hero and lend the narration a quality of truth-telling.
GIBBONS, REGINALD: How to use Hélène Cixous  (July 2005)
GIBBONS, REGINALD: How to use Hélène Cixous (July 2005)
Our habitual thinking and feeling, Reginald Gibbons suggests, lead us to follow familiar routes in our writing. How might we use Cixous’s ideas about writing to surprise ourselves and work against our own grain? Gibbons draws on a range of Hélène Cixous’ writing—and its connection to authors ranging from William Maxwell to Patrick White to Allen Ginsberg—to explore how playfulness, accessing the unconscious and writing to find the other hidden in ourselves, might deepen our writing, and our understanding of it.
GREGERSON, LINDA: Poetic Embodiment (January 2005)
GREGERSON, LINDA: Poetic Embodiment (January 2005)
“The body’s extraordinary intelligence is nowhere more legible,” Linda Gregerson argues, “than at those junctures where ordinary well-being is disrupted”; in this lecture, Gregerson looks at how poets have written about this disruption to powerful effect. Drawing on work by Michael Collier, Alan Shapiro, Louise Glück, Jorie Graham and Gerard Manley Hopkins, Gregerson considers how the “body-under-assault” can serve as an occasion for new encounters between consciousness and embodiment.
GROFF, LAUREN: Horror Vacui: On Gaps, Spaces, and Silences (July 2014)
GROFF, LAUREN: Horror Vacui: On Gaps, Spaces, and Silences (July 2014)
The gaps in a text may be empty of words, but full of resonance, the vacuum filled instantly by the reader’s swift comprehension. Groff’s lecture questions and explores varieties of white space in a text—pauses, rests, caesurae, silences—in works by Perec, Levi, Duras, Beckett, and others.
GROFF, LAUREN: Islands (July 2015)
GROFF, LAUREN: Islands (July 2015)
"We are like islands in the sea," William James says, "separate on the surface, but connected in the deep." Groff’s lecture confronts the issues involved in being a writer—a lonely and sometimes solipsistic position—during a time of environmental crisis. Among the texts discussed are Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, J.M. Coetzee's Foe, Elizabeth Bishop's “Crusoe in England,” Derek Walcott's Omeros, and Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea.
GROSSMAN, JUDITH: Instead of a Muse: A Genealogy for Stories (January 2014)
GROSSMAN, JUDITH: Instead of a Muse: A Genealogy for Stories (January 2014)
Elements of the folktale persist throughout the transformations of the modern story. Grossman’s lecture investigates how the Hero/Heroine, the Enemy and the Ally, the Treasure, the loss of a parent or exile from home, and the factor of lucky work like traditional post-and-beam in narrative, looking at the Grimm Brothers’ “The Devil with Three Golden Hairs,” E.T.A. Hoffman’s “The Sandman,” Samuel Beckett’s “First Love,” and stories by Alice Munro.
GROTZ, JENNIFER:
GROTZ, JENNIFER: "An Anxiety of Influence" for Girls (January 2009)
In his 1973 book The Anxiety of Influence, Harold Bloom posits that the young poet must assume poetic authority through willfully misreading, and then overthrowing, a precursor poet. In this lecture, Jennifer Grotz meditates on what in Bloom’s theory is helpful and what is harmful for a young writer; she draws on essays by Bloom and Eliot, and on poems by Plath, Graham, Moore, Milton, Bishop, Milosz, and Merwin, to offer a different understanding of what poetic authority is and how one might obtain it.
GROTZ, JENNIFER: On Poetry and Boxing (July 2012)
GROTZ, JENNIFER: On Poetry and Boxing (July 2012)
Jennifer Grotz investigates the centuries-old fascination of poets and fiction writers for the sport of boxing. Drawing from John Keats’s and Joyce Carol Oates’s writings on the “sweet science of boxing,“ Grotz suggests that understanding elements of the sport may illuminate concerns of the writer; both endeavors, she says, require the workings of the imagination, or Keats’s “Fancy”, in their preparation and execution.
GROTZ, JENNIFER: The Pathetic Fallacy (January 2008)
GROTZ, JENNIFER: The Pathetic Fallacy (January 2008)
Jennifer Grotz examines the concept of the pathetic fallacy, a term coined by John Ruskin which Grotz defines as “an instance or an attitude where human pathos is attributed to an element of nature.” Grotz argues that, despite its potential pitfalls, the pathetic fallacy remains a crucial rhetorical figure in contemporary poetry; she draws on examples from Shakespeare, Spenser, Henri Cole, Tony Hoagland, Stanley Kunitz and Louise Glück to consider how it can be successfully and innovatively employed.
HAMILTON, JANE: How the Master Guides the Student: Shadow and Glare (January 2015)
HAMILTON, JANE: How the Master Guides the Student: Shadow and Glare (January 2015)
What do we hope for when our work speaks to an avowed masterpiece? Are we propelled by courage or delusion—or both? Jane Hamilton’s lecture, delivered in January 2015 at the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers, offers a meditation on the student/master dynamic through the lenses of two pairings: Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and Jane Austen’s Persuasion, as well as “White Angel” by Michael Cunningham and John Cheever’s “Goodbye, My Brother.”
HAXTON, BROOKS: Cliché (July 2007)
HAXTON, BROOKS: Cliché (July 2007)
In this informal lecture, Brooks Haxton asks what makes a cliché a cliché, and suggests that writers, while avoiding prefabricated speech, should seek the sources of cliché and reconsider our resistance to immediately conveyed thought. Through close readings of poems by Leyb Borovick, e.e. Cummings, Robert Burns, William Shakespeare, Walt Whitman, Paul Goodman and Philip Booth, Haxton considers how poets can present emotionally fraught material with unadorned directness, to powerful effect.
HAXTON, BROOKS: Else Lasker-Schüler (January 2007)
HAXTON, BROOKS: Else Lasker-Schüler (January 2007)
Brooks Haxton offers an introduction to the life and poetry of Else Lasker-Schüler, a German Jewish poet of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Exploring how Romanticism influenced Lasker-Schüler’s work, as well as how her poetry can be understood as stepping out of Romanticism into “the modern era,” Haxton locates Lasker-Schüler in her cultural and political context, discusses her vision, and offers new translations of a number of her poems.
HAXTON, BROOKS: Image and the Levels of Meaning (July 2012)
HAXTON, BROOKS: Image and the Levels of Meaning (July 2012)
Brooks Haxton considers the image as a vehicle of meaning as he traces the influence of early 20th century translations of Chinese and Japanese work on Western writers and readers. Haxton also draws upon the King James Bible and Imagist poets, including Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams and D.H. Lawrence, to explore potential allegorical, moral, and mystical aspects of an image’s meaning.
HAXTON, BROOKS: Schrödinger's Cat (July 2006)
HAXTON, BROOKS: Schrödinger's Cat (July 2006)
Brooks Haxton draws on the Schrödinger Cat thought experiment, Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Bach’s cello Suites, Victor Hugo’s “The Graveyard at Villequier,” and a range of work by Louis Armstrong and Emily Dickinson to advocate a particular kind of poetic judgment. Like the scientist who opens the box to determine whether the cat is dead or alive, Haxton suggests, a reader should come to a piece of work—including work that may be out of fashion—with a willingness to see what is really there.
HAYNES, DAVID: Narration, Narrators, and Edward P. Jones (January 2012)
HAYNES, DAVID: Narration, Narrators, and Edward P. Jones (January 2012)
David Haynes draws from Frederick Reiken’s essay, “The Author-Narrator-Character Merge,” to focus discussion on the nature of narrative, and in particular, on Edward P. Jones’s innovative approach. Haynes outlines possible techniques for orienting a reader, including the management of narrative time, the release of information, summation and judgment, and the modulation of narrative distance. Close readings of Jones’s stories “Old Boys, Old Girls” and “A Rich Man” highlight issues of when and why an author might choose to draw attention to narration, as well as when an appropriate choice might be to render narrative techniques invisible.
HAYNES, DAVID: Novels from the Ground Up (July 2012)
HAYNES, DAVID: Novels from the Ground Up (July 2012)
In this class, David Haynes examines some of the formal aspects of the novel. Using Ernest J. Gaines’s A Lesson before Dying as a blueprint for long works of fiction, Haynes identifies what is needed to start a novel’s engine and what’s needed to maintain narrative momentum. Haynes gives special attention to the ways in which a novel’s opening establishes its terms and shape.
HAYNES, DAVID: Would You Like to See My Cat Mammy? Looking at Other People and their Stuff (January 2014)
HAYNES, DAVID: Would You Like to See My Cat Mammy? Looking at Other People and their Stuff (January 2014)
Are you a white person who is just dying to include people of color in your next novel? Comfortably middle class and just fascinated as all get out with those quirky folks down at the trailer park? Does this course description make you a little bit queasy? Then this is the class for you! Haynes’s discussion class looks at how shifting lenses of creator/narrator/reader/viewer shape the development of and interpretation of cultural material in creative works. Among the texts discussed are works by Allan Gurganus’s White People, Sherman Alexie’s “What You Pawn I Will Redeem,” and David Foster Wallace’s “Ticket to the Fair.”
HOAGLAND, TONY: Disproportion: Excess in Poetry (January 1993)
HOAGLAND, TONY: Disproportion: Excess in Poetry (January 1993)
Tony Hoagland identifies and champions poetry which belongs neither to the camp of the well-made and conservative nor to the zany and subversive. He describes how this third type, often excessive and highly dramatic, may not know exactly “what it is,” but can praise and reflect the objective world while at the same time asserting the supremacy of the imagination. Looking at poems by Tess Gallagher, Horace, Susan Mitchell, Wallace Stevens and W.C. Williams, Hoagland argues that much can be gained from studying a poem which absolves its writer from the need “to perfect.”
HOAGLAND, TONY: Idiom, Our Funny Valentine (July 2010)
HOAGLAND, TONY: Idiom, Our Funny Valentine (July 2010)
Idiom, like vernacular and slang, can establish shared knowledge and thus intimacy with the reader. But when, Tony Hoagland asks, does the use of idiom “dumb things down”? Hoagland looks at examples from Yehuda Amichai, Ben Lerner, John Ashbery, and Heather McHugh to consider the benefits—and liabilities—of using idiom in poems.
HOAGLAND, TONY: Information, Layering, and the Composite Poem (July 2013)
HOAGLAND, TONY: Information, Layering, and the Composite Poem (July 2013)
Tony Hoagland describes the formal strategy of the "composite poem," a poem that alloys and amalgamates bits and bytes of the objective and the subjective worlds into a loose kind of composition. The composite poem is a speculative form that does not explain or over-mediate the connections between its parts -- it has a modernist heterogeneous kind of "dissheveledness" about the way it presents reality. Nonetheless, the composite poem must have a kind of internal rigorousness; it seeks to harmonically arrange its many tones and samplings, to organize it into a credible, believably disorganized yet persuasive form. Examples of the composite form are drawn from the work of Robert Hass, Spencer Reece, Anne Carson, and most especially Tomas Transtromer.
HOAGLAND, TONY: Structure: Housing and Transmission (July 2011)
HOAGLAND, TONY: Structure: Housing and Transmission (July 2011)
Comparing a poem to an automotive engine, Tony Hoagland argues that poems stay alive on the page by shifting gears; at such moments, Hoagland suggests, a poem can be enlarged or intensified within a single sentence. Through close readings of work by Jean Follain, Philip Larkin, Eavan Boland, Joseph Millar, and Anne Carson, Hoagland examines the organizational strategies that make such “gear-shifts” possible.
HORROCKS, CAITLIN: When Bad Stories Go Good (July 2013)
HORROCKS, CAITLIN: When Bad Stories Go Good (July 2013)
Caitlin Horrocks talks about stories that wear their “bad ideas” proudly, requiring clichés to be redeemed, craft commandments to be broken, challenging or bizarre subjects to be tackled. Readers recognize the possibility of disaster in these stories, and cheer when the author emerges unscathed. Stories by Todd James Pierce, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Suan Sontag, and “Chris Drangle are examined for techniques or approaches that help risky stories succeed.
HRIBAL, C.J.: Comic and Cosmic Distance (July 2007)
HRIBAL, C.J.: Comic and Cosmic Distance (July 2007)
What can comedy do that drama can’t? In this lecture, C.J. Hribal explores what comic distance can convey about the human condition; he focuses on how three novellas—The Overcoat by Nikolai Gogol, Ward No. 6 by Anton Chekhov, and The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka—modulate narrative distance to evoke comedy and tragedy simultaneously; in doing so, Hribal suggests, they allow the reader to feel complex empathy for their characters.
HRIBAL, C.J.: Go Little Book: Obsession in General and the Novella in Particular (January 2014)
HRIBAL, C.J.: Go Little Book: Obsession in General and the Novella in Particular (January 2014)
As writers, we often worry about not repeating ourselves, yet many wonderful writers return repeatedly to the same essential material. Hribal’s lecture extols the virtues of obsession, and offers a paean to the novella, a narrative form which allows writers to embody their inner obsessive. Among those texts discussed are Andre Dubus’s “We Don’t Live Here Anymore,” and Jane Smiley’s “Ordinary Love” and “The Age of Grief.”
HRIBAL, C.J.: Revelatory Information and the Art of Mystery (January 2010)
HRIBAL, C.J.: Revelatory Information and the Art of Mystery (January 2010)
C.J. Hribal considers the kind of mystery that can be produced when crucial narrative information is released early in the text. How can this strategy deepen suspense instead of resolving it? Hribal looks to music and fiction to explore this question, giving particular attention to Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being.
HRIBAL, C.J.: You Are Not Who You Think You Are: Meditations on the Second Person Voice (January 2015)
HRIBAL, C.J.: You Are Not Who You Think You Are: Meditations on the Second Person Voice (January 2015)
Stories, novels, and poems written in the second person are sometimes (often) seen as the red-headed, left-handed, ungainly second cousin of writing prose and poetry. But sometimes that voice, that persona, works marvelously. C.J. Hribal examines when and how to use the voice for its best effects, drawing upon works by Susan Minot, Lorrie Moore, Louise Glück, Claudia Rankine, and others.
HRIBAL, CJ: Eva Figes and the Lyrical Novel(la) (January 2016)
HRIBAL, CJ: Eva Figes and the Lyrical Novel(la) (January 2016)
Prose that almost aims to be sung: sometimes this occurs in particular moments within a longer work, sometimes it seems as if it’s the entire work itself. This lecture about “prose that aims for poetry” looks specifically at the work (particularly the two novellas, Light and Waking) of English author Eva Figes.
JAMES LONGENBACH: The End of the Line (January 2002)
JAMES LONGENBACH: The End of the Line (January 2002)
James Longenbach examines the different ways in which poets have used line (and, more particularly, the end of the line) to “annotate” the syntax of a poem. How can strategic line endings determine a reader’s experience of a poem’s temporal unfolding, as well as of its tone and meaning? Longenbach looks at examples of metered lines (Milton, Frost), syllabic lines (Moore), and modernist free verse lines (Pound, Stevens, Williams, H.D.) as well as more contemporary examples by Ashbery and Bidart.
JAMES LONGENBACH: The Spokenness of Poetry (July 2003)
JAMES LONGENBACH: The Spokenness of Poetry (July 2003)
What we call “voice” in poems is intrinsically dialogical, James Longenbach argues: “Implicit in those very poems that encourage us to think of them as having a voice is the critique of the idea of a singular, unified voice,” yet no matter how overtly “fragmented” the language in a poem may be, no poem can avoid the impression of a unified utterance. Longenbach explores this dialogical voice—this concurrent “speaking” and “shattering”—in work by Hart Crane, Robert Browning, James Joyce and Louise Glück.
JARMAN, MARK: To Make the Final Unity: Metaphor's Matter and Spirit (January 2006)
JARMAN, MARK: To Make the Final Unity: Metaphor's Matter and Spirit (January 2006)
Mark Jarman reflects on the “religious aspects” of metaphor, suggesting that metaphors can invoke a kind of original unity. Jarman also suggests, drawing on Frost’s idea of “the greatest attempt that ever failed,” that these metaphors, and that imagined unity, must necessarily break down. He looks at Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach” W.S. Merwin’s “The Present,” Philip Levine’s “Let Me Begin Again” and Chase Twitchell’s “The Myths” to show what metaphors can reveal when they break down in a dynamic way.
JIM SHEPARD: Structure When You Least Expect It (July 2003)
JIM SHEPARD: Structure When You Least Expect It (July 2003)
Fiction writers, Jim Shepard notes, “tend to fret aloud about structure without having a very clear sense of what it is and how it operates.” What, then, is structure in fiction? How, if not only chronologically, can writers organize the “sprawl of experience and imagination” that goes into a short story or a novel? Shepard considers how chronology—as well as moments of “achronology” that signal a return to something crucial—both work to structure Denis Johnson’s “Emergency.”
JONES, RODNEY: Overriding the Autobiographical First-Person Default: Writing Poetry in Fictional Points-of-View (July 2015)
JONES, RODNEY: Overriding the Autobiographical First-Person Default: Writing Poetry in Fictional Points-of-View (July 2015)
Jones’ lecture discusses the difficulties and advantages of overriding the first-person point of view in poetry, looking at Anne Carson’s “The Glass Essay,” Ellen Bryant Voigt’s Kyrie, Michael Ondaajte’s The Collected Works of Billy the Kid, as well as works by Karen Solie and Larry Levis.
JONES, RODNEY: Poetic Language and Credibility:  The Poem that Does Not Seem to be a Poem (January 2012)
JONES, RODNEY: Poetic Language and Credibility: The Poem that Does Not Seem to be a Poem (January 2012)
Arguing that the best poems seem “but a moment’s thought,” Jones investigates how poets establish credibility through both consciously wrought technique and natural evocation of character. Readers want to sense that the voice in a poem is that of a real human being in an ordinary life; Jones examines how poets as dissimilar as Frank Bidart, Robert Creeley, Louise Gluck, Charles Wright, and James Wright work to integrate character and artifice.
JORDAN, A. VAN: The Suspension of Disbelief (July 2012)
JORDAN, A. VAN: The Suspension of Disbelief (July 2012)
In this lecture, A. Van Jordan meditates on Coleridge’s notion of the “willing suspension of disbelief” as it applies to modern poetry, prose narrative, and film. Jordan discusses the concept of poetic faith and the implicit contract between poet and reader requiring that a poem move toward a satisfying ending. By means of close readings of Martha Collins’ Blue Front, Laura Kasischke’s “Stolen Shoes,” and Natasha Trethewey’s Native Guard, Jordan considers some successful conclusions.
KAREN BRENNAN: Place as (Psychic) Space (January 2003)
KAREN BRENNAN: Place as (Psychic) Space (January 2003)
Karen Brennan explores the importance of place in fiction, arguing that it is critical to the birth of characters and ideas, and not just a kind of backdrop. Brennan also discusses how place is not a replica of the actual but is constituted through an interaction between the imagined world of the text and the reader’s world. Using Faulkner to exemplify this, she then explores the dis-placement of modern writers, and the different forms that place, as a result, can take in writing by Gass, Faulkner, Salter, and Woolf.
LAURA KASISCHKE: The End: A Lecture (July 2004)
LAURA KASISCHKE: The End: A Lecture (July 2004)
Though as a culture we place a great deal of value on the idea of closure, many of our most important experiences, Laura Kasischke argues, don’t have it; instead, they “linger, fester, [or] echo.” Referencing Barbara Herrnstein Smith’s book Poetic Closure, Kasischke conducts close readings of poems by Robert Browning, Philip Larkin and W.H. Auden to explore different kinds of endings and how writers can allow their endings to continue to resonate—and perhaps, in a sense, not end at all.
LAURA KASISCHKE: What Doesn’t Kill You (July 2003)
LAURA KASISCHKE: What Doesn’t Kill You (July 2003)
No writer really knows where the “source of power” necessary to write a story or a novel comes from, Laura Kasischke notes, yet we all need it and fear losing it. Kasischke looks at the sometimes superstitious lengths to which writers have gone to try to invite this power, focusing on the lives and work of Balzac and Stephen Crane, while also showing the creative tension between the world of their experience and that of their imagination.
LEADER, MARY: Sestinas & Other Chances (July 2012)
LEADER, MARY: Sestinas & Other Chances (July 2012)
Through an examination of the sestina, Mary Leader’s class investigates the relationship between form and content in poetry. Focusing on poems by Elizabeth Bishop, Frank Bidart, Ezra Pound, and others, Leader meditates on themes which the sestina is particularly well-suited to suggest or to render.
LEVIN, DANA: Who is Who: Pronouns, Gender, and Merging Selves (January 2016)
LEVIN, DANA: Who is Who: Pronouns, Gender, and Merging Selves (January 2016)
Dana Levin’s investigation of the history of the third-person singular pronoun takes its spark from the work of trans poet Stacey Waite. In exploring how Waite gets around English’s pronounial either/or (he or she) through a trick of syntax, Levin’s lecture also discusses the sexism embedded in grammar rules, the multiple nature of the self, the mystic properties of naming, and the relationship between body and identity.
LEVIS, LARRY: On Elegy:  Seamus Heaney’s “Station Island”  (January 1994)
LEVIS, LARRY: On Elegy: Seamus Heaney’s “Station Island” (January 1994)
Through a close reading of Seamus Heaney’s “Station Island,” the late Larry Levis reflects on the challenge which the elegaic form presents to a writer. Levis believes the dual purpose of the elegy-- to remember and to inter the dead-- can involve a poet, ambivalent about forsaking the beloved to seek a new object of affection, in an ethical dilemma. Levis looks at the effect of this complexity on Heaney’s poem and concludes that what matters in poetry, as in life, is passion.
LIVESEY, MARGOT: Mrs. Turpin Reads the Stars: Creating Characters (January 2012)
LIVESEY, MARGOT: Mrs. Turpin Reads the Stars: Creating Characters (January 2012)
In this lecture, novelist Livesey investigates the theory and practice of creating a character alive enough “to walk off the page.” Surveying work by Flannery O’Connor, Truman Capote, and John Cheever, Livesey argues that though many memorable characters are by contemporary definition “flat,” they were not conceived of as such, but rather are “always capable of reaching after roundness,” and therefore can be used to subvert and enliven reader expectations. With additional readings from Richard Ford, John Metcalf, and Ivy Compton-Burnett, Livesey concludes her class with a discussion of the ways in which both imagination and technique contribute to successful characterization.
LONGENBACH, JAMES: Image, Figure, Sound (January 2016)
LONGENBACH, JAMES: Image, Figure, Sound (January 2016)
Poems and novels are made of words: why have we become accustomed to saying that poems contain images or are constructed out of images? Like what we call a voice, what we call an image is a second-order craft element, one that is constructed out of the more primary linguistic materials of diction, metaphor, rhythm, and syntax. Drawing upon work by Shakespeare, Pound, Susan Howe, and others, Longenbach explores how our vocabulary of image uses visual language to account for a linguistic effect.
LONGENBACH, JAMES: James Joyce: An Odyssey of Style (January 2012)
LONGENBACH, JAMES: James Joyce: An Odyssey of Style (January 2012)
“All of writing is stylistic extravagance,” asserts poet James Longenbach, “no matter how simple it may initially appear.” In his introduction to Joyce’s Ulysses, Longenbach identifies Joyce’s shift from direct realism to “linguistic extravagance” over the course of eighteen episodes. Through close readings of key passages, Longenbach explores the novel’s stylistic nature, asking: What makes us who we are, the DNA passed on to us or the language that encases us? Does character determine style, as is suggested by the earlier episodes, or, as the later episodes indicate, does style determine character?
LONGENBACH, JAMES: Poetic Amplitude (January 2009)
LONGENBACH, JAMES: Poetic Amplitude (January 2009)
How do great works of verbal art incorporate language that might seem, in another context, to violate any familiar prescription for what makes writing good? In this lecture, James Longenbach examines how writers can use moments of flat or enervated language to thrilling, amplifying effect; he looks, for examples, at three of Shakespeare’s plays and at poems by Bishop, Eliot, Moore, Ashbery, Bidart, and Glück.
LONGENBACH, JAMES: Purity, Stillness, Restraint (July 2005)
LONGENBACH, JAMES: Purity, Stillness, Restraint (July 2005)
“More than lack of ambition,” James Longenbach remarks, it is “the inability to surrender to our characteristic callings and rhythms that keeps us from fulfilling our promise.” But what does this surrender look like? Longenbach explores one of its forms by looking at poems that strategically restrain their diction; this restraint, he argues, as it comes of the writer’s submission to what is truest in herself, suggests something unsaid beyond itself. For examples, he draws on work by Pound, Yeats, Blake, Marvell and Oppen.
LONGENBACH, JAMES: The Construction of Voice (July 2015)
LONGENBACH, JAMES: The Construction of Voice (July 2015)
To speak of a poem’s or a story’s “voice” is to use a metaphor; poems really don’t have voices. Longenbach’s lecture examines, in works by John Donne, D. H. Lawrence, and others, the precise linguistic strategies that give sentences the illusion of a speaking voice.
LONGENBACH, JAMES: The Excess of Poetry (July 2010)
LONGENBACH, JAMES: The Excess of Poetry (July 2010)
James Longenbach argues that excess is crucial to art, even to art that does not seem obviously excessive. Drawing on Keats’ idea of “fine excess,” Longenbach shows how Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale,” Pound’s Canto 74, and Dickinson’s “The vastest earthly Day” embody the tension between limit and excess, and enact the wish to exceed their own restraints.
LONGENBACH, JAMES: The Sound of Shakespeare Thinking (January 2010)
LONGENBACH, JAMES: The Sound of Shakespeare Thinking (January 2010)
James Longenbach examines how writers have represented the process of meditative thinking, as opposed to “finished thought.” Tracing this kind of representation to Shakespeare, in whose plays the “sound” of characters thinking is used to great dramatic effect, Longenbach draws, too, on contemporary examples from Virginia Woolf and Louise Glück.
LONGENBACH, JAMES: Tone Poems (July 2009)
LONGENBACH, JAMES: Tone Poems (July 2009)
James Longenbach considers how poetic series that are not governed by narrative or syntactical cohesion can still make convincing wholes. Through close readings of Pound’s “Villanelle, the Psychological Hour,” Eliot’s The Wasteland, and Susan Howe’s “Silence Wager Stories,” he shows how each of these poems uses tone to guide the reader through its disparate and open-ended sections.
MANNING, MAURICE: Defending Poetry (January 2006)
MANNING, MAURICE: Defending Poetry (January 2006)
What is poetry? What does someone mean when she calls herself a poet? Implicit in these familiar questions, Maurice Manning suggests, is a suspicion of poetry, and he asks why poetry must be defended again and again. Manning draws on writing by Sidney, Milton, Keats, Rilke, William Carlos Williams, and August Kleinzahler to consider ways poetry has been defined and defended, and, offering his own defense, invites us to bathe in Keats’s “drainless shower of light.”
MANNING, MAURICE: Fat Man's Misery, or, The Mind of the Poem (January 2014)
MANNING, MAURICE: Fat Man's Misery, or, The Mind of the Poem (January 2014)
Centering on Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” as well as other works, this lecture examines how “gaps”— what is not explicitly stated in a poem or a story—can have a profound impact on the reader’s experience, allowing him or her room to wonder and wander off the page into the mind of the work.
MANNING, MAURICE: Hear Lies Andrew Baker: An Epitome on Figures of Speech (July 2015)
MANNING, MAURICE: Hear Lies Andrew Baker: An Epitome on Figures of Speech (July 2015)
Drawing upon poetry by Emily Dickinson, Philip Larkin, Edward Thomas, and others, Manning’s lecture identifies and discusses a wide range of figures of speech and demonstrates how they transform the basic materials of a poem, providing structure for poetic thought.
MANNING, MAURICE: Lyricism, Landscape, and the Inner Voice (January 2010)
MANNING, MAURICE: Lyricism, Landscape, and the Inner Voice (January 2010)
In this lecture, Maurice Manning explores the relationship of place to the constitution of a poetic self; the individual imagination, he argues, comes from the larger creativity of the natural world. Manning looks at poems by Pope, Coleridge, Dylan Thomas and Robert Penn Warren to consider how these poets return to, and re-imagine, the places that produced them.
MANNING, MAURICE: Nature and the Possibility of a Moral Imagination (July 2014)
MANNING, MAURICE: Nature and the Possibility of a Moral Imagination (July 2014)
What does Nature have to teach us in 21st century, and how can Nature instruct human imagination? Can our deep intimacy with Nature make us better artists? Manning’s lecture seeks answers through a discussion of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the work of and the correspondence between Robert Frost and Edward Thomas.
MANNING, MAURICE: Place and the Composition of Poetic Self (January 2011)
MANNING, MAURICE: Place and the Composition of Poetic Self (January 2011)
In this lecture Manning examines the generative role a specific geography plays in composing a sense of poetic self. Through a study of the ways in which Coleridge’s “Reflections on Having Left a Place of Retirement," Dylan Thomas's "Fern Hill," and Robert Penn Warren's "The Ballad of Billie Potts” render place on the page, Manning explores how these poets use tone, syntax, and form to simultaneously render self.
MANNING, MAURICE: The Uses of Nostalgia (January 2012)
MANNING, MAURICE: The Uses of Nostalgia (January 2012)
Poet Maurice Manning questions whether the idea of nostalgia might offer a powerful perspective, rather than an aesthetic shortcoming. Wordsworth’s “Prelude” suggests that nostalgic moments are not “sentimental” but are a means of recognizing the wellspring of a speaker’s poetic vision. Using Emerson’s essay “Nature” as a guide, Manning considers the idea of nostalgia in Frost’s “Going for Water,” and Vachel Lindsay’s “Nancy Hanks, Mother of Abraham Lincoln.”
MARIANNE BORUCH: The Cult of Development (January 2003)
MARIANNE BORUCH: The Cult of Development (January 2003)
Questioning a contemporary assumption that writers must “transform themselves” over the course of their careers, Marianne Boruch asks what other kind of change artists might strive for. Boruch examines how the music of Brahms and the poems of Roethke, Hopkins, and Bishop changed—and didn’t—throughout their lives, proposing an alternative model of artistic development: rather than changing in a linear way, artists can delve more deeply into their given subjects, and in doing so become “more humane.”
MARTONE, MICHAEL: Homer on Homer, or, a Bunch of Stuff That Happens (January 2005)
MARTONE, MICHAEL: Homer on Homer, or, a Bunch of Stuff That Happens (January 2005)
In this playful “Episodic Meditation on Episode,” Michael Martone considers the limitations of neat narrative structure and the ways in which it can be subverted. Considering examples from contemporary television, and sources as diverse as The Simpsons, Gone with the Wind, and John Barth’s “Lost in the Funhouse,” Martone reflects on the benefits of character- rather than plot-driven fiction.
MAZUR, GRACE DANE: Forbidden Looking (July 2008)
MAZUR, GRACE DANE: Forbidden Looking (July 2008)
What is looking, Grace Dane Mazur asks, that it should be so enticing, so fatal, and so forbidden? How is looking different from seeing? What kind of insight is gained from forbidden looking, and is it worth the consequences? Mazur considers these questions through the lens of the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, and reflects on the differences in how Rubens, Virgil, and Ovid represent Orpheus’ famous look back.
MAZUR, GRACE DANE: The Whistling Roar; or The World of Fiction and the Land of the Dead (July 2005)
MAZUR, GRACE DANE: The Whistling Roar; or The World of Fiction and the Land of the Dead (July 2005)
What happens when we “curl up with a novel?” What world do we enter, and how do we enter it? Looking at work by Proust, Lewis Carroll, Paula Fox, Charles Baxter, Parmenides, Katherine Mansfield, and Eudora Welty, as well as The Epic of Gilgamesh, Mazur suggests that we might understand the world of fiction as a kind of underworld, or Hades; she examines the ways specific moments in novels, particularly the opening pages, function as crucial liminal moments that guide us between these worlds.
McCONIGLEY, NINA: Representing Foreign Territories in Fiction (January 2015)
McCONIGLEY, NINA: Representing Foreign Territories in Fiction (January 2015)
This discussion class focuses on how to deal with the social and factual issues innate to representing unfamiliar territories and the sometimes ethically sensitive process of writing about places/people we do not intimately know. Among the texts discussed are William Styron’s The Confessions of Nat Turner, Bill Cheng’s Southern Cross the Dog, and Kathryn Stockett’s The Help.
McHUGH, HEATHER: Ars Poetica (July 2007)
McHUGH, HEATHER: Ars Poetica (July 2007)
Heather McHugh reflects on how the Ars Poetica is both a poetic and critical device. “I wanted Ars Poetica to heal a wound,” she says, “because when two contraries are suggested in a single gesture one might come back …into some restorative sense of the actual universe.” While drawing on examples by Archibald MacLeish, Pinsky, Dickinson, Valery, Celan, and others, McHugh devotes the majority of her attention to poems by Wallace Stevens, considering how these poems can both “mean” and “be.”
McHUGH, HEATHER: Composition as Conversation (July 2013)
McHUGH, HEATHER: Composition as Conversation (July 2013)
Heather McHugh does some etymological turns on the turns of verse—coming out in conversation with company and solitude, the controversial and the universal, the convertible and the converse. As always, her eye is on ambiguous and polyguous constructions of poetry; this time she reads poems by Rainer Maria Rilke, Alan Dugan, Frederick Seidel, Shirley Kaufman, and others.
McHUGH, HEATHER: Matters of Letters (January 2008)
McHUGH, HEATHER: Matters of Letters (January 2008)
It is generally presumed that a metaphorical impulse lies at the heart of the poetic, Heather McHugh notes. In this lecture, she concentrates instead on what she calls the “literary literal,” and with “myopic glee and lapidary precision” examines the shapes and patterns of letters and text in Matthea Harvey’s “Everything Must Go,” Alan Dugan’s “Poem,” and William Meredith’s “The Illiterate.”
McHUGH, HEATHER: Mirrors and Misgivings (July 2000)
McHUGH, HEATHER: Mirrors and Misgivings (July 2000)
In this lecture, Heather McHugh reconsiders the idea that a work of art mirrors the world. Through close readings of Elizabeth Bishop’s “Insomnia,” Louise Bogan’s “Man Alone,” Robert Graves’ “The Face in the Mirror,” Gustaf Sobin’s “Out of the Identity,” and W.B. Yeats’ “The Cat and the Moon,” McHugh examines how poems create multiple readings and “break out of the mirror’s stronghold.” The best work of any artist, argues McHugh, is that of “discovery and not recapitulation, motivated by curiosity, not foreknowledge.”
McHUGH, HEATHER: The Garden Path: Poems by Gaspara Stampa and Su Tung P'o (July 2011)
McHUGH, HEATHER: The Garden Path: Poems by Gaspara Stampa and Su Tung P'o (July 2011)
In this lecture, Heather McHugh examines the work of two largely unknown poets, Gaspara Stampa and Su Tung P’o. McHugh conducts close readings of a range of poems by both writers and considers the ghost meanings, or multiple meanings, of the words in the poems; she suggests that this multiplicity allows the poems to work like “garden paths,” taking readers in unexpected directions.
McHUGH, HEATHER: The Stuff of Language as Packed by Wallace Stevens (July 2009)
McHUGH, HEATHER: The Stuff of Language as Packed by Wallace Stevens (July 2009)
Heather McHugh reflects on the metaphor of a poem as a container, and on the ways such a vehicle can convey something larger than itself. Drawing on prose by Wittgenstein and on poems by William Dickey and Rilke, McHugh devotes the majority of her lecture to Wallace Stevens; she explores how poems such as “Poetry is a Destructive Force,” “Jumbo,” “Imago,” and “The Immense Dew of Florida” are designed to be exceeded by what they contain.
McHUGH, HEATHER: The Unwary Angel: Inquiry and Empathy (July 2014)
McHUGH, HEATHER: The Unwary Angel: Inquiry and Empathy (July 2014)
“The role of art,” says faculty member Heather McHugh, “is to remind a mind that thinks it has made itself up.” Mc Hugh’s lecture takes on inquiry and empathy—and inquiry as empathy--through discussions of the poetry of Miroslav Holub, the writings of physicist Richard Feynman, and others. The two video clips referenced in this talk may be found on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=37MNE8tOBG4 and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-XGds2GAvGQ.
McHUGH, HEATHER: Verse I was Averse To (January 2016)
McHUGH, HEATHER: Verse I was Averse To (January 2016)
Over time, readerly capitance changes, and its own effects can take us by surprise. “Even as we imagine ourselves to be discovering the endless inside the artistic moment,” says Heather McHugh, “the artistic engagement may discover to us the perishabilities within our own tenacities and the utility of our own self-succession.” In this tour-de-force lecture, McHugh reconsiders Blake, Milton, Whitman, and Pound, poets she says she was unable to properly appreciate when she was younger.
McILVOY, KEVIN: Desinence (July 2015)
McILVOY, KEVIN: Desinence (July 2015)
Kevin McIlvoy provides an “answering” lecture to his 2009 lecture on “Imminence” (the about-to-be-moment). “Desinence” addresses, with particular attention to the journals of Henry David Thoreau, the coming-to-an-end moment in reading experiences.
McILVOY, KEVIN: Focalization (January 2013)
McILVOY, KEVIN: Focalization (January 2013)
The tensions of looking and being looked at are essential in all narrative. What asks to be focused upon? What resists focalization? At what moment does something come into focus, and at what critical moment does something elude focus? For some writers, a significant breakthrough occurs when they move past their first assumptions about “looking” behaviors. McIlvoy’s lecture concentrates primarily on Sarah Orne Jewett’s The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896), specifically to the editions that include the “Dunnett Landing” stories.
McILVOY, KEVIN: Laughter and the Laws of Nature (July 2006)
McILVOY, KEVIN: Laughter and the Laws of Nature (July 2006)
What makes fiction successfully, and complexly, funny? Reflecting on comedy’s foundation in the tragic and on laughter as an embodied response, McIlvoy draws on writing about the comic by Henri Bergson, Charles Baudelaire, Walter Kerr and F.H. Buckley, and focuses on comic strategies at work in Flann O’Brien’s novel The Third Policeman.
McILVOY, KEVIN: Making, Masking, and Unmasking: God in Fiction (January 2007)
McILVOY, KEVIN: Making, Masking, and Unmasking: God in Fiction (January 2007)
How can writers take up the unique challenges of portraying “God” as a figure in their fiction? In this lecture, Kevin McIlvoy draws on work by Simone Weil and on Tolstoy’s novels, but focuses on Tolstoy’s short story “Master and Man” to examine its distinctly sincere handling of religion. Arguing that it marks Tolstoy’s development into the kind of artist he himself called “inartistic,” McIlvoy suggests that this story serves as an example of how a writer can pursue innocence or simplicity instead of complication.
McILVOY, KEVIN: Opportunities for Imminence (January 2009)
McILVOY, KEVIN: Opportunities for Imminence (January 2009)
If imminence is the state in which events are about to occur, isn’t it the fiction writer’s job to fulfill that “about-to,” and make things happen? In this lecture, Kevin McIlvoy suggests otherwise. Through close readings of Grimm’s fairytales, James Joyce’s “The Dead,” Sherwood Anderson’s “Death in the Woods,” and Agha Shahid Ali’s “The Last Saffron,” McIlvoy explores the power and possibility that can be produced when writers dwell longer in “about-to-happen” conditions.
McILVOY, KEVIN: Reflections on the Sentence and Poetic Line (January 2011)
McILVOY, KEVIN: Reflections on the Sentence and Poetic Line (January 2011)
Kevin McIlvoy considers differences and similarities between the prose sentence and the poetic line. If a sentence functions as “a train to a destination,” he argues that the poetic line is often a kind of “pedestrian” whose guidance of the reader “invites discovery, not destination.” McIlvoy goes on to consider writing that creates points of intersections between the sentence and the line, drawing on poetry by Denise Levertov, Thom Gunn, and Jean Valentine; fiction by Angela Carter, Jim Crace, and Herta Müller; and critical studies including The Art of Syntax by Ellen Bryant Voigt and The Art of the Poetic Line by James Longenbach.
McILVOY, KEVIN: The
McILVOY, KEVIN: The "Something There" Sensation: Learning from the Work of Anaïs Nin (July 2005)
In this lecture, Kevin McIlvoy explores the work of Anaïs Nin, focusing on how she writes about the body. Arguing that Nin elevates physical aliveness over intellectual awareness, McIlvoy explores the ways her characters inhabit the present moment and the ways her writing emphasizes feeling and embodiment. Through close readings of a range of Nin’s writing, McIlvoy suggests that her work offers a useful counterbalance to the theoretical preoccupations of much contemporary fiction.
McILVOY, KEVIN: The Equilibrist and The Dynamist (January 2014)
McILVOY, KEVIN: The Equilibrist and The Dynamist (January 2014)
This lecture presents ways in which writers can present the elements of their work that move it toward "dynamic balance" (verging on achieving balance and falling out of balance in the very same moment), while not moving it away from equilibrium. Through close consideration of Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and C.D. Wright's Deepstep Come Shining, the lecture addresses concepts of "the wolf tone," "surroundability and directionality," and the "altered instruments" of poetic syntax and story structure.
McILVOY, KEVIN: The One Reader (January 2012)
McILVOY, KEVIN: The One Reader (January 2012)
Kevin McIlvoy examines the influence an imagined reader, receptive or resistant, can exert on a writer. He selects prose poems by Russell Edson, Matthea Harvey, Francis Ponge, William Stafford, and James Tate as works which, he suggests, are both mistakes and “the perfection of mistakes.” McIlvoy encourages writers to think about what might be possible were they to imagine their “one reader” as positive and receptive, able to appreciate such work, rather than resistant.
NEVILLE, SUSAN: Barometric Pressure (January 2006)
NEVILLE, SUSAN: Barometric Pressure (January 2006)
Susan Neville examines how climate can serve not as a backdrop for narrative action but as part of the pressure that creates that action. She conducts close readings of several novels, giving particular attention to Mann’s Magic Mountain and Kawabata’s Snow Country, to examine how climate in fiction can work as “the uncanny, mysterious other… the thing one spirals back to again and again.” A 20-minute discussion with students and faculty follows the 50-minute lecture.
NEVILLE, SUSAN: The Paragraph (July 2011)
NEVILLE, SUSAN: The Paragraph (July 2011)
Susan Neville suggests that paragraphing, like prosody, is a musical device. Through close readings of work by Andre Dubus, George Saunders, Sylvia Plath and Marilynne Robinson, she explores how writers can use different kinds of paragraphs to generate feeling and tone, and convey information about their characters.
OHLIN, ALIX: Misfits and Malfeasance: The Criminal Act in Fiction (July 2012)
OHLIN, ALIX: Misfits and Malfeasance: The Criminal Act in Fiction (July 2012)
In this class, Alix Ohlin considers stylistic approaches to the portrayal of criminal acts in fiction. Looking at works by Raymond Chandler, Carson McCullers, and Alice Munro, Ohlin explores how charged moments of criminality can shift tone and texture. Ohlin argues that acts of violence and betrayal, often rendered lyrically, are integral not only to plot development, but also to successful, nuanced characterization.
OHLIN, ALIX: The Afterimage (July 2011)
OHLIN, ALIX: The Afterimage (July 2011)
Alix Ohlin explores how the idea of the afterimage, or that which lingers in our sight after a vivid visual sensation, might be applied to fiction. Through close readings of “Killings” by Andre Dubus, To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, and “Wants” by Grace Paley, Ohlin shows how a writer can call up an image which reminds us of what came before, thus creating both echoes of the past and surprising visions of the future.
ORNER, PETER: Reading is Experience (July 2013)
ORNER, PETER: Reading is Experience (July 2013)
Peter Orner examines the work of the masterful, and vastly under-appreciated, English novelist, Henry Green. By zeroing in on two of Green's most famous and innovative novels, Loving and Party Going, Orner discusses technical and emotional aspects of Green's unusual and unique style, and emphasizes that the key to Green's work is his uncanny ability to see and listen to his characters. As Eudora Welty wrote in 1970, "The intelligence, the blazing gifts of imagery, dialogue, construction, and form, the power to feel both what can and what can never be said, give Henry Green's work an intensity greater...than any writer of imaginative fiction today."
PABLO MEDINA: Don Quixote and Huckleberry Finn: Partners in Crime (July 2002)
PABLO MEDINA: Don Quixote and Huckleberry Finn: Partners in Crime (July 2002)
Pablo Medina explores the influence Cervante’s Don Quixote had on the character, scenes, and structure of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Showing how Twain drew on Cervante’s use of contrasting partners or pairs—one a mirror for fantasy, the other for reality--together exploring the human condition, Medina also suggests that the decaying chivalric code depicted in Don Quixote has parallels in the racist hypocrisies of Reconstruction that form the setting of Twain’s novel.
PARKER, MICHAEL: All Hail the Semi-Colon (January 2011)
PARKER, MICHAEL: All Hail the Semi-Colon (January 2011)
Michael Parker explores the particular value of a semi-colon both as a form of punctuation and in terms of the broader lessons it can teach about writing. Parker argues that the semi-colon embodies ambivalence, since it is more “penetrating than a comma” and “less blunt than a period.” He shows how use of the semi-colon significantly contributes to the development of character and meaning in such short-shorts as Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl” and John Cheever’s “Reunion,” as well as in Lydia Davis’ translation of Madame Bovary.
PARKER, MICHAEL: The Parenthetical (January 2015)
PARKER, MICHAEL: The Parenthetical (January 2015)
“Punctuation," said the essayist Pico Iyer, "gives us the human voice, and all the meanings that lie between the words." Parker’s lecture focuses on the parenthesis—specifically the ways in which it epitomizes various (and crucial) aspects of narrative: dissemination of information, development of character, the establishment of tension, rhythm and pattern, the handling of time and—most importantly—the creation of consciousness. Texts include Conrad Aiken's "Silent Snow, Secret Snow," Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, and examples from Nabokov, Faulkner, Joyce, Elizabeth Bishop, and Henry James (of course).
PARSONS, ALEXANDER: Lasting First Impressions: The Novel Opening (July 2011)
PARSONS, ALEXANDER: Lasting First Impressions: The Novel Opening (July 2011)
Alexander Parsons suggests that an effective novel opening can guide the writer in both subtle and direct ways, even in its early stages of composition. Drawing on examples from Cormac McCarthy, Raymond Chandler and Haruki Murakami, Parsons argues that in drafting and redrafting this section of a novel the writer engages with structure, controlling metaphor, motif, and tone—narrative elements which can help define the book as a whole.
PETER TURCHI: A Rigorous Geometry; or, Erathosthenes, Kundera, and You (July 2002)
PETER TURCHI: A Rigorous Geometry; or, Erathosthenes, Kundera, and You (July 2002)
The world of the story, Peter Turchi explains, exists just off the page; the story is the map of that world, and maps rely on geometry. While most stories don't conform precisely to figures like Freitag's triangle, writers can learn from geometry, Turchi suggests; in this lecture, he considers what the language of geometry and the distorting formulas of map-makers can offer to fiction-writing, drawing on work by Italo Calvino, Vladimir Nabokov, and Edgar Allen Poe, among others, for examples.
PETER TURCHI: Blanks (Silences) (January 2003)
PETER TURCHI: Blanks (Silences) (January 2003)
A map, Peter Turchi notes, is as much made out of what it leaves out as what it selectively includes; in this lecture, Turchi posits the map as a metaphor for a poem, story, or novel, and considers the role of blanks and silences in all three forms. Drawing on Moby Dick, Anne Carson’s translations of Sappho and Kate Chopin’s “The Storm,” among other examples, Turchi asks us to consider how the blanks and silences in our writing can create “imaginal adventures” for the reader.
PETER TURCHI: Theater of the World (January 2002)
PETER TURCHI: Theater of the World (January 2002)
How, Peter Turchi asks, can we use our necessarily limited vantage points, our own limited mental maps, to open onto something larger, something like the “theater of the world”? Turchi considers the ways modernism, and its strategies for depicting the complexity and chaos of individual perspectives, persists in contemporary fiction; he looks, for examples, at Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, Delillo’s White Noise, the film Memento and Heather McHugh’s poem “Not a Prayer.”
REEVES, ROGER: (Troubling) Image and the Poetic Statement (January 2015)
REEVES, ROGER: (Troubling) Image and the Poetic Statement (January 2015)
Approaching troubling both in the African-American sense of radical and transformational change or disruption as well as in the standard definition of “disturbance,” Roger Reeves explores the image as both the stable and not-so-stable ground of the lyric meditation through a close reading of Brigit Pegeen Kelly’s “The Dragon.”
REIKEN, FREDERICK: The Legacy of Anton Chekhov (July 2007)
REIKEN, FREDERICK: The Legacy of Anton Chekhov (July 2007)
Frederick Reiken explores the ways in which Chekhov’s stories made a radical departure from the event-plot variety of story popular at his time, and shows how Chekhov’s original, character-driven style provided the blueprint for short stories today. Looking at a range of Chekhov’s stories, as well as at Chekhov’s influence on writers as diverse as William Faulkner and Shirley Jackson, Reiken argues that Chekhov should rightly be considered the father of the modern short story.
ROBERT BOSWELL: The Alternate Universe (July 2002)
ROBERT BOSWELL: The Alternate Universe (July 2002)
In comic books, alternate universes exist alongside realistic ones, and characters can move between them. How might writers borrow from such a model to enliven their fiction? In this lecture, Robert Boswell explores how writers such as Alice Munro, Anton Chekhov, James Joyce, James Baldwin and others create resonant moments, a “shimmer” in their fiction by allowing characters to move from familiar, to less familiar, worlds.
ROBERT COHEN: Rants, or The Piano Has Been Drinking (January 2004)
ROBERT COHEN: Rants, or The Piano Has Been Drinking (January 2004)
We’re often told that when it comes to good dramatic writing, less is more, Robert Cohen notes. But is this really always true? In this lecture, Cohen explores the value of rants in fiction, arguing that they can deepen a sense of a character and push the readers outside of their emotional comfort zones, puncturing the shield of conventional constructs. He finds examples of successful rants in sources as diverse as Tom Waits, D.H. Lawrence, Philip Roth and William Shakespeare, among others.
ROMM, ROBIN: Great Neurotics (January 2014)
ROMM, ROBIN: Great Neurotics (January 2014)
What makes a neurotic narrator so compelling, so full of life for so many writers (and readers)? Romm’s lecture explains the craft implications of hyper-vigilance, obsessiveness, and overthinking, and explores how these qualities make for excellent prose in works such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper, Philip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint, Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, Dorothy Baker's Cassandra at the Wedding, and others.
ROMM, ROBIN: The Unsparing Gaze (January 2013)
ROMM, ROBIN: The Unsparing Gaze (January 2013)
Romm’s lecture discusses two authors who use “the unsparing gaze” toward very different ends. Edward St. Aubyn’s tragic and autobiographical “Patrick Melrose Novels” explore how childhood incest wreaks havoc on a psyche. Alison Lurie’s comic social satire “The War Between the Tates” skewers gender roles and marriage. Both authors, Romm observes, “make the most of discomfort, an excellent aim for any artist.”
RUEFLE, MARY: On Secrets: Eight Beginnings, Two Ends (July 2007)
RUEFLE, MARY: On Secrets: Eight Beginnings, Two Ends (July 2007)
In this “lecture on secrets which is secretly about poetry,” Mary Ruefle explores how literature has dealt with secrets over time, and how the act of writing is itself private and, in a sense, secretive. Reflecting on the correspondences between the secretive and the sacred, as well as between what is secret and what is playful, Ruefle considers a range of texts through this lens, including Out of Africa by Isak Dineson, The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald, and poems by Artur Lundkvist, Tomas Tranströmer, and Heraclitus.
SCHWARTZ, STEVEN: Mythic Characters (July 2009)
SCHWARTZ, STEVEN: Mythic Characters (July 2009)
Some of the most memorable and famous characters in literature—Kurtz, Gatsby, Bartleby, The Misfit—are often the most psychologically inaccessible, viewed only from the outside, opaque surfaces onto which other characters’ projections can be mapped. In this lecture, Steven Schwartz looks at fiction by Joseph Conrad, Flannery O’Connor, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Herman Melville, Joyce Carol Oates, Steven Millhauser, Katherine Anne Porter and J.D. Salinger to investigate how such mythic characters are made.
SHAPIRO, ALAN: Convention and Mysticism: Dickinson, Hardy, and Williams (January 2012)
SHAPIRO, ALAN: Convention and Mysticism: Dickinson, Hardy, and Williams (January 2012)
“How do we recognize individual talent if not against the backdrop of convention?” asks poet, novelist, and memoirist Alan Shapiro. Using T. S. Eliot’s “Tradition and the Individual Talent” as a framework for his discussion, Shapiro considers the work of leading modernists who were deeply engaged with literary tradition and their individual talents. Among the works examined: Emily Dickinson, Poem 591; Thomas Hardy, “The Oxen”; and William Carlos Williams, “Portrait of a Lady.”
SHAPIRO, ALAN: On Convention and Self-Expression (July 2015)
SHAPIRO, ALAN: On Convention and Self-Expression (July 2015)
Shapiro’s lecture explores the paradoxical ways in which individual expressiveness can arise from and depend on impersonal conventions in such a way that the privacy of inner life is socialized (made available to others) while the conventions themselves are made fresh and new. Among the poems discussed are works by Ben Jonson, J.V. Cunningham, Philip Larkin, and Natalie Diaz.
SHAPIRO, ALAN: Technique of Empathy: Free Indirect Style (January 2011)
SHAPIRO, ALAN: Technique of Empathy: Free Indirect Style (January 2011)
Alan Shapiro characterizes Free Indirect Style as one which enables writers to move between intimacy and distance in narration. Drawing on close readings of “The Mill” by E.A. Robinson, “Donahue’s Sister” and “Slow Waker” by Thom Gunn, and “A Fantasy” by Louise Glück, he looks at how that these poems intertwine the narrative voice with contrasting perspectives of characters within the poem. Shapiro concludes that Free Indirect Style urges us “to consider being someone else” while at the same time suggesting the limitations of empathic understanding.
SHAPIRO, ALAN: Translation as Linguistic Hospitality (July 2009)
SHAPIRO, ALAN: Translation as Linguistic Hospitality (July 2009)
“If failure and betrayal are inevitable” in translation, Alan Shapiro asks, “how do we fail and betray in interesting and illuminating ways?” Shapiro draws on his own experiences translating The Oresteia, as well as on translations of that work by Robert Browning and Robert Fagles, to explore the challenges facing any translator and to advocate the idea of hospitality as a productive way to think about translation.
SMITH, DOMINIC: The Literature of Delusion (January 2008)
SMITH, DOMINIC: The Literature of Delusion (January 2008)
Self-deception, religious mania, grandiose visions—these are among the forms of delusion Dominic Smith presents, as he discusses its usefulness to fiction writers for its ready-made conflict with reality. Through close readings of fiction by Virginia Woolf, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Dostoevsky, Nabokov, Ken Kesey, William S. Burroughs, and James Hogg, Smith shows how writers have successfully rendered delusion’s internal logic and innate drama, and how their delusional characters can help us see ourselves.
SMITH, DOMINIC: The Mystery of Personality: Paradox, Consistency, and the Limits of Psychology in Creating Compelling Fictional Characters (January 2013)
SMITH, DOMINIC: The Mystery of Personality: Paradox, Consistency, and the Limits of Psychology in Creating Compelling Fictional Characters (January 2013)
When Flannery O’Connor said, “A story always involves, in a dramatic way, the mystery of personality,” she highlighted a key tension for the literary fiction writer—how to create characters who are both consistent and paradoxical. While the psychologist might be interested in understanding and categorizing the tangled web of personality, the fiction writer is primarily interested in revealing it. And as O’Connor reminds us, that revelation must happen in a dramatic way. Smith’s lecture explores our cultural understanding of personality, how it impedes and/or aids our explorations on the page, and some practical ways we might harness personality as an inherently dramatic “vehicle.”
SMITH, DOMINIC: The Year without a Summer: On the Uses of Weather and Atmosphere in Fiction (January 2015)
SMITH, DOMINIC: The Year without a Summer: On the Uses of Weather and Atmosphere in Fiction (January 2015)
Weather is often taken for granted in fiction, or treated as a simplistic, overly-determined extension of our characters' moods. Dominic Smith examines the legacy of weather as it has been passed down from Gothic and Victorian literatures, looking at examples in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Hardy's Tess of the D'urbervilles as well as Rick Bass's "The Hermit's Story" and Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping.
SMITH, DOMINIC: Varieties of Movement: Plot and Beyond in Fiction (January 2009)
SMITH, DOMINIC: Varieties of Movement: Plot and Beyond in Fiction (January 2009)
What keeps us turning the pages of prose pieces by W.G. Sebald or Gertrude Stein, works known for their lack of “event”? In this lecture, Dominic Smith challenges and expands conventional ideas about how fiction can move. Drawing on Aristotle’s Poetics, Christopher Booker’s The Seven Basic Plots, W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn and David Markson’s The Last Novel, Smith considers a variety of types of plot, as well as other devices that can generate momentum at a more molecular level.
SPARK, DEBRA: Jump Already (July 2015)
SPARK, DEBRA: Jump Already (July 2015)
Referencing visual artists as well as the work of Richard Russo, Joan Silber, Joan Wickersham, and others, Sparks’s lecture focuses on artistic leaps in fiction, focusing on the shift from student to more accomplished work and from accomplished work to work of particular distinction. NOTE: Sparks's lecture refers to several images; a list of these images along with information on locating them online may be viewed by clicking on the Fiction thumbnail to the left of this description.
SPARK, DEBRA: New Wave Fabulism (January 2008)
SPARK, DEBRA: New Wave Fabulism (January 2008)
If years ago U.S. writers interested in magical realism and other forms of fabulism turned to South America, Russia, and Eastern Europe for models, now a group of contemporary writers, Debra Spark notes, are turning to genre fiction. What’s to admire and avoid in this fiction? Spark explores work by Elizabeth Hand, Kelly Link, Michael Chabon, Jonathan Lethem, Ayelet Waldman and Rick Moody, among others, to examine how “new wave fabulism” or “recombinant genre fiction” functions.
SPARK, DEBRA: Raiding the Larder: Research in Fact-Based Fiction (July 2013)
SPARK, DEBRA: Raiding the Larder: Research in Fact-Based Fiction (July 2013)
Combining her own interviews with Charles Baxter, David Bezmozgia, Lily King, and Jim Shepard with online and print interviews with Kate Atkinson, Colum McCann and William Maxwell, Debra Spark discusses how contemporary writers use research to inspire, authenticate and correct their narratives. While always emphasizing that research is a means to a fictive end, not a goal in itself, she explores the artistic and personal pleasures of going to the library, interviewing, traveling, and even Googling obsessively.
SPARK, DEBRA: Size Matters (January 2007)
SPARK, DEBRA: Size Matters (January 2007)
Inspired by the lament, “Everything I write is so small!” Debra Spark examines the characteristics of what we generally consider “big” fiction. How can novels incorporate the big world and its big concerns, Spark asks, while avoiding the obvious pitfalls of a historical or overtly political novel? Spark focuses primarily on three “big” books by Elizabeth Strout, Philip Roth, and Dara Horn, exploring how these authors create a sense of magnitude, paradoxically, through their careful attention to the domestic.
SPARK, DEBRA: Surprise Me (July 2014)
SPARK, DEBRA: Surprise Me (July 2014)
How do we think of surprise in fiction? As an antidote to boredom, a gift of the subconscious, or welcome strangeness? Spark’s lecture considers how even the quotidian can shock us through plot twists, formal invention, character revelation, or language that distills the nature of the real.
SPARK, DEBRA: That's Funny (July 2012)
SPARK, DEBRA: That's Funny (July 2012)
In this lecture, Debra Spark questions how humor functions in contemporary fiction. Comparing the novels Personal Days by Ed Parks and Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris, Spark looks at the comedic qualities of each and identifies the means by which the virtues of gratitude and humility are conveyed to readers. Spark’s discussion also makes mention of fictional moments by Etgar Keret, Shalom Auslander, and Maggie Shipstead which lead to important considerations of characterization, precise observation, truth-telling, and emotional power.
STAFFEL, MEGAN: Breaking Out: Narrative Shifts (January 2012)
STAFFEL, MEGAN: Breaking Out: Narrative Shifts (January 2012)
Megan Staffel examines how the “break-out scene,” which changes the tonal register and trajectory of a piece of fiction, deepens characterization and narrative drive. Looking at “The Dead,” she show how Joyce uses scenes of stillness to suspend characters in a kind of tension which pressures them to change both understanding and behavior, and allows him to boldly change the direction of his story. Staffel also explores the crafting and effects of break-out scenes in Shirley Hazzard’s The Transit of Venus and The Great Fire which, while resulting in profound changes in the characters, never feel staged or arbitrary—rather, Staffel says, each is accomplished “in a manner that’s so concise and natural, it has the ambiguity of raw experience.”
STAFFEL, MEGAN: Now You See It, Now You Don't: A Glimpse into the Locked Box (January 2014)
STAFFEL, MEGAN: Now You See It, Now You Don't: A Glimpse into the Locked Box (January 2014)
This two-hour discussion class led by Megan Staffel explores what is gained when the writer shows the protagonist having a sublime experience in the early pages of a novel. Not only does it allow the reader insight into the character’s secret ambition, but it establishes the reader’s sympathy with the character’s often risky or impossible purpose: to return to the sublime that was so fleetingly achieved.
STEPHEN DOBYNS: The Syllable in Love and War (July 2004)
STEPHEN DOBYNS: The Syllable in Love and War (July 2004)
A reader’s investment in a poem depends, Stephen Dobyns argues, “not just [on] the subject matter, but also the ordering of information,” including the ordering of individual syllables. Arguing that meaning and feeling can be conveyed at the level of the syllable through stress, duration, pitch and timbre, Dobyns explores how each of these sonic qualities are at work in poems by William Barnes, Philip Larkin, Thomas Wyatt, Janet Lewis, John Keats and Robert Lowell.
STONE, SARAH: Strategic Opacity (July 2014)
STONE, SARAH: Strategic Opacity (July 2014)
An imaginative work needs to embody, rather than explain, its world and its people. Stephen Greenblatt uses the term “Strategic Opacity” in discussing Shakespeare’s approach to character motivation. Stone adopts this idea as her jumping-off point to explore character and plot mysteries in Jamaica Kinkaid’s At the Bottom of the River, Joy Williams’ The Quick and the Dead, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
STONE, SARAH: The Pleasures of Hell (July 2012)
STONE, SARAH: The Pleasures of Hell (July 2012)
Sarah Stone explores aesthetic choices that make depictions of “hell” in literature pleasurable. Referring to Dante’s Inferno, Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun, and Hilary Mantel’s Beyond Black, Stone demonstrates ways in which writers entice readers to enjoy morally disturbing and painful matters.
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Lectures by Genre: Fiction

  MIXING IT UP (Panel): Marianne Boruch, Karen Brennan, Jeremy Gavron, Robin Romm, Alan Shapiro, David Shields (January 2014)
MIXING IT UP (Panel): Marianne Boruch, Karen Brennan, Jeremy Gavron, Robin Romm, Alan Shapiro, David Shields (January 2014)
What prompts a poet to write fiction, or poets/fiction writers to undertake a memoir? Is the impulse toward “another genre” purely a formal choice, or is it made necessary by the material to be served? Are valuable lessons brought back to one’s “primary” genre? Or, will some of us spend our writing lives happily alternating among poems, novels, stories, essays, memoir and admixtures that defy taxonomy? Six faculty members report from own their experiences crossing the genre divide.
BAKOPOULOS, DEAN: Baby I've Changed, I Swear: Creating Turning Points in Prose & Poetry (January 2012)
BAKOPOULOS, DEAN: Baby I've Changed, I Swear: Creating Turning Points in Prose & Poetry (January 2012)
Fiction writer Dean Bakopoulos defines a “turning point” as an internal process in a speaker or character that affects the course of the poem or story, and sets into motion what will become the climax, resolution, conclusion, or epiphany. He identifies and considers the internal moments that are seeds of change, leaps towards epiphany, or transformations in stories and poems, including Richard Bausch’s “The Fireman’s Wife,” Junot Diaz’s “Nilda,” Mary Gaitskill’s “Tiny Smiling Daddy,” Reginald McKnight’s “The Kind of Lights That Shines on Texas,” Donald Hall’s “Affirmation,” Franz Wright’s “To Myself,” J. Allyn Rosser’s “As If,” and Richard Hugo’s, “Degrees of Gray in Philipsburg.”
BAKOPOULOS, DEAN: Let Us Consider the Kitchen: The User's Guide to Lists, Maps, and Inventories (January 2014)
BAKOPOULOS, DEAN: Let Us Consider the Kitchen: The User's Guide to Lists, Maps, and Inventories (January 2014)
Bakopoulos’s discussion class examines the uses of lists and litanies in poetry and prose as a way to heighten momentum and illuminate syntax. Among the texts discussed are William Maxwell’s So Long, See You Tomorrow and works by Tillie Olsen, Susan Minot, and Stuart Dybek.
BAKOPOULOS, DEAN: Postponement in Fiction (January 2010)
BAKOPOULOS, DEAN: Postponement in Fiction (January 2010)
Shaped by Lorca’s concept of duende, Dean Bakopoulos’ lecture explores the effect that moments of stillness can have when they come against backdrops of intense action. Bakoupolos draws on fiction by John Cheever, James Joyce, and Jane Smiley, poetry by Richard Hugo and James Wright, and Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” to consider how these writers allow their characters, and their readers, to access the “deep song” in their lives.
BAKOPOULOS, DEAN: Rainbows for All God's Children (& Other Horror Stories) (January 2013)
BAKOPOULOS, DEAN: Rainbows for All God's Children (& Other Horror Stories) (January 2013)
A meditation on the challenges of narrative momentum in prose and poetry, this lecture attempts to use lessons from the horror genre and apply them to writing that is not always plot-driven. Among the stories discussed are Z.Z. Packer’s “Brownies,” Stuart Dybek’s “Paper Lanterns,” and “Dance in America” by Lorrie Moore.
BAKOPOULOS, DEAN: The Lyricism of Upheaval (January 2011)
BAKOPOULOS, DEAN: The Lyricism of Upheaval (January 2011)
Dean Bakopoulos challenges the workshop maxim that “less is more” and asks what happens when writers drop “the cloak of restraint” and move into the “realm of excess.” Fiction which seeks to enact emotional upheaval and intensity need not be melodramatic, he argues. Drawing on examples from fiction, poetry, and music, Bakopoulos looks at the strategies used in Nathaniel West’s Miss Lonelyhearts, Barry Hannah’s “Love Too Long,” Aleksander Hemon’s Nowhere Man, and Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, as well as Sufjan Stevens’ “Chicago.”
BAKOPOULOS, DEAN: We Never Close: A Heartbroken Manifesto against Tidiness, Resolution, and Brevity (January 2016)
BAKOPOULOS, DEAN: We Never Close: A Heartbroken Manifesto against Tidiness, Resolution, and Brevity (January 2016)
Dean Bakopoulos examines work fueled by heartbreak so surreal it cannot follow the tidy or predictable forms of traditional stories and poems. Instead, the work rambles, digresses, glosses over the important, elevates the mundane, forces a form, and then kicks the form apart. Looking at work by Lorrie Moore, Edward Hirsch, and James Baldwin, Bakopoulos explores how such works manipulate the reader and build conflict, even in the absence of plot.
BARNHARDT, WILTON: Don't Take That Tone With Me (January 2008)
BARNHARDT, WILTON: Don't Take That Tone With Me (January 2008)
Wilton Barnhardt: Don’t Take That Tone With Me How often are we tempted to write solemnly about solemn subjects and joyfully about joyful subjects, matching style with content to achieve a so-called appropriate tone? In this lecture, Wilton Barnhardt reflects on the surprise and rich layers of meaning that can be produced when the writer uses an “anomalous tone,” or a tone that is seemingly at odds with the subject matter; Barnhardt looks at work by John Brehm, James Joyce, Randall Kenan, and Imre Kertesz for examples.
BAXTER, CHARLES: Dramatic Interventions: The Request Moment (July 2013)
BAXTER, CHARLES: Dramatic Interventions: The Request Moment (July 2013)
Dramatic situations are often set into motion when one character makes a request of another; poems, too, may acquire a certain energy from requests made within them. These requests tell us something about the social group in which they occur, and they tell us about the obligations one character may have for another. Examples are offered from Shakespeare, A. E. Housman, Shirley Jackson, Mario Puzo's The Godfather, and others.
BAXTER, CHARLES: Fugitive Subjectivity (July 2014)
BAXTER, CHARLES: Fugitive Subjectivity (July 2014)
What happens within a story when there may be no one to whom a story can be told, or the story itself is somehow unspeakable? Baxter explores “fugitive subjectivity”—subjectivity without an outlet—in the toxic narratives that result, focusing on John Cheever’s “The Country Husband.”
BAXTER, CHARLES: Narrative Urgency (July 2010)
BAXTER, CHARLES: Narrative Urgency (July 2010)
Narratives should be organized, Charles Baxter remarks in this lecture, “around the truth of the material and not the deployment of devices.” Yet urgency is crucial to good fiction. Drawing on Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Paula Fox’s The Widow’s Children, Joan Silber’s The Size of the World, Anton Chekhov’s “The Lady with the Pet Dog,” and Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust, Baxter offers a variety of strategies writers can use to deepen suspense and tension in their work.
BAXTER, CHARLES: Regarding Happiness (July 2008)
BAXTER, CHARLES: Regarding Happiness (July 2008)
Why, Charles Baxter asks, is happiness such an intractable subject for treatment in extended dramatic forms, whether poetry or fiction? While reflecting on the difficulties in writing about happiness, Baxter offers several strategies writers can use to approach the subject; he turns to Czeslaw Milosz’s “Gift,” Ernest Hemingway’s “Big Two-Hearted River,” and John Cheever’s “The Worm in the Apple” for examples.
BAXTER, CHARLES: Sonia's Last Speech (July 2006)
BAXTER, CHARLES: Sonia's Last Speech (July 2006)
Charles Baxter examines Sonia’s closing speech in Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya as a lens to look at sentimentality in relation to the need to fend off despair in fiction. While Sonia’s speech at first feels unconvincing even to her, Baxter argues, at a certain point she begins to “believe her own stories”; this complicated moment produces a kind of “double-voicing,” or a tension between what is real and what is hoped for. Baxter goes on to discuss double-voicing in work by Paula Fox, Gustave Flaubert, and Donald Justice.
BAXTER, CHARLES: The Poet's Story and the Dramatic Image (July 2015)
BAXTER, CHARLES: The Poet's Story and the Dramatic Image (July 2015)
Looking at work by Sherwood Anderson, Janet Kauffman, Wright Morris, and others, Baxter’s six-part lecture investigates dramatic images which carry the weight of a story’s emotions—which “stop time altogether for the sake of an almost mythic intensity.”
BERNARDI, ADRIA: Narrative Distance and the Visual Image and Hemingway (January 2006)
BERNARDI, ADRIA: Narrative Distance and the Visual Image and Hemingway (January 2006)
Beginning by admitting that she has never been able to “get” Hemingway, Adria Bernardi explores what it is about Hemingway’s narrators that leave her feeling “locked-out,” unable to access these characters’ emotional worlds. Through careful readings of several of Hemingway’s stories, Bernardi investigates how Hemingway’s use of narrative distance in relationship to visual images allows the reader to stand next to the narrator, and she reflects on what makes this narrative distance both challenging and rewarding.
BERNARDI, ADRIA: Spandrels, Spark, and a Leap Over the Tombstone: A Discussion of (Swift) Connections and (Unexpected) Associations Made Outside Chronological Sequence (January 2005)
BERNARDI, ADRIA: Spandrels, Spark, and a Leap Over the Tombstone: A Discussion of (Swift) Connections and (Unexpected) Associations Made Outside Chronological Sequence (January 2005)
How can fiction writers, as Muriel Spark put it, give “disjointed happenings a shape”? Adria Bernardi considers the ways that narrative can be driven by association, often of the resonant, seemingly small image, as well as craft strategies of voice and tonality, and precision of image and language. Drawing on non-fiction about writing by Robert Boswell and Italo Calvino, Bernardi looks, for examples in fiction, at Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron and Muriel Spark’s The Girls of Slender Means.
BERNARDI, ADRIA: Visual Image and Noise in Eudora Welty (January 2007)
BERNARDI, ADRIA: Visual Image and Noise in Eudora Welty (January 2007)
The movement between the inner and the outer, and the primacy of the visual image, are central to the poetics of Eudora Welty, Adria Bernardi argues. Bernardi looks at essays and three stories by Welty to consider how visual images can function at moments of transition, and in particular moments of transition into different ways of seeing; she suggests that such images can offer the writer opportunities to move into an alternative point of view or level of consciousness.
BOSWELL, ROBERT: Complex Moments in Fiction (July 2010)
BOSWELL, ROBERT: Complex Moments in Fiction (July 2010)
Most readers have had the experience of responding viscerally to a particular moment in a piece of fiction; in this lecture, Robert Boswell considers how such “complex moments” are made. Through close readings of work by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Evelyn Waugh, E.M. Forster, William Faulkner, and Kazuo Ishiguro, Boswell suggests that narratives have horizontal and vertical planes, and that writers can manage the intersections between these planes to create moments of lasting resonance.
BOSWELL, ROBERT: Having Gravity and Having Weight: On Meaning in Fiction (July 2013)
BOSWELL, ROBERT: Having Gravity and Having Weight: On Meaning in Fiction (July 2013)
The lecture muses on meaning, focusing on rarely discussed aspects of craft. Texts referred to include Eudora Welty's "A Worn Path" and Sherwood Anderson's "Death in the Woods."
BOSWELL, ROBERT: On Characters and Characterization (January 2012)
BOSWELL, ROBERT: On Characters and Characterization (January 2012)
Looking at Joyce’s “The Dead,” Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener,” Munro’s “Friend of my Youth,” and Welty’s “The Wide Net,” Boswell develops twelve possible useful stratagems for establishing complex and believable characters, including imagining a character’s approach to the inscrutable, describing the illusions to which a character clings, and exposing a character’s darkest and ugliest motivations.
BOSWELL, ROBERT: Take Me to the River: Stories that Invent and Manipulate Rituals (July 2015)
BOSWELL, ROBERT: Take Me to the River: Stories that Invent and Manipulate Rituals (July 2015)
Presented in thirty parts, Boswell’s modular lecture weaves a personal narrative with investigations of ritual in works by Eudora Welty, Alice Munro, Peter Taylor, John Cheever, and others.
BOSWELL, ROBERT: The Man in the Water: Sub-Aqua Commerce in Maximal Short Fiction (July 2011)
BOSWELL, ROBERT: The Man in the Water: Sub-Aqua Commerce in Maximal Short Fiction (July 2011)
Robert Boswell examines what he calls “big stories,” or short stories which manage in relatively few pages to convey the complexity and expansiveness of the larger world. How can a writer generate this sense of expansiveness? And what strategies can be used to make a “big story” cohere? Boswell explores these questions, focusing on examples from William Trevor and Alice Munro.
BRENNAN, KAREN: Beyond Accessibility (July 2007)
BRENNAN, KAREN: Beyond Accessibility (July 2007)
Karen Brennan interrogates the idea that contemporary creative writing must be “accessible.” Through readings of Moby Dick by Herman Melville, “Cockroaches in Autumn” by Lydia Davis, “The Garden” by Andrew Marvell and "The Voice Imitator" by Thomas Bernhard, Brennan argues that the enigmatic is a crucial part of what makes art important to us; she considers how meaning can be made not through eliding the mysterious or difficult to interpret, but through acknowledging and embracing it.
CALLANAN, LIAM: Distraction, Displacement, and Discourse: On Dialogue in Poetry and Fiction (January 2015)
CALLANAN, LIAM: Distraction, Displacement, and Discourse: On Dialogue in Poetry and Fiction (January 2015)
Looking beyond mechanics, Liam Callanan discusses how dialogue works in fiction and poetry: what is conveyed, what is concealed, and what, in the end, does effective dialogue sound like—aand look like—on the page? Authors discussed include Theocritus, Robert Frost, Louise Gluck, Toni Morrison, Alice McDermott, and others.
CASEY, MAUD: It's a Wooden Leg First: Paying Narrative Attention to the Literal Story (January 2008)
CASEY, MAUD: It's a Wooden Leg First: Paying Narrative Attention to the Literal Story (January 2008)
About her story “Good Country People,” in which a Bible salesman steals a woman’s leg, Flannery O’Connor wrote, “If you want to say that the wooden leg is a symbol, you can say that. But it is a wooden leg first.” Similarly, Maud Casey warns against symbol-hunting and symbol-planting; she argues, instead, for the resonant power of lavishing attention on the literal level, and turns for examples to O’Connor’s story as well as to fiction by James Baldwin, Tim O’Brien, Deborah Eisenberg and Chris Abani.
CASEY, MAUD: Mystery: On Unmaking and Being Undone (January 2016)
CASEY, MAUD: Mystery: On Unmaking and Being Undone (January 2016)
There’s a lot that needs making in fiction but creating space for mystery in fiction requires a certain amount of unmaking. Un doesn’t merely undo a word and turn it into its opposite; un is a release from, a freeing, a bringing out of, all of which are effects of mystery and part of its purpose. Through an examination of works by Henry James, Jane Bowles, and James Baldwin, Maud Casey’s lecture considers a few of the ways mystery, that essential literary quality, is conjured in fiction.
CASEY, MAUD: States of Wonder (January 2012)
CASEY, MAUD: States of Wonder (January 2012)
“Wonder in art, as in life, is difficult to pin down and hard to talk about,” says Maud Casey. “It is a state of marveling in the face of something inexplicable, perplexing, bewildering, and yet utterly compelling.” Casey offers a meditation on this elusive state, exploring the tensions between the implausible and the credible in Deszo Kosztolanyi’s Skylark, Stephen Milhauser’s “In the Reign of Harad IV,” as well as in works by Werner Herzog and Isaac Babel.
CASEY, MAUD: The Art of Sensibility (July 2010)
CASEY, MAUD: The Art of Sensibility (July 2010)
In order to make a character compelling, the author must capture a specific human consciousness on the page. But how can writers make palpable that aspect of a person that often eludes description—his or her sensibility? Maud Casey offers three methods for depicting sensibility in fiction, looking to Barbara Comyns’ The Vet’s Daughter, Jean Rhys’ Voyage in the Dark, and Muriel Spark’s Loitering with Intent as examples.
CASEY, MAUD: Watching the Clock (July 2009)
CASEY, MAUD: Watching the Clock (July 2009)
Fiction is not an expression of real time, Maud Casey notes, and yet it is very much occupied by time; novels and stories are shaped and organized, their revelations dramatized, by the illusion of time passing. Through close readings of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, Paula Fox’s Desperate Characters, and Paul LaFarge’s Haussmann, Casey considers different ways fiction writers can depict chronological as well as what she calls “emotional time” and the complex relationship between past and present.
CASTELLANI, CHRISTOPHER: Objective Correlative (July 2012)
CASTELLANI, CHRISTOPHER: Objective Correlative (July 2012)
Christopher Castellani examines the usefulness of T.S. Eliot’s concept of the objective correlative for the fiction writer. Through a close reading of Peter Cameron’s novel Coral Glynn and James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, Castellani explores the power of the objective correlative to evoke strong emotion in the reader, as well as to seamlessly introduce back-story and necessary information into a narrative.
CHARLES BAXTER: Great Faces (July 2003)
CHARLES BAXTER: Great Faces (July 2003)
In nineteenth-century novels faces were often presented as indicators of character, Charles Baxter notes, but now, because of cynicism about facial insincerity, fiction writers shy away from describing faces at all. What do we lose when we can’t see a character’s expression? Baxter considers the importance of different kinds of faces in work by Thomas Hardy, F.Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Flannery O’Conner and Paula Fox, among others.
COHEN, ROBERT:
COHEN, ROBERT: "Refer Madness": Writing in an Age of Allusion (July 2012)
In this lecture, Robert Cohen considers the dilemma faced by contemporary fiction writers seeking to create work not reliant on allusion or reference. Using as a jumping-off point Franz Kafka’s short story, “The Wish to be a Red Indian,” Cohen discusses reference and allusion in Joyce’s Dubliners, David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas and William Gaddis’s The Recognitions. Cohen demonstrates how difficult it is for contemporary writers to avoid these stratagems, but argues that therein lies opportunity for new kinds of creativity.
COHEN, ROBERT: Emblem, Essence, Naming and its Discontents (July 2006)
COHEN, ROBERT: Emblem, Essence, Naming and its Discontents (July 2006)
Robert Cohen explores, as he puts it, the “dark, forbidding, all but impenetrable jungle” of naming characters in fiction. Arguing that a character’s name should strike the reader as inevitable, and preferably not allegorical, Cohen looks at a range of ways in which authors approach the task of naming, from the satirical to the emblematic. Cohen gives emphasis to Melville’s Moby Dick and Nabokov’s Lolita, but draws, too, on examples from John Kennedy Toole, Norman Mailer, and Henry James.
CRONIN, JUSTIN:
CRONIN, JUSTIN: "Baby, It's Yu": Einstein, Jung, One Really Awful Dream, and the Problem of Meaning in Fiction (January 2006)
In this lecture, Justin Cronin argues that meaning in fiction originates in “deep structure,” or the ways in which subsurface patterns of metaphor in a text are organized to replicate the living, physical world. Using the language of physics as he explores works by Alan Furst, Susan Minot, Virginia Woolf, and Michael Cunningham, Cronin juxtaposes the rigid or predictable “Newtonian” world of genre fiction with a richer set of relationships in “Einsteinian” fiction.
D'ERASMO, STACEY: After the World Ends: Writers and Artists Respond to Crisis (January 2016)
D'ERASMO, STACEY: After the World Ends: Writers and Artists Respond to Crisis (January 2016)
Focusing on the fiction of Paul Monette and Gwendolyn Brooks as well as the photography of Cartier-Bresson, D’Erasmo’s lecture offers an exploration of the radical shifts in theme, technique, and genre that writers and artists have undergone following massive upheavals on global, cultural, and personal levels.
D'ERASMO, STACEY: Creation of Intimacy (July 2009)
D'ERASMO, STACEY: Creation of Intimacy (July 2009)
Most of us know, Stacey D’Erasmo suggests, how to put characters in a room and get them to talk, fight, trouble and/or seduce one another— we know, that is, how to create an impression of intimacy through dialogue and action. But intimacy can be expressed by means of a variety of subtle textual strategies far more deeply implicating the reader in the characters’ emotional lives; D’Erasmo draws on fiction by D.H. Lawrence, Elizabeth Bowen, William Maxwell, Virginia Woolf and Charles Baxter for examples.
D'ERASMO, STACEY: Love Among the Ruins (July 2008)
D'ERASMO, STACEY: Love Among the Ruins (July 2008)
Stacey D’Erasmo argues that the novel of sexual identity is no longer, on its own, compelling. Yet certain of the sexual identity novel’s tropes—the narratives of passing and of double lives, of desire stifled by circumstance and of discontinuous selves—remain compelling to contemporary writers. D’Erasmo looks at work by Michael Cunningham, Jeannette Winterson, Colm Toibin, Monique Truong and others to explore how the architecture of the sexual identity novel has been recycled and transformed.
D'ERASMO, STACEY: On the Unsayable (January 2011)
D'ERASMO, STACEY: On the Unsayable (January 2011)
What, Stacey D’Erasmo asks, is the meaning of “the unsayable” for a writer today? She argues that the heart of the question lies not in which topics may be taboo and why, but rather in subject matter which “we fear language will be inadequate” to portray. Looking closely at Toni Morrison’s Beloved and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, D’Erasmo explores how these novelists use indirection to narrate stories about the horrors of slavery and nuclear apocalypse.
DEBRA SPARK: Cheer Up—Why Don’t You? (July 2002)
DEBRA SPARK: Cheer Up—Why Don’t You? (July 2002)
“In literature,” Debra Spark quotes Janet Burroway, “only trouble is interesting. Only trouble.” Is there any room for happiness in fiction? What might “happy fiction” look like? Spark considers different kinds of happiness—including the formal satisfactions of a work itself— and how happiness manifests in fiction by Anton Chekhov, Laurie Colwin, Bill Roorbach and Barbara Klein Moss.
DEBRA SPARK: Speaking of Style (July 2003)
DEBRA SPARK: Speaking of Style (July 2003)
We often point to a writer’s style as what makes the work distinct. But, like tone, style can be hard to locate or define. In this lecture, fiction writer Debra Spark, with reference to Stephen Minot’s Three Genres, considers the various elements that contribute to style, such as diction, syntax, verb tense and the balance of narrative modes; she looks at how these elements work in a range of writers, and how they convey a writer’s vision of the world, giving particular attention to the work of Raymond Carver and John Cheever.
DEBRA SPARK: Stand Back (July 2004)
DEBRA SPARK: Stand Back (July 2004)
Noting that narrators of much contemporary American fiction tend to be so close to their subjects that they inhibit creative freedom and limit vision, Spark explores the benefits of “standing back,” including the paradox that narrative distance from the action being described actually permits greater emotional intimacy. She looks at successful examples of such narrative distance in work by Deborah Eisenberg, Margaret Atwood, Angela Carter, Elizabeth Strout, Akhil Sharma and others.
DOENGES, JUDY: The
DOENGES, JUDY: The "Secret Communion" (July 2005)
The world, Judy Doenges points out, is full of unreliable narrators—“government hacks [and] conservative talk show hosts” among them. In this lecture, Doenges explores the charm and appeal of the unreliable narrator in fiction to readers, who are happy to surrender to the teller of tales. She gives particular attention to the narrator of Thomas Mann’s Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man, arguing that his unreliability humanizes him and cultivates intimacy with the reader.
DOENGES, JUDY: We Are One: First Person Plural (July 2009)
DOENGES, JUDY: We Are One: First Person Plural (July 2009)
How does a literature focused almost exclusively on the life of the individual make room for the occasional work of fiction that uses a collective first-person narrator? How does using such a point of view impact the contract between writer and reader? In this lecture, Judy Doenges looks at Ayn Rand’s Anthem as a negative and Joshua Ferris’ Then We Came to the End as a positive example of the possibilities and ramifications, both aesthetic and political, of writing fiction in the first-person plural.
DOERR, ANTHONY: Suspense (January 2010)
DOERR, ANTHONY: Suspense (January 2010)
What makes suspense compelling instead of melodramatic? Through close readings of work by Camus, Joyce Carol Oates, Joseph Conrad, Cormac McCarthy, and Edgar Allen Poe, Anthony Doerr suggests that well-executed suspense functions at a number of levels, so that even as smaller moments of literal suspense are resolved, larger, figurative questions continue to grow.
FREDERICK REIKEN: What is “True”?  Thoughts on Fictional “Truth,” Unconscious Metaphor, and Celery (January 2004)
FREDERICK REIKEN: What is “True”? Thoughts on Fictional “Truth,” Unconscious Metaphor, and Celery (January 2004)
Why is it that a transcription of an actual event can feel unconvincing, while an invented story can feel absolutely true? Frederick Reiken explores what Tim O’Brien has called “story truth,” or the feeling of authenticity that a successful work of fiction conveys; he draws on thinking about this topic by John Berger and John Gardner and on fiction by Tim O’Brien and Franz Kafka to consider how the textual space with its own internal logic makes this kind of “fictional truth” possible.
GAVRON, JEREMY: In Praise of Omission (July 2012)
GAVRON, JEREMY: In Praise of Omission (July 2012)
In this class, Jeremy Gavron considers the question of how much information to include in a work of fiction, looking at choices made by several contemporary writers. Gavron compares the richness of the opening pages of Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections to the relative sparseness of Amoz Oz’s The Same Sea and Damon Galgut’s In a Strange Room and pays particular attention to how each writer subtly varies his approach.
GAVRON, JEREMY: Whose Story is it Anyway? (July 2011)
GAVRON, JEREMY: Whose Story is it Anyway? (July 2011)
Jeremy Gavron considers the limitations and benefits of using a secondary character as a narrator in a work of fiction. Looking at Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Alain-Fournier’s Le Grand Meaulnes and Willa Cather’s My Ántonia, among other novels, Gavron suggests that a narrator’s lack of full access to the “hero” of a story can intensify our attention to the hero and lend the narration a quality of truth-telling.
GROFF, LAUREN: Horror Vacui: On Gaps, Spaces, and Silences (July 2014)
GROFF, LAUREN: Horror Vacui: On Gaps, Spaces, and Silences (July 2014)
The gaps in a text may be empty of words, but full of resonance, the vacuum filled instantly by the reader’s swift comprehension. Groff’s lecture questions and explores varieties of white space in a text—pauses, rests, caesurae, silences—in works by Perec, Levi, Duras, Beckett, and others.
GROFF, LAUREN: Islands (July 2015)
GROFF, LAUREN: Islands (July 2015)
"We are like islands in the sea," William James says, "separate on the surface, but connected in the deep." Groff’s lecture confronts the issues involved in being a writer—a lonely and sometimes solipsistic position—during a time of environmental crisis. Among the texts discussed are Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, J.M. Coetzee's Foe, Elizabeth Bishop's “Crusoe in England,” Derek Walcott's Omeros, and Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea.
GROSSMAN, JUDITH: Instead of a Muse: A Genealogy for Stories (January 2014)
GROSSMAN, JUDITH: Instead of a Muse: A Genealogy for Stories (January 2014)
Elements of the folktale persist throughout the transformations of the modern story. Grossman’s lecture investigates how the Hero/Heroine, the Enemy and the Ally, the Treasure, the loss of a parent or exile from home, and the factor of lucky work like traditional post-and-beam in narrative, looking at the Grimm Brothers’ “The Devil with Three Golden Hairs,” E.T.A. Hoffman’s “The Sandman,” Samuel Beckett’s “First Love,” and stories by Alice Munro.
HAMILTON, JANE: How the Master Guides the Student: Shadow and Glare (January 2015)
HAMILTON, JANE: How the Master Guides the Student: Shadow and Glare (January 2015)
What do we hope for when our work speaks to an avowed masterpiece? Are we propelled by courage or delusion—or both? Jane Hamilton’s lecture, delivered in January 2015 at the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers, offers a meditation on the student/master dynamic through the lenses of two pairings: Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and Jane Austen’s Persuasion, as well as “White Angel” by Michael Cunningham and John Cheever’s “Goodbye, My Brother.”
HAYNES, DAVID: Narration, Narrators, and Edward P. Jones (January 2012)
HAYNES, DAVID: Narration, Narrators, and Edward P. Jones (January 2012)
David Haynes draws from Frederick Reiken’s essay, “The Author-Narrator-Character Merge,” to focus discussion on the nature of narrative, and in particular, on Edward P. Jones’s innovative approach. Haynes outlines possible techniques for orienting a reader, including the management of narrative time, the release of information, summation and judgment, and the modulation of narrative distance. Close readings of Jones’s stories “Old Boys, Old Girls” and “A Rich Man” highlight issues of when and why an author might choose to draw attention to narration, as well as when an appropriate choice might be to render narrative techniques invisible.
HAYNES, DAVID: Novels from the Ground Up (July 2012)
HAYNES, DAVID: Novels from the Ground Up (July 2012)
In this class, David Haynes examines some of the formal aspects of the novel. Using Ernest J. Gaines’s A Lesson before Dying as a blueprint for long works of fiction, Haynes identifies what is needed to start a novel’s engine and what’s needed to maintain narrative momentum. Haynes gives special attention to the ways in which a novel’s opening establishes its terms and shape.
HAYNES, DAVID: Would You Like to See My Cat Mammy? Looking at Other People and their Stuff (January 2014)
HAYNES, DAVID: Would You Like to See My Cat Mammy? Looking at Other People and their Stuff (January 2014)
Are you a white person who is just dying to include people of color in your next novel? Comfortably middle class and just fascinated as all get out with those quirky folks down at the trailer park? Does this course description make you a little bit queasy? Then this is the class for you! Haynes’s discussion class looks at how shifting lenses of creator/narrator/reader/viewer shape the development of and interpretation of cultural material in creative works. Among the texts discussed are works by Allan Gurganus’s White People, Sherman Alexie’s “What You Pawn I Will Redeem,” and David Foster Wallace’s “Ticket to the Fair.”
HORROCKS, CAITLIN: When Bad Stories Go Good (July 2013)
HORROCKS, CAITLIN: When Bad Stories Go Good (July 2013)
Caitlin Horrocks talks about stories that wear their “bad ideas” proudly, requiring clichés to be redeemed, craft commandments to be broken, challenging or bizarre subjects to be tackled. Readers recognize the possibility of disaster in these stories, and cheer when the author emerges unscathed. Stories by Todd James Pierce, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Suan Sontag, and “Chris Drangle are examined for techniques or approaches that help risky stories succeed.
HRIBAL, C.J.: Comic and Cosmic Distance (July 2007)
HRIBAL, C.J.: Comic and Cosmic Distance (July 2007)
What can comedy do that drama can’t? In this lecture, C.J. Hribal explores what comic distance can convey about the human condition; he focuses on how three novellas—The Overcoat by Nikolai Gogol, Ward No. 6 by Anton Chekhov, and The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka—modulate narrative distance to evoke comedy and tragedy simultaneously; in doing so, Hribal suggests, they allow the reader to feel complex empathy for their characters.
HRIBAL, C.J.: Go Little Book: Obsession in General and the Novella in Particular (January 2014)
HRIBAL, C.J.: Go Little Book: Obsession in General and the Novella in Particular (January 2014)
As writers, we often worry about not repeating ourselves, yet many wonderful writers return repeatedly to the same essential material. Hribal’s lecture extols the virtues of obsession, and offers a paean to the novella, a narrative form which allows writers to embody their inner obsessive. Among those texts discussed are Andre Dubus’s “We Don’t Live Here Anymore,” and Jane Smiley’s “Ordinary Love” and “The Age of Grief.”
HRIBAL, C.J.: Revelatory Information and the Art of Mystery (January 2010)
HRIBAL, C.J.: Revelatory Information and the Art of Mystery (January 2010)
C.J. Hribal considers the kind of mystery that can be produced when crucial narrative information is released early in the text. How can this strategy deepen suspense instead of resolving it? Hribal looks to music and fiction to explore this question, giving particular attention to Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being.
HRIBAL, C.J.: You Are Not Who You Think You Are: Meditations on the Second Person Voice (January 2015)
HRIBAL, C.J.: You Are Not Who You Think You Are: Meditations on the Second Person Voice (January 2015)
Stories, novels, and poems written in the second person are sometimes (often) seen as the red-headed, left-handed, ungainly second cousin of writing prose and poetry. But sometimes that voice, that persona, works marvelously. C.J. Hribal examines when and how to use the voice for its best effects, drawing upon works by Susan Minot, Lorrie Moore, Louise Glück, Claudia Rankine, and others.
JIM SHEPARD: Structure When You Least Expect It (July 2003)
JIM SHEPARD: Structure When You Least Expect It (July 2003)
Fiction writers, Jim Shepard notes, “tend to fret aloud about structure without having a very clear sense of what it is and how it operates.” What, then, is structure in fiction? How, if not only chronologically, can writers organize the “sprawl of experience and imagination” that goes into a short story or a novel? Shepard considers how chronology—as well as moments of “achronology” that signal a return to something crucial—both work to structure Denis Johnson’s “Emergency.”
KAREN BRENNAN: Place as (Psychic) Space (January 2003)
KAREN BRENNAN: Place as (Psychic) Space (January 2003)
Karen Brennan explores the importance of place in fiction, arguing that it is critical to the birth of characters and ideas, and not just a kind of backdrop. Brennan also discusses how place is not a replica of the actual but is constituted through an interaction between the imagined world of the text and the reader’s world. Using Faulkner to exemplify this, she then explores the dis-placement of modern writers, and the different forms that place, as a result, can take in writing by Gass, Faulkner, Salter, and Woolf.
LIVESEY, MARGOT: Mrs. Turpin Reads the Stars: Creating Characters (January 2012)
LIVESEY, MARGOT: Mrs. Turpin Reads the Stars: Creating Characters (January 2012)
In this lecture, novelist Livesey investigates the theory and practice of creating a character alive enough “to walk off the page.” Surveying work by Flannery O’Connor, Truman Capote, and John Cheever, Livesey argues that though many memorable characters are by contemporary definition “flat,” they were not conceived of as such, but rather are “always capable of reaching after roundness,” and therefore can be used to subvert and enliven reader expectations. With additional readings from Richard Ford, John Metcalf, and Ivy Compton-Burnett, Livesey concludes her class with a discussion of the ways in which both imagination and technique contribute to successful characterization.
MARTONE, MICHAEL: Homer on Homer, or, a Bunch of Stuff That Happens (January 2005)
MARTONE, MICHAEL: Homer on Homer, or, a Bunch of Stuff That Happens (January 2005)
In this playful “Episodic Meditation on Episode,” Michael Martone considers the limitations of neat narrative structure and the ways in which it can be subverted. Considering examples from contemporary television, and sources as diverse as The Simpsons, Gone with the Wind, and John Barth’s “Lost in the Funhouse,” Martone reflects on the benefits of character- rather than plot-driven fiction.
MAZUR, GRACE DANE: Forbidden Looking (July 2008)
MAZUR, GRACE DANE: Forbidden Looking (July 2008)
What is looking, Grace Dane Mazur asks, that it should be so enticing, so fatal, and so forbidden? How is looking different from seeing? What kind of insight is gained from forbidden looking, and is it worth the consequences? Mazur considers these questions through the lens of the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, and reflects on the differences in how Rubens, Virgil, and Ovid represent Orpheus’ famous look back.
MAZUR, GRACE DANE: The Whistling Roar; or The World of Fiction and the Land of the Dead (July 2005)
MAZUR, GRACE DANE: The Whistling Roar; or The World of Fiction and the Land of the Dead (July 2005)
What happens when we “curl up with a novel?” What world do we enter, and how do we enter it? Looking at work by Proust, Lewis Carroll, Paula Fox, Charles Baxter, Parmenides, Katherine Mansfield, and Eudora Welty, as well as The Epic of Gilgamesh, Mazur suggests that we might understand the world of fiction as a kind of underworld, or Hades; she examines the ways specific moments in novels, particularly the opening pages, function as crucial liminal moments that guide us between these worlds.
McCONIGLEY, NINA: Representing Foreign Territories in Fiction (January 2015)
McCONIGLEY, NINA: Representing Foreign Territories in Fiction (January 2015)
This discussion class focuses on how to deal with the social and factual issues innate to representing unfamiliar territories and the sometimes ethically sensitive process of writing about places/people we do not intimately know. Among the texts discussed are William Styron’s The Confessions of Nat Turner, Bill Cheng’s Southern Cross the Dog, and Kathryn Stockett’s The Help.
McILVOY, KEVIN: Desinence (July 2015)
McILVOY, KEVIN: Desinence (July 2015)
Kevin McIlvoy provides an “answering” lecture to his 2009 lecture on “Imminence” (the about-to-be-moment). “Desinence” addresses, with particular attention to the journals of Henry David Thoreau, the coming-to-an-end moment in reading experiences.
McILVOY, KEVIN: Focalization (January 2013)
McILVOY, KEVIN: Focalization (January 2013)
The tensions of looking and being looked at are essential in all narrative. What asks to be focused upon? What resists focalization? At what moment does something come into focus, and at what critical moment does something elude focus? For some writers, a significant breakthrough occurs when they move past their first assumptions about “looking” behaviors. McIlvoy’s lecture concentrates primarily on Sarah Orne Jewett’s The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896), specifically to the editions that include the “Dunnett Landing” stories.
McILVOY, KEVIN: Laughter and the Laws of Nature (July 2006)
McILVOY, KEVIN: Laughter and the Laws of Nature (July 2006)
What makes fiction successfully, and complexly, funny? Reflecting on comedy’s foundation in the tragic and on laughter as an embodied response, McIlvoy draws on writing about the comic by Henri Bergson, Charles Baudelaire, Walter Kerr and F.H. Buckley, and focuses on comic strategies at work in Flann O’Brien’s novel The Third Policeman.
McILVOY, KEVIN: Making, Masking, and Unmasking: God in Fiction (January 2007)
McILVOY, KEVIN: Making, Masking, and Unmasking: God in Fiction (January 2007)
How can writers take up the unique challenges of portraying “God” as a figure in their fiction? In this lecture, Kevin McIlvoy draws on work by Simone Weil and on Tolstoy’s novels, but focuses on Tolstoy’s short story “Master and Man” to examine its distinctly sincere handling of religion. Arguing that it marks Tolstoy’s development into the kind of artist he himself called “inartistic,” McIlvoy suggests that this story serves as an example of how a writer can pursue innocence or simplicity instead of complication.
McILVOY, KEVIN: Opportunities for Imminence (January 2009)
McILVOY, KEVIN: Opportunities for Imminence (January 2009)
If imminence is the state in which events are about to occur, isn’t it the fiction writer’s job to fulfill that “about-to,” and make things happen? In this lecture, Kevin McIlvoy suggests otherwise. Through close readings of Grimm’s fairytales, James Joyce’s “The Dead,” Sherwood Anderson’s “Death in the Woods,” and Agha Shahid Ali’s “The Last Saffron,” McIlvoy explores the power and possibility that can be produced when writers dwell longer in “about-to-happen” conditions.
McILVOY, KEVIN: Reflections on the Sentence and Poetic Line (January 2011)
McILVOY, KEVIN: Reflections on the Sentence and Poetic Line (January 2011)
Kevin McIlvoy considers differences and similarities between the prose sentence and the poetic line. If a sentence functions as “a train to a destination,” he argues that the poetic line is often a kind of “pedestrian” whose guidance of the reader “invites discovery, not destination.” McIlvoy goes on to consider writing that creates points of intersections between the sentence and the line, drawing on poetry by Denise Levertov, Thom Gunn, and Jean Valentine; fiction by Angela Carter, Jim Crace, and Herta Müller; and critical studies including The Art of Syntax by Ellen Bryant Voigt and The Art of the Poetic Line by James Longenbach.
McILVOY, KEVIN: The
McILVOY, KEVIN: The "Something There" Sensation: Learning from the Work of Anaïs Nin (July 2005)
In this lecture, Kevin McIlvoy explores the work of Anaïs Nin, focusing on how she writes about the body. Arguing that Nin elevates physical aliveness over intellectual awareness, McIlvoy explores the ways her characters inhabit the present moment and the ways her writing emphasizes feeling and embodiment. Through close readings of a range of Nin’s writing, McIlvoy suggests that her work offers a useful counterbalance to the theoretical preoccupations of much contemporary fiction.
McILVOY, KEVIN: The Equilibrist and The Dynamist (January 2014)
McILVOY, KEVIN: The Equilibrist and The Dynamist (January 2014)
This lecture presents ways in which writers can present the elements of their work that move it toward "dynamic balance" (verging on achieving balance and falling out of balance in the very same moment), while not moving it away from equilibrium. Through close consideration of Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and C.D. Wright's Deepstep Come Shining, the lecture addresses concepts of "the wolf tone," "surroundability and directionality," and the "altered instruments" of poetic syntax and story structure.
McILVOY, KEVIN: The One Reader (January 2012)
McILVOY, KEVIN: The One Reader (January 2012)
Kevin McIlvoy examines the influence an imagined reader, receptive or resistant, can exert on a writer. He selects prose poems by Russell Edson, Matthea Harvey, Francis Ponge, William Stafford, and James Tate as works which, he suggests, are both mistakes and “the perfection of mistakes.” McIlvoy encourages writers to think about what might be possible were they to imagine their “one reader” as positive and receptive, able to appreciate such work, rather than resistant.
NEVILLE, SUSAN: Barometric Pressure (January 2006)
NEVILLE, SUSAN: Barometric Pressure (January 2006)
Susan Neville examines how climate can serve not as a backdrop for narrative action but as part of the pressure that creates that action. She conducts close readings of several novels, giving particular attention to Mann’s Magic Mountain and Kawabata’s Snow Country, to examine how climate in fiction can work as “the uncanny, mysterious other… the thing one spirals back to again and again.” A 20-minute discussion with students and faculty follows the 50-minute lecture.
NEVILLE, SUSAN: The Paragraph (July 2011)
NEVILLE, SUSAN: The Paragraph (July 2011)
Susan Neville suggests that paragraphing, like prosody, is a musical device. Through close readings of work by Andre Dubus, George Saunders, Sylvia Plath and Marilynne Robinson, she explores how writers can use different kinds of paragraphs to generate feeling and tone, and convey information about their characters.
OHLIN, ALIX: Misfits and Malfeasance: The Criminal Act in Fiction (July 2012)
OHLIN, ALIX: Misfits and Malfeasance: The Criminal Act in Fiction (July 2012)
In this class, Alix Ohlin considers stylistic approaches to the portrayal of criminal acts in fiction. Looking at works by Raymond Chandler, Carson McCullers, and Alice Munro, Ohlin explores how charged moments of criminality can shift tone and texture. Ohlin argues that acts of violence and betrayal, often rendered lyrically, are integral not only to plot development, but also to successful, nuanced characterization.
OHLIN, ALIX: The Afterimage (July 2011)
OHLIN, ALIX: The Afterimage (July 2011)
Alix Ohlin explores how the idea of the afterimage, or that which lingers in our sight after a vivid visual sensation, might be applied to fiction. Through close readings of “Killings” by Andre Dubus, To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, and “Wants” by Grace Paley, Ohlin shows how a writer can call up an image which reminds us of what came before, thus creating both echoes of the past and surprising visions of the future.
ORNER, PETER: Reading is Experience (July 2013)
ORNER, PETER: Reading is Experience (July 2013)
Peter Orner examines the work of the masterful, and vastly under-appreciated, English novelist, Henry Green. By zeroing in on two of Green's most famous and innovative novels, Loving and Party Going, Orner discusses technical and emotional aspects of Green's unusual and unique style, and emphasizes that the key to Green's work is his uncanny ability to see and listen to his characters. As Eudora Welty wrote in 1970, "The intelligence, the blazing gifts of imagery, dialogue, construction, and form, the power to feel both what can and what can never be said, give Henry Green's work an intensity greater...than any writer of imaginative fiction today."
PABLO MEDINA: Don Quixote and Huckleberry Finn: Partners in Crime (July 2002)
PABLO MEDINA: Don Quixote and Huckleberry Finn: Partners in Crime (July 2002)
Pablo Medina explores the influence Cervante’s Don Quixote had on the character, scenes, and structure of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Showing how Twain drew on Cervante’s use of contrasting partners or pairs—one a mirror for fantasy, the other for reality--together exploring the human condition, Medina also suggests that the decaying chivalric code depicted in Don Quixote has parallels in the racist hypocrisies of Reconstruction that form the setting of Twain’s novel.
PARKER, MICHAEL: All Hail the Semi-Colon (January 2011)
PARKER, MICHAEL: All Hail the Semi-Colon (January 2011)
Michael Parker explores the particular value of a semi-colon both as a form of punctuation and in terms of the broader lessons it can teach about writing. Parker argues that the semi-colon embodies ambivalence, since it is more “penetrating than a comma” and “less blunt than a period.” He shows how use of the semi-colon significantly contributes to the development of character and meaning in such short-shorts as Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl” and John Cheever’s “Reunion,” as well as in Lydia Davis’ translation of Madame Bovary.
PARKER, MICHAEL: The Parenthetical (January 2015)
PARKER, MICHAEL: The Parenthetical (January 2015)
“Punctuation," said the essayist Pico Iyer, "gives us the human voice, and all the meanings that lie between the words." Parker’s lecture focuses on the parenthesis—specifically the ways in which it epitomizes various (and crucial) aspects of narrative: dissemination of information, development of character, the establishment of tension, rhythm and pattern, the handling of time and—most importantly—the creation of consciousness. Texts include Conrad Aiken's "Silent Snow, Secret Snow," Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, and examples from Nabokov, Faulkner, Joyce, Elizabeth Bishop, and Henry James (of course).
PARSONS, ALEXANDER: Lasting First Impressions: The Novel Opening (July 2011)
PARSONS, ALEXANDER: Lasting First Impressions: The Novel Opening (July 2011)
Alexander Parsons suggests that an effective novel opening can guide the writer in both subtle and direct ways, even in its early stages of composition. Drawing on examples from Cormac McCarthy, Raymond Chandler and Haruki Murakami, Parsons argues that in drafting and redrafting this section of a novel the writer engages with structure, controlling metaphor, motif, and tone—narrative elements which can help define the book as a whole.
PETER TURCHI: A Rigorous Geometry; or, Erathosthenes, Kundera, and You (July 2002)
PETER TURCHI: A Rigorous Geometry; or, Erathosthenes, Kundera, and You (July 2002)
The world of the story, Peter Turchi explains, exists just off the page; the story is the map of that world, and maps rely on geometry. While most stories don't conform precisely to figures like Freitag's triangle, writers can learn from geometry, Turchi suggests; in this lecture, he considers what the language of geometry and the distorting formulas of map-makers can offer to fiction-writing, drawing on work by Italo Calvino, Vladimir Nabokov, and Edgar Allen Poe, among others, for examples.
PETER TURCHI: Blanks (Silences) (January 2003)
PETER TURCHI: Blanks (Silences) (January 2003)
A map, Peter Turchi notes, is as much made out of what it leaves out as what it selectively includes; in this lecture, Turchi posits the map as a metaphor for a poem, story, or novel, and considers the role of blanks and silences in all three forms. Drawing on Moby Dick, Anne Carson’s translations of Sappho and Kate Chopin’s “The Storm,” among other examples, Turchi asks us to consider how the blanks and silences in our writing can create “imaginal adventures” for the reader.
PETER TURCHI: Theater of the World (January 2002)
PETER TURCHI: Theater of the World (January 2002)
How, Peter Turchi asks, can we use our necessarily limited vantage points, our own limited mental maps, to open onto something larger, something like the “theater of the world”? Turchi considers the ways modernism, and its strategies for depicting the complexity and chaos of individual perspectives, persists in contemporary fiction; he looks, for examples, at Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, Delillo’s White Noise, the film Memento and Heather McHugh’s poem “Not a Prayer.”
REIKEN, FREDERICK: The Legacy of Anton Chekhov (July 2007)
REIKEN, FREDERICK: The Legacy of Anton Chekhov (July 2007)
Frederick Reiken explores the ways in which Chekhov’s stories made a radical departure from the event-plot variety of story popular at his time, and shows how Chekhov’s original, character-driven style provided the blueprint for short stories today. Looking at a range of Chekhov’s stories, as well as at Chekhov’s influence on writers as diverse as William Faulkner and Shirley Jackson, Reiken argues that Chekhov should rightly be considered the father of the modern short story.
ROBERT BOSWELL: The Alternate Universe (July 2002)
ROBERT BOSWELL: The Alternate Universe (July 2002)
In comic books, alternate universes exist alongside realistic ones, and characters can move between them. How might writers borrow from such a model to enliven their fiction? In this lecture, Robert Boswell explores how writers such as Alice Munro, Anton Chekhov, James Joyce, James Baldwin and others create resonant moments, a “shimmer” in their fiction by allowing characters to move from familiar, to less familiar, worlds.
ROBERT COHEN: Rants, or The Piano Has Been Drinking (January 2004)
ROBERT COHEN: Rants, or The Piano Has Been Drinking (January 2004)
We’re often told that when it comes to good dramatic writing, less is more, Robert Cohen notes. But is this really always true? In this lecture, Cohen explores the value of rants in fiction, arguing that they can deepen a sense of a character and push the readers outside of their emotional comfort zones, puncturing the shield of conventional constructs. He finds examples of successful rants in sources as diverse as Tom Waits, D.H. Lawrence, Philip Roth and William Shakespeare, among others.
ROMM, ROBIN: Great Neurotics (January 2014)
ROMM, ROBIN: Great Neurotics (January 2014)
What makes a neurotic narrator so compelling, so full of life for so many writers (and readers)? Romm’s lecture explains the craft implications of hyper-vigilance, obsessiveness, and overthinking, and explores how these qualities make for excellent prose in works such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper, Philip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint, Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, Dorothy Baker's Cassandra at the Wedding, and others.
ROMM, ROBIN: The Unsparing Gaze (January 2013)
ROMM, ROBIN: The Unsparing Gaze (January 2013)
Romm’s lecture discusses two authors who use “the unsparing gaze” toward very different ends. Edward St. Aubyn’s tragic and autobiographical “Patrick Melrose Novels” explore how childhood incest wreaks havoc on a psyche. Alison Lurie’s comic social satire “The War Between the Tates” skewers gender roles and marriage. Both authors, Romm observes, “make the most of discomfort, an excellent aim for any artist.”
RUEFLE, MARY: On Secrets: Eight Beginnings, Two Ends (July 2007)
RUEFLE, MARY: On Secrets: Eight Beginnings, Two Ends (July 2007)
In this “lecture on secrets which is secretly about poetry,” Mary Ruefle explores how literature has dealt with secrets over time, and how the act of writing is itself private and, in a sense, secretive. Reflecting on the correspondences between the secretive and the sacred, as well as between what is secret and what is playful, Ruefle considers a range of texts through this lens, including Out of Africa by Isak Dineson, The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald, and poems by Artur Lundkvist, Tomas Tranströmer, and Heraclitus.
SCHWARTZ, STEVEN: Mythic Characters (July 2009)
SCHWARTZ, STEVEN: Mythic Characters (July 2009)
Some of the most memorable and famous characters in literature—Kurtz, Gatsby, Bartleby, The Misfit—are often the most psychologically inaccessible, viewed only from the outside, opaque surfaces onto which other characters’ projections can be mapped. In this lecture, Steven Schwartz looks at fiction by Joseph Conrad, Flannery O’Connor, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Herman Melville, Joyce Carol Oates, Steven Millhauser, Katherine Anne Porter and J.D. Salinger to investigate how such mythic characters are made.
SMITH, DOMINIC: The Literature of Delusion (January 2008)
SMITH, DOMINIC: The Literature of Delusion (January 2008)
Self-deception, religious mania, grandiose visions—these are among the forms of delusion Dominic Smith presents, as he discusses its usefulness to fiction writers for its ready-made conflict with reality. Through close readings of fiction by Virginia Woolf, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Dostoevsky, Nabokov, Ken Kesey, William S. Burroughs, and James Hogg, Smith shows how writers have successfully rendered delusion’s internal logic and innate drama, and how their delusional characters can help us see ourselves.
SMITH, DOMINIC: The Mystery of Personality: Paradox, Consistency, and the Limits of Psychology in Creating Compelling Fictional Characters (January 2013)
SMITH, DOMINIC: The Mystery of Personality: Paradox, Consistency, and the Limits of Psychology in Creating Compelling Fictional Characters (January 2013)
When Flannery O’Connor said, “A story always involves, in a dramatic way, the mystery of personality,” she highlighted a key tension for the literary fiction writer—how to create characters who are both consistent and paradoxical. While the psychologist might be interested in understanding and categorizing the tangled web of personality, the fiction writer is primarily interested in revealing it. And as O’Connor reminds us, that revelation must happen in a dramatic way. Smith’s lecture explores our cultural understanding of personality, how it impedes and/or aids our explorations on the page, and some practical ways we might harness personality as an inherently dramatic “vehicle.”
SMITH, DOMINIC: The Year without a Summer: On the Uses of Weather and Atmosphere in Fiction (January 2015)
SMITH, DOMINIC: The Year without a Summer: On the Uses of Weather and Atmosphere in Fiction (January 2015)
Weather is often taken for granted in fiction, or treated as a simplistic, overly-determined extension of our characters' moods. Dominic Smith examines the legacy of weather as it has been passed down from Gothic and Victorian literatures, looking at examples in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Hardy's Tess of the D'urbervilles as well as Rick Bass's "The Hermit's Story" and Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping.
SMITH, DOMINIC: Varieties of Movement: Plot and Beyond in Fiction (January 2009)
SMITH, DOMINIC: Varieties of Movement: Plot and Beyond in Fiction (January 2009)
What keeps us turning the pages of prose pieces by W.G. Sebald or Gertrude Stein, works known for their lack of “event”? In this lecture, Dominic Smith challenges and expands conventional ideas about how fiction can move. Drawing on Aristotle’s Poetics, Christopher Booker’s The Seven Basic Plots, W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn and David Markson’s The Last Novel, Smith considers a variety of types of plot, as well as other devices that can generate momentum at a more molecular level.
SPARK, DEBRA: Jump Already (July 2015)
SPARK, DEBRA: Jump Already (July 2015)
Referencing visual artists as well as the work of Richard Russo, Joan Silber, Joan Wickersham, and others, Sparks’s lecture focuses on artistic leaps in fiction, focusing on the shift from student to more accomplished work and from accomplished work to work of particular distinction. NOTE: Sparks's lecture refers to several images; a list of these images along with information on locating them online may be viewed by clicking on the Fiction thumbnail to the left of this description.
SPARK, DEBRA: New Wave Fabulism (January 2008)
SPARK, DEBRA: New Wave Fabulism (January 2008)
If years ago U.S. writers interested in magical realism and other forms of fabulism turned to South America, Russia, and Eastern Europe for models, now a group of contemporary writers, Debra Spark notes, are turning to genre fiction. What’s to admire and avoid in this fiction? Spark explores work by Elizabeth Hand, Kelly Link, Michael Chabon, Jonathan Lethem, Ayelet Waldman and Rick Moody, among others, to examine how “new wave fabulism” or “recombinant genre fiction” functions.
SPARK, DEBRA: Raiding the Larder: Research in Fact-Based Fiction (July 2013)
SPARK, DEBRA: Raiding the Larder: Research in Fact-Based Fiction (July 2013)
Combining her own interviews with Charles Baxter, David Bezmozgia, Lily King, and Jim Shepard with online and print interviews with Kate Atkinson, Colum McCann and William Maxwell, Debra Spark discusses how contemporary writers use research to inspire, authenticate and correct their narratives. While always emphasizing that research is a means to a fictive end, not a goal in itself, she explores the artistic and personal pleasures of going to the library, interviewing, traveling, and even Googling obsessively.
SPARK, DEBRA: Size Matters (January 2007)
SPARK, DEBRA: Size Matters (January 2007)
Inspired by the lament, “Everything I write is so small!” Debra Spark examines the characteristics of what we generally consider “big” fiction. How can novels incorporate the big world and its big concerns, Spark asks, while avoiding the obvious pitfalls of a historical or overtly political novel? Spark focuses primarily on three “big” books by Elizabeth Strout, Philip Roth, and Dara Horn, exploring how these authors create a sense of magnitude, paradoxically, through their careful attention to the domestic.
SPARK, DEBRA: Surprise Me (July 2014)
SPARK, DEBRA: Surprise Me (July 2014)
How do we think of surprise in fiction? As an antidote to boredom, a gift of the subconscious, or welcome strangeness? Spark’s lecture considers how even the quotidian can shock us through plot twists, formal invention, character revelation, or language that distills the nature of the real.
SPARK, DEBRA: That's Funny (July 2012)
SPARK, DEBRA: That's Funny (July 2012)
In this lecture, Debra Spark questions how humor functions in contemporary fiction. Comparing the novels Personal Days by Ed Parks and Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris, Spark looks at the comedic qualities of each and identifies the means by which the virtues of gratitude and humility are conveyed to readers. Spark’s discussion also makes mention of fictional moments by Etgar Keret, Shalom Auslander, and Maggie Shipstead which lead to important considerations of characterization, precise observation, truth-telling, and emotional power.
STAFFEL, MEGAN: Breaking Out: Narrative Shifts (January 2012)
STAFFEL, MEGAN: Breaking Out: Narrative Shifts (January 2012)
Megan Staffel examines how the “break-out scene,” which changes the tonal register and trajectory of a piece of fiction, deepens characterization and narrative drive. Looking at “The Dead,” she show how Joyce uses scenes of stillness to suspend characters in a kind of tension which pressures them to change both understanding and behavior, and allows him to boldly change the direction of his story. Staffel also explores the crafting and effects of break-out scenes in Shirley Hazzard’s The Transit of Venus and The Great Fire which, while resulting in profound changes in the characters, never feel staged or arbitrary—rather, Staffel says, each is accomplished “in a manner that’s so concise and natural, it has the ambiguity of raw experience.”
STAFFEL, MEGAN: Now You See It, Now You Don't: A Glimpse into the Locked Box (January 2014)
STAFFEL, MEGAN: Now You See It, Now You Don't: A Glimpse into the Locked Box (January 2014)
This two-hour discussion class led by Megan Staffel explores what is gained when the writer shows the protagonist having a sublime experience in the early pages of a novel. Not only does it allow the reader insight into the character’s secret ambition, but it establishes the reader’s sympathy with the character’s often risky or impossible purpose: to return to the sublime that was so fleetingly achieved.
STONE, SARAH: Strategic Opacity (July 2014)
STONE, SARAH: Strategic Opacity (July 2014)
An imaginative work needs to embody, rather than explain, its world and its people. Stephen Greenblatt uses the term “Strategic Opacity” in discussing Shakespeare’s approach to character motivation. Stone adopts this idea as her jumping-off point to explore character and plot mysteries in Jamaica Kinkaid’s At the Bottom of the River, Joy Williams’ The Quick and the Dead, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
STONE, SARAH: The Pleasures of Hell (July 2012)
STONE, SARAH: The Pleasures of Hell (July 2012)
Sarah Stone explores aesthetic choices that make depictions of “hell” in literature pleasurable. Referring to Dante’s Inferno, Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun, and Hilary Mantel’s Beyond Black, Stone demonstrates ways in which writers entice readers to enjoy morally disturbing and painful matters.
TRACY DAUGHERTY: A Pigeon Coop, A Crystal Palace: On Philosophy and Fiction (July 2004)
TRACY DAUGHERTY: A Pigeon Coop, A Crystal Palace: On Philosophy and Fiction (July 2004)
Invoking William Carlos Williams’ famous aphorism “No ideas but in things,” Tracy Daugherty asks how fiction writers turn ideas into things and whether philosophy has any place in fiction. Daugherty looks at writing by William Gass, Soren Kierkegaard, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Ernest Hemingway and others to undermine our conventional understandings of fiction as rooted in the body and philosophy as trying to transcend it, suggesting that the dichotomy between the two forms is a false one.
TRACY DAUGHERTY: The Princess in the Deed Room: Joan Didion’s Changing Sense of Narrative (January 2002)
TRACY DAUGHERTY: The Princess in the Deed Room: Joan Didion’s Changing Sense of Narrative (January 2002)
In the 1960s, Tracy Daugherty argues, Joan Didion all but abandoned traditional storytelling for a more fragmented, non-linear style. Yet Didion’s more recent work, Daugherty notes, shows a return, if not to straightforward narrative, then to “the enduring ability of stories to limn our culture’s secrets.” Looking at a range of Didion’s fiction and non-fiction, Daughterty considers how and why Didion made this return, what it has meant for her work, and what it can tell us about narrative craft more broadly.
TURCHI, PETER:
TURCHI, PETER: "If it makes you happy, why the hell are you so sad?" (July 2008)
In this lecture about tonal and emotional range, the combination of darkness and light, Peter Turchi reflects on the powerful effect that mixed emotions can have in music and in fiction. Turchi examines the ways in which Joe Turner’s song “Honey Hush” and fiction by James Thurber, Anton Chekhov, Cormac McCarthy, and Vladimir Nabokov layer contrasting emotions on top of one another; he shows how this layering can disrupt the reader’s assumptions and give the work lasting resonance.
TURCHI, PETER: All Around the World, or the Myth of Linearity (July 2011)
TURCHI, PETER: All Around the World, or the Myth of Linearity (July 2011)
Peter Turchi draws on a range of writing, including non-fiction by Tim Ingold and Kandinsky, Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, and short stories by Italo Calvino, Andre Dubus and Alice Munro, to challenge the idea that our reading experience should follow a clear line from one fixed point to another. Instead, Turchi suggests, the reader can be encouraged to dwell in the story’s labyrinth, and even find that dwelling pleasurable.
TURCHI, PETER: Archimedes' Problem, and Three Solutions (January 2009)
TURCHI, PETER: Archimedes' Problem, and Three Solutions (January 2009)
“Give me a place to stand and a lever,” Peter Turchi quotes Archimedes as claiming, “and I will move the Earth.” In this lecture, Turchi looks at John Updike’s Rabbit is Rich, E.L. Doctorow’s The March, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude to consider how writers can make “levers” to propel their narratives forward. Turchi pays particular attention to the openings of these novels, suggesting that writers can use beginnings to establish the rules and themes of what is to come.
TURCHI, PETER: Glimpsed in Twilight: Unresolved Characterization (July 2005)
TURCHI, PETER: Glimpsed in Twilight: Unresolved Characterization (July 2005)
Fiction writers often expend much effort trying to define characters or bring them into focus, Peter Turchi notes; in this lecture, he urges writers to move beyond this aim, and develop characters that are strategically unresolved. Turchi looks at drawings by Charles Ritchie and at fiction by Salter, Fitzgerald, Nabokov, O’Connor, Carver, Greene, Maxwell, Melville and Conrad to examine some such unresolved characters and how their complexity and contradiction lend richness and tension to the stories they inhabit.
TURCHI, PETER: Power Play (July 2013)
TURCHI, PETER: Power Play (July 2013)
Peter Turchi discusses different forms of power in fiction, and the possibilities made available when power shifts among three or more characters. His examples include Alice Munro's "Royal Beatings," Ernest Hemingway’s “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” and Katherine Anne Porter’s “Noon Wine.”
TURCHI, PETER: Puzzles, Mysteries, and the Unsolvable (July 2007)
TURCHI, PETER: Puzzles, Mysteries, and the Unsolvable (July 2007)
Peter Turchi explores the appeal of solvable puzzles, including the prose puzzles we call mysteries, alongside the limits of that appeal and the particular pleasure that unsolvable mysteries and unanswerable questions can offer readers and writers. If an artist should not solve a problem but “state a problem correctly,” as Chekhov wrote, how, asks Turchi, can fiction writers accomplish this? To consider this question, he looks at fiction by Chekhov, Graham Greene, Vladimir Nabokov, Edgar Allan Poe and Dashiell Hammett.
TURCHI, PETER: The Pleasures of Difficulty (July 2010)
TURCHI, PETER: The Pleasures of Difficulty (July 2010)
Peter Turchi explores how writing that is challenging engages the reader, offering greater fulfillment and pleasure than easy writing would. Turchi draws on fiction by Antonya Nelson, Charles D’Ambrosio, Michael Ondaatje, and Thomas Bernhard, as well as Mahler’s 5th Symphony and theories about successful video games, to consider how writers can effectively incorporate mystery and difficulty into their work.
VAN DEN BERG, LAURA: What's So Great About Normal? On Unconventional Interiors in Fiction (January 2016)
VAN DEN BERG, LAURA: What's So Great About Normal? On Unconventional Interiors in Fiction (January 2016)
Laura Van den Berg’s lecture explores unconventional interior landscapes in fiction—such as coldness, disorientation, indifference—while also considering works that appear to be fueled by different, non-emotive energy sources entirely. Texts discussed include Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, Yoko Tawada’s The Naked Eye, and Alan Warner’s Morvern Callar.

Lectures by Genre: Poetry

  MIXING IT UP (Panel): Marianne Boruch, Karen Brennan, Jeremy Gavron, Robin Romm, Alan Shapiro, David Shields (January 2014)
MIXING IT UP (Panel): Marianne Boruch, Karen Brennan, Jeremy Gavron, Robin Romm, Alan Shapiro, David Shields (January 2014)
What prompts a poet to write fiction, or poets/fiction writers to undertake a memoir? Is the impulse toward “another genre” purely a formal choice, or is it made necessary by the material to be served? Are valuable lessons brought back to one’s “primary” genre? Or, will some of us spend our writing lives happily alternating among poems, novels, stories, essays, memoir and admixtures that defy taxonomy? Six faculty members report from own their experiences crossing the genre divide.
ALESHIRE, JOAN:  Out of Extremity: Emotion and Conscience (July 1989)
ALESHIRE, JOAN: Out of Extremity: Emotion and Conscience (July 1989)
Joan Aleshire considers how literature addressing extremes of human experience must establish a balance between the personal and the universal, the inner and the outer world. Looking at poems by Bishop, Kunitz, Lowell, Mandelstam, Olds and others, she warns against glorifying or overdramatizing the pain which is a fundamental part of life. At the same time, she argues, with Kafka, that the well-made work of literature wields the power of an ax “to break the frozen sea within us” and deliver us to ourselves.
ALI, AGHA SHAHID:  Defense of the Canon: A Darkly Defense of Dead White Males (January 1998)
ALI, AGHA SHAHID: Defense of the Canon: A Darkly Defense of Dead White Males (January 1998)
Agha Shahid Ali examines the difference between subject matter and form, asserting that “the more realized the form, the deeper the content.” He tests his principle in the context of the English Canon formed in India to serve the purposes of colonialism. Quoting the provocative claim that “One shelf of English literature is superior to all the art in the history of the world,” Ali offers an historical and political understanding of the standards set by English literature and the effect of these standards on writers today. Among the texts considered are Paul Celan’s “Death Fugue,” Wallace Stevens’ “Snow Man,” and essays by T.S. Eliot, Salman Rushdie, John Ashbery, V.S. Naipaul and others.
ALLBERY, DEBRA: Learning to Read (January 2013)
ALLBERY, DEBRA: Learning to Read (January 2013)
“One cannot read a book,” Nabokov wrote, “one can only reread it.” Delivered as the opening talk of the January 2013 residency, this meditation on rereading explores how our ongoing and evolving relationships with signal texts mirror the development and re-vision of individual and cultural aesthetics.
BAKER, DAVID: Daring, Drama, and Melodrama (July 2007)
BAKER, DAVID: Daring, Drama, and Melodrama (July 2007)
Writing teachers frequently urge students to “take a risk,” but what, asks David Baker, does taking a risk really mean? Through close readings of poems by Charles Wright, Carolyn Forché, Czeslaw Miłosz, Louise Glück, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Franz Wright, Linda Gregerson and others, Baker reflects on what makes a poem successfully daring as opposed to melodramatic; he argues that we substitute “drama” for “daring,” focusing on qualities of text rather than poet--the drama infused through narrative, rhetoric, and form.
BAROT, RICK: Poems and the Impure (January 2006)
BAROT, RICK: Poems and the Impure (January 2006)
Neruda described the “poetry we are seeking” as “corroded as if by acid…a poetry as impure as a suit or a body.” In this lecture, Rick Barot examines the categories of the pure and impure in poetry, and reflects on how a poem might inhabit the “brilliant threshold between these two energies.” Drawing on examples by Petrarch, Susan Stewart, Marianne Moore and Campbell McGrath, Barot argues that it is precisely their thematic and formal “impurities” that make the best poems what they are.
BAROT, RICK: The First Herbert (January 2007)
BAROT, RICK: The First Herbert (January 2007)
Through close attention to the “ingenious formal strategies” in poems by George Herbert, Rick Barot argues both the importance and modernity of this early 17th century Metaphysical poet, showing how Herbert navigates the dialectic between faith and doubt through “intricate craft.” Barot reflects on how this dialectic runs “in the bloodstream” of poetry now, and looks at the ways in which Herbert’s lineage is apparent in contemporary poets from Louise Glück to Paul Tillick to Olena Kalytiak Davis.
BAROT, RICK: The Sea and the Zebra: Visual Effects in Poems (January 2011)
BAROT, RICK: The Sea and the Zebra: Visual Effects in Poems (January 2011)
Rick Barot explores the differences between description and image and examines the ways in which images in poetry are arranged, presented, or withheld. While description is often used to clarify, Barot points out that the most effective images rely on distortion. Through close readings of Philip Larkin’s “As Bad As a Mile,” Elaine Scarry’s “Dreaming by the Book”, Philip Larkin’s “As Bad as a Mile,” Robert Creeley’s “Something,” Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73, Robert Frost’s “Out, Out—,” Laura Jensen’s “As the Window Darkens,” C.K. Williams’ “Droplets” and others, Barot demonstrates how poets can manipulate images to communicate more than what mere description can.
BAROT, RICK: The Voice In Question (January 2012)
BAROT, RICK: The Voice In Question (January 2012)
How does a writer craft a voice which is able to compel a reader’s belief as well as surprise her? Investigating works as diverse as Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot,” Thomas McGuane’s “War and Peace,” and Adrienne Rich’s “The Trees,” Barot demonstrates the ways in which tone, conveyed through a poem’s syntax, diction, and formal elements, is crucial to creating a truly individualized voice rather than one of mere caricature.
BETTY ADCOCK: Imperfect Wonders: A Look at Some Poems by James Dickey (January 2004)
BETTY ADCOCK: Imperfect Wonders: A Look at Some Poems by James Dickey (January 2004)
Betty Adcock explores themes of death, survival, and guilt in the work of James Dickey, tracing these themes to biographical circumstances but arguing, too, that the poems should be considered in their own right. Adcock focuses on poems Dickey wrote before 1967, including “The Driver,” “The Lifeguard,” “Scarred Girl,” “Chenille,” “Reincarnation 1,” and “A Screened Porch in the Country,” considering how the sense of the mystical in them is rooted in the immediate and real.
BORUCH, MARIANNE: Heavy Lifting (January 2006)
BORUCH, MARIANNE: Heavy Lifting (January 2006)
“Let’s face it,” Marianne Boruch remarks, “a poem matters because it’s about eternal things: death, love, knowledge, time.” Using metaphors of lightness and weight, Boruch asks how poets can lift these heavy subjects and give them new life, how poems can manage “the problem of flying.” To consider this question, she turns to Leonardo Da Vinci’s journals, accounts of the Wright brothers, as well as poems by Adrien Stoutenburg, Robert Hayden, Philip Larkin, John Berryman, and Emily Dickinson.
BORUCH, MARIANNE: Is and Was (January 2007)
BORUCH, MARIANNE: Is and Was (January 2007)
If meaning, as George Oppen argued, is “the instant of meaning,” then, Marianne Boruch remarks, “that instant, that click, involves time.” It also, in our representation of it, involves verbs—a whole category of language that “we’ve invented to mime that click.” In this lecture, Boruch looks at poems by Eavan Boland, William Stafford, and Carl Phillips to consider how poems can manage shifts between the present and past tense as a way to open up into the “potentially infinite.”
BORUCH, MARIANNE: O'Connor and Bishop: Closely, at a Distance (July 2011)
BORUCH, MARIANNE: O'Connor and Bishop: Closely, at a Distance (July 2011)
Marianne Boruch examines tonal distance and imagistic precision in the work of two perhaps unlikely correspondents—Flannery O’Connor and Elizabeth Bishop. Drawing on O’Connor’s fiction, Bishop’s poetry, their visual art, and the letters they exchanged, Boruch explores the mutual influence and respect between the two writers.
BORUCH, MARIANNE: Plath's Bees (July 1990)
BORUCH, MARIANNE: Plath's Bees (July 1990)
Marianne Boruch traces the growth of Sylvia Plath’s bee sequence in Ariel from obsessive image to transcendent poetry. Using passages from early fiction as well as later letters and journal entries, Boruch shows us how Plath turned again and again to details of her actual experience of keeping a hive as she slowly developed her totemic image. Boruch argues that this lived experience of bee-keeping allowed Plath to ground her astonishing lyric sequence, “five poems written in one sleepless week,” in “the lucidity and vigor of narrative.”
BORUCH, MARIANNE: The Little Death of the Self (January 2010)
BORUCH, MARIANNE: The Little Death of the Self (January 2010)
Framed as a response to the contemporary impulse to “kill the ‘I’ in the poem,” Marianne Boruch’s lecture considers the possibilities of the lyric voice. What if, rather than narrowing the poem, the “I” opened it up to a wider perspective? Boruch looks at footage from the Hindenburg disaster and at poems by Perillo, Dickinson, Plath, Frost, Hopkins, and others to demonstrate ways in which the “I” can be both personal and more than personal.
BORUCH, MARIANNE: Three Blakes (January 2013)
BORUCH, MARIANNE: Three Blakes (January 2013)
To read Blake or to stare into his engravings and paintings is to be taken back to the source of what we do. Focusing on Songs of Innocence and Experience, Boruch’s lecture presents a triptych of Blakes, as she investigates his brilliant, quirky, often heroic way with image as artist and poet—as well as “the sound of it, song, in our time and his,” which she explores with the bravura accompaniment of William Bolcom’s settings of Blake’s work.
CALVOCORESSI, GABRIELLE: The Beams of Our House(s) Are Cedar(s): Erotic Specificity in the Song of Songs (July 2012)
CALVOCORESSI, GABRIELLE: The Beams of Our House(s) Are Cedar(s): Erotic Specificity in the Song of Songs (July 2012)
Gabrielle Calvocoressi leads a discussion on specificity in the Song of Songs, focusing on how use of detail creates narrative clarity and also deepens mystery. The class examines the language used to describe intense physical love and highlights the ways in which linguistic choices radically affect understanding of content.
CARL DENNIS: Generosity (January 2002)
CARL DENNIS: Generosity (January 2002)
What does it mean, Carl Dennis asks, for the speaker of a poem to be generous? And how might such generosity serve as an aesthetic as well as a moral virtue? Focusing on poems by Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, but turning, too, to work by Robert Lowell and Amy Gerstler, Dennis considers how generosity manifests at the level of craft, exploring its relationship to other elements of a poem such as irony, empathy, and narrative distance.
CHRIS FORHAN: What Happens When I Say “I” (July 2002)
CHRIS FORHAN: What Happens When I Say “I” (July 2002)
While poets in the U.S. have generally shown little reticence about placing the “I” at the center of a poem, Chris Forhan adds that contemporary poets have had an uneasy relationship with that “I,” an uncertainty about the self that can actually produce a more expansive and complicated first person voice. Forhan demonstrates this, along with the limitations and possibilities of the “I,” in work by Thoreau, Lowell, Williams, Simic, Carson and Ashbery, who grapple with what is both unknowable and universal in the self.
DAVID BAKER: The Figure of Grief (January 2004)
DAVID BAKER: The Figure of Grief (January 2004)
Elegy, David Baker suggests, typically contains two figures—the grieving poet or speaker, and the beloved departed. What happens, then, when an elegy makes use of a kind of triangulation in which death too is figured, even praised? Baker examines how Walt Whitman’s “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed” and Emily Dickinson’s “Because I could not stop for Death” convey a kind of embrace of death, and, in doing so, transform and eroticize the elegiac form.
DISCHELL, STUART: State of Alert (July 2006)
DISCHELL, STUART: State of Alert (July 2006)
Stuart Dischell weaves together autobiography and Parisian history in this lecture about the surrealist poet Robert Desnos, who participated in the French resistance to the Nazi occupation. Focusing on Desnos’ collection State of Alert, written during and in response to the occupation, Dischell offers a window into this crucial moment in French political and literary history.
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: A Sense of Space (January 2010)
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: A Sense of Space (January 2010)
Stephen Dobyns conducts close readings of the first paragraph of Henry James’ The Middle Years and William Butler Yeats’ poem “Her Praise” to examine how both writers create a sense of spaciousness in a small amount of text. Drawing on Yeats’ biography and on information about his writing process, Dobyns shows how James and Yeats use a range of craft strategies to imply the larger world.
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: Baudelaire (January 2012)
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: Baudelaire (January 2012)
Stephen Dobyns provides an introduction to the life, poetic project, and influence of Charles Baudelaire, often called the first modern poet. Drawing on biographical material as well as some of the poet’s essays, Dobyns offers close readings of poems from The Flowers of Evil, tracing in them an inherent tension between passionate love and the spiritual life, as well as early and influential gestures of Symbolism.
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: Context and Causality (January 2009)
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: Context and Causality (January 2009)
Stephen Dobyns examines how we read poems that rely on outside context, such as Berryman’s “Dream Song 18, A Strut for Roethke” and W.B. Yeats’ “Leda and the Swan.” Our reading of Berryman’s poem, for example, is shaped by knowledge of Roethke’s death and of the elegiac tradition. Arguing that such knowledge can help us understand the writer’s intention, Dobyns proposes ways in which the poet can establish context for the reader, regardless of the poem’s subject.
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: Economy, Intensity, and Ferocity: Poems by R.S. Thomas (July 2011)
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: Economy, Intensity, and Ferocity: Poems by R.S. Thomas (July 2011)
Stephen Dobyns investigates Welsh poet R.S. Thomas’s uses of elements of form, in particular sonic qualities, to create tension, energy and emotion within his poems. Drawing on work from throughout Thomas’ career, Dobyns examines how his methods changed over a fifty-year period.
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: Linebreaks (July 2008)
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: Linebreaks (July 2008)
In this lecture, Stephen Dobyns considers the function of linebreaks in metered and non-metered poetry, focusing on how they can be used to convey nuance. Drawing on poems by Walt Whitman, William Shakespeare, John Milton, Matthew Arnold, Emily Dickinson, William Blake, W.H. Auden, T.S. Eliot, James Wright and Louise Glück, Dobyns explores a variety of types of line breaks and examines how they work, in the context of each particular poem, to create rhythm and meaning.
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: Metaphysical Counterpoint (July 2005)
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: Metaphysical Counterpoint (July 2005)
Drawing on the musical idea of counterpoint, in which two melodies exist at the same time, Stephen Dobyns suggests that departures from prescribed forms create a kind of metaphysical counterpoint between an ideal and an actual world. Looking at examples by authors as diverse as Flaubert, Yuri Trifinov, Flannery O’Conner, T.S. Eliot, Zbigniew Herbert and Jane Kenyon, Dobyns suggests that these writers provide perspective on this counterpoint through strategic release of specific sensual details.
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: On Structure (January 1990)
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: On Structure (January 1990)
Offering close readings of Philip Larkin’s “The Explosion” and Lon Otto’s “A Very Short Story,” Stephen Dobyns argues that structure is both the means by which information is released and the information itself. He states that structure, whether in poetry or prose, represents the means by which formal elements (language, texture, pacing, and tone) may be imposed upon informal elements (action, emotion, setting and idea). In conclusion, Dobyns cautions that a work’s structure can only be determined when the writer has fully understood its purpose.
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: Poetic Closure (July 2009)
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: Poetic Closure (July 2009)
“Closure,” Stephen Dobyns remarks, “usually means putting something behind us.” But in a good poem, he argues, “it means something ahead.” Through close readings of poems by Billy Collins, Philip Larkin, Kay Ryan, W.S. Merwin, Charles Simic, Carol Ann Duffy and Miroslav Holub, Dobyns examines different types of poetic closure that, by suggesting other levels of meaning, can pull the reader back into the poem again.
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: Rimbaud (July 2012)
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: Rimbaud (July 2012)
Stephen Dobyns meditates on the nature and extent of Arthur Rimbaud’s influence on 20th century poetry. Examining Rimbaud’s biography, aesthetic theories, and poetry, Dobyns observes the genius and complexity of Rimbaud’s work and to this end offers a close reading of The Drunken Boat.
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: The Advent of the Romantic Lyric (January 2015)
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: The Advent of the Romantic Lyric (January 2015)
Beginning with Pope and the Enlightenment, this lecture traces how the modern lyric rose out of Romanticism, discussing early and continuing tropes and the nature of the lyric or affective element in form as well as content. Among the poems explored are works by Baudelaire, Lord Byron, Apollinaire, and Trakl.
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: The Poetic Development of James Wright (July 2013)
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: The Poetic Development of James Wright (July 2013)
The lecture looks at the change in James Wright's poetry from the formal verse of The Green Wall and Saint Judas through the free verse poetry of The Branch Will Not Break, focusing on Wrights' early years in Martins Ferry, Ohio, through his time in the army, Kenyon College and his year in Vienna on a Fulbright where he discovered the poetry of Georg Trakl, which showed him a path his own poetry could take and led a few years later with his friendship with Robert Bly. Biographical information is drawn from letters and six interviews with Wright.
EHUD HAVAZELET: A Stick in the Wheel: An Examination of Gimmickry (January 2002)
EHUD HAVAZELET: A Stick in the Wheel: An Examination of Gimmickry (January 2002)
Originally hidden devices grifters used to control the prize wheel, gimmicks, suggests Ehud Havazelet, are analogous to the craft devices all writers use. But what is the distinction between “mere trickery” and effective craft? How can ‘gimmicks’ strengthen rather than cheapen our writing? Havazelet considers these and other questions through close readings of O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi,” Graham Greene’s “I Spy,” Ida Fink’s “The Key Game” and Alice Munro’s “Five Points.”
ELEANOR WILNER: “Like as the waves…”: Vibrant Disturbance as Form and Message in Poetry and Nature (January 2002)
ELEANOR WILNER: “Like as the waves…”: Vibrant Disturbance as Form and Message in Poetry and Nature (January 2002)
Why can we stare for hours at waves or fire? What makes those waves so compelling, and what can wave motion, as described by physics, tell us about how meaning is carried through the medium of poetic language? Looking at poems by Shakespeare, Whitman and Roethke that draw both subject and motion from waves, Eleanor Wilner explores how pattern and random variation of waves speak to what is oldest and deepest in us—the receptors of our brains, our oceanic origins, the systole and diastole of the heart.
ELLEN BRYAN VOIGT: On and Off the Grid: Syntax Part II (July 2002)
ELLEN BRYAN VOIGT: On and Off the Grid: Syntax Part II (July 2002)
Meter organizes music on a small scale, the music theorist Robert Jordain has argued, while phrasing organizes it on a large scale. In this lecture, Ellen Bryant Voigt draws on Jordain’s terms to consider how poems by Philip Larkin, Donald Justice, and D.H. Lawrence are structured through pattern and variation; she examines how “meter” and “phrasing” are produced syntactically, and how conflict between these two kinds of rhythm gives these poems their “energetic formal tension.”
FREE! A 35th Anniversary Reading
FREE! A 35th Anniversary Reading
A compilation of readings by Larry Levis, Agha Shahid Ali, Tom Andrews, Renate Wood, and Steve Orlen. Note: this reading is free with any purchase. Simply add it to your cart along with your additional purchase(s).
FRIED, DAISY:
FRIED, DAISY: "...ice/Is also great/And would Suffice": On Flatness (July 2015)
To allege flatness in a workshop is generally to level a criticism, but when is flatness an engine rather than an error? What’s exciting about lack of excitement? How is it achieved? Fried’s lecture draws upon poetry by William Carlos Williams, Robert Frost, Ai, Ross Gay, and others.
FRIED, DAISY: All My Pretty Hates (January 2013)
FRIED, DAISY: All My Pretty Hates (January 2013)
Looking at work by Frederick Seidel, Brenda Shaughnessy, and Charles Bernstein, among others, Fried’s lecture focuses on the importance of paying attention to, and learning from, poetic aversion. What can our strong reactions tell us about who we are, what our prejudices are made of, and what are the failings and successes in our own work? Ultimately, Fried’s talk is about the limits of taste, the importance of prejudice, and learning to learn from what rubs us all wrong.
FRIED, DAISY: Why Burn: An Exhortation in Eight Proposals (July 2014)
FRIED, DAISY: Why Burn: An Exhortation in Eight Proposals (July 2014)
Jeers, rants, outbursts, abrasions, invective—Fried’s lecture investigates varieties and effects of “heat” in poems by Robert Bly, John Donne, Les Murray, and others, and in the fiction of Charles Dickens.
GIBBONS, REGINALD: How to use Hélène Cixous  (July 2005)
GIBBONS, REGINALD: How to use Hélène Cixous (July 2005)
Our habitual thinking and feeling, Reginald Gibbons suggests, lead us to follow familiar routes in our writing. How might we use Cixous’s ideas about writing to surprise ourselves and work against our own grain? Gibbons draws on a range of Hélène Cixous’ writing—and its connection to authors ranging from William Maxwell to Patrick White to Allen Ginsberg—to explore how playfulness, accessing the unconscious and writing to find the other hidden in ourselves, might deepen our writing, and our understanding of it.
GREGERSON, LINDA: Poetic Embodiment (January 2005)
GREGERSON, LINDA: Poetic Embodiment (January 2005)
“The body’s extraordinary intelligence is nowhere more legible,” Linda Gregerson argues, “than at those junctures where ordinary well-being is disrupted”; in this lecture, Gregerson looks at how poets have written about this disruption to powerful effect. Drawing on work by Michael Collier, Alan Shapiro, Louise Glück, Jorie Graham and Gerard Manley Hopkins, Gregerson considers how the “body-under-assault” can serve as an occasion for new encounters between consciousness and embodiment.
GROTZ, JENNIFER:
GROTZ, JENNIFER: "An Anxiety of Influence" for Girls (January 2009)
In his 1973 book The Anxiety of Influence, Harold Bloom posits that the young poet must assume poetic authority through willfully misreading, and then overthrowing, a precursor poet. In this lecture, Jennifer Grotz meditates on what in Bloom’s theory is helpful and what is harmful for a young writer; she draws on essays by Bloom and Eliot, and on poems by Plath, Graham, Moore, Milton, Bishop, Milosz, and Merwin, to offer a different understanding of what poetic authority is and how one might obtain it.
GROTZ, JENNIFER: On Poetry and Boxing (July 2012)
GROTZ, JENNIFER: On Poetry and Boxing (July 2012)
Jennifer Grotz investigates the centuries-old fascination of poets and fiction writers for the sport of boxing. Drawing from John Keats’s and Joyce Carol Oates’s writings on the “sweet science of boxing,“ Grotz suggests that understanding elements of the sport may illuminate concerns of the writer; both endeavors, she says, require the workings of the imagination, or Keats’s “Fancy”, in their preparation and execution.
GROTZ, JENNIFER: The Pathetic Fallacy (January 2008)
GROTZ, JENNIFER: The Pathetic Fallacy (January 2008)
Jennifer Grotz examines the concept of the pathetic fallacy, a term coined by John Ruskin which Grotz defines as “an instance or an attitude where human pathos is attributed to an element of nature.” Grotz argues that, despite its potential pitfalls, the pathetic fallacy remains a crucial rhetorical figure in contemporary poetry; she draws on examples from Shakespeare, Spenser, Henri Cole, Tony Hoagland, Stanley Kunitz and Louise Glück to consider how it can be successfully and innovatively employed.
HAXTON, BROOKS: Cliché (July 2007)
HAXTON, BROOKS: Cliché (July 2007)
In this informal lecture, Brooks Haxton asks what makes a cliché a cliché, and suggests that writers, while avoiding prefabricated speech, should seek the sources of cliché and reconsider our resistance to immediately conveyed thought. Through close readings of poems by Leyb Borovick, e.e. Cummings, Robert Burns, William Shakespeare, Walt Whitman, Paul Goodman and Philip Booth, Haxton considers how poets can present emotionally fraught material with unadorned directness, to powerful effect.
HAXTON, BROOKS: Else Lasker-Schüler (January 2007)
HAXTON, BROOKS: Else Lasker-Schüler (January 2007)
Brooks Haxton offers an introduction to the life and poetry of Else Lasker-Schüler, a German Jewish poet of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Exploring how Romanticism influenced Lasker-Schüler’s work, as well as how her poetry can be understood as stepping out of Romanticism into “the modern era,” Haxton locates Lasker-Schüler in her cultural and political context, discusses her vision, and offers new translations of a number of her poems.
HAXTON, BROOKS: Image and the Levels of Meaning (July 2012)
HAXTON, BROOKS: Image and the Levels of Meaning (July 2012)
Brooks Haxton considers the image as a vehicle of meaning as he traces the influence of early 20th century translations of Chinese and Japanese work on Western writers and readers. Haxton also draws upon the King James Bible and Imagist poets, including Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams and D.H. Lawrence, to explore potential allegorical, moral, and mystical aspects of an image’s meaning.
HAXTON, BROOKS: Schrödinger's Cat (July 2006)
HAXTON, BROOKS: Schrödinger's Cat (July 2006)
Brooks Haxton draws on the Schrödinger Cat thought experiment, Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Bach’s cello Suites, Victor Hugo’s “The Graveyard at Villequier,” and a range of work by Louis Armstrong and Emily Dickinson to advocate a particular kind of poetic judgment. Like the scientist who opens the box to determine whether the cat is dead or alive, Haxton suggests, a reader should come to a piece of work—including work that may be out of fashion—with a willingness to see what is really there.
HOAGLAND, TONY: Disproportion: Excess in Poetry (January 1993)
HOAGLAND, TONY: Disproportion: Excess in Poetry (January 1993)
Tony Hoagland identifies and champions poetry which belongs neither to the camp of the well-made and conservative nor to the zany and subversive. He describes how this third type, often excessive and highly dramatic, may not know exactly “what it is,” but can praise and reflect the objective world while at the same time asserting the supremacy of the imagination. Looking at poems by Tess Gallagher, Horace, Susan Mitchell, Wallace Stevens and W.C. Williams, Hoagland argues that much can be gained from studying a poem which absolves its writer from the need “to perfect.”
HOAGLAND, TONY: Idiom, Our Funny Valentine (July 2010)
HOAGLAND, TONY: Idiom, Our Funny Valentine (July 2010)
Idiom, like vernacular and slang, can establish shared knowledge and thus intimacy with the reader. But when, Tony Hoagland asks, does the use of idiom “dumb things down”? Hoagland looks at examples from Yehuda Amichai, Ben Lerner, John Ashbery, and Heather McHugh to consider the benefits—and liabilities—of using idiom in poems.
HOAGLAND, TONY: Information, Layering, and the Composite Poem (July 2013)
HOAGLAND, TONY: Information, Layering, and the Composite Poem (July 2013)
Tony Hoagland describes the formal strategy of the "composite poem," a poem that alloys and amalgamates bits and bytes of the objective and the subjective worlds into a loose kind of composition. The composite poem is a speculative form that does not explain or over-mediate the connections between its parts -- it has a modernist heterogeneous kind of "dissheveledness" about the way it presents reality. Nonetheless, the composite poem must have a kind of internal rigorousness; it seeks to harmonically arrange its many tones and samplings, to organize it into a credible, believably disorganized yet persuasive form. Examples of the composite form are drawn from the work of Robert Hass, Spencer Reece, Anne Carson, and most especially Tomas Transtromer.
HOAGLAND, TONY: Structure: Housing and Transmission (July 2011)
HOAGLAND, TONY: Structure: Housing and Transmission (July 2011)
Comparing a poem to an automotive engine, Tony Hoagland argues that poems stay alive on the page by shifting gears; at such moments, Hoagland suggests, a poem can be enlarged or intensified within a single sentence. Through close readings of work by Jean Follain, Philip Larkin, Eavan Boland, Joseph Millar, and Anne Carson, Hoagland examines the organizational strategies that make such “gear-shifts” possible.
HRIBAL, CJ: Eva Figes and the Lyrical Novel(la) (January 2016)
HRIBAL, CJ: Eva Figes and the Lyrical Novel(la) (January 2016)
Prose that almost aims to be sung: sometimes this occurs in particular moments within a longer work, sometimes it seems as if it’s the entire work itself. This lecture about “prose that aims for poetry” looks specifically at the work (particularly the two novellas, Light and Waking) of English author Eva Figes.
JAMES LONGENBACH: The End of the Line (January 2002)
JAMES LONGENBACH: The End of the Line (January 2002)
James Longenbach examines the different ways in which poets have used line (and, more particularly, the end of the line) to “annotate” the syntax of a poem. How can strategic line endings determine a reader’s experience of a poem’s temporal unfolding, as well as of its tone and meaning? Longenbach looks at examples of metered lines (Milton, Frost), syllabic lines (Moore), and modernist free verse lines (Pound, Stevens, Williams, H.D.) as well as more contemporary examples by Ashbery and Bidart.
JAMES LONGENBACH: The Spokenness of Poetry (July 2003)
JAMES LONGENBACH: The Spokenness of Poetry (July 2003)
What we call “voice” in poems is intrinsically dialogical, James Longenbach argues: “Implicit in those very poems that encourage us to think of them as having a voice is the critique of the idea of a singular, unified voice,” yet no matter how overtly “fragmented” the language in a poem may be, no poem can avoid the impression of a unified utterance. Longenbach explores this dialogical voice—this concurrent “speaking” and “shattering”—in work by Hart Crane, Robert Browning, James Joyce and Louise Glück.
JARMAN, MARK: To Make the Final Unity: Metaphor's Matter and Spirit (January 2006)
JARMAN, MARK: To Make the Final Unity: Metaphor's Matter and Spirit (January 2006)
Mark Jarman reflects on the “religious aspects” of metaphor, suggesting that metaphors can invoke a kind of original unity. Jarman also suggests, drawing on Frost’s idea of “the greatest attempt that ever failed,” that these metaphors, and that imagined unity, must necessarily break down. He looks at Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach” W.S. Merwin’s “The Present,” Philip Levine’s “Let Me Begin Again” and Chase Twitchell’s “The Myths” to show what metaphors can reveal when they break down in a dynamic way.
JONES, RODNEY: Overriding the Autobiographical First-Person Default: Writing Poetry in Fictional Points-of-View (July 2015)
JONES, RODNEY: Overriding the Autobiographical First-Person Default: Writing Poetry in Fictional Points-of-View (July 2015)
Jones’ lecture discusses the difficulties and advantages of overriding the first-person point of view in poetry, looking at Anne Carson’s “The Glass Essay,” Ellen Bryant Voigt’s Kyrie, Michael Ondaajte’s The Collected Works of Billy the Kid, as well as works by Karen Solie and Larry Levis.
JONES, RODNEY: Poetic Language and Credibility:  The Poem that Does Not Seem to be a Poem (January 2012)
JONES, RODNEY: Poetic Language and Credibility: The Poem that Does Not Seem to be a Poem (January 2012)
Arguing that the best poems seem “but a moment’s thought,” Jones investigates how poets establish credibility through both consciously wrought technique and natural evocation of character. Readers want to sense that the voice in a poem is that of a real human being in an ordinary life; Jones examines how poets as dissimilar as Frank Bidart, Robert Creeley, Louise Gluck, Charles Wright, and James Wright work to integrate character and artifice.
JORDAN, A. VAN: The Suspension of Disbelief (July 2012)
JORDAN, A. VAN: The Suspension of Disbelief (July 2012)
In this lecture, A. Van Jordan meditates on Coleridge’s notion of the “willing suspension of disbelief” as it applies to modern poetry, prose narrative, and film. Jordan discusses the concept of poetic faith and the implicit contract between poet and reader requiring that a poem move toward a satisfying ending. By means of close readings of Martha Collins’ Blue Front, Laura Kasischke’s “Stolen Shoes,” and Natasha Trethewey’s Native Guard, Jordan considers some successful conclusions.
LAURA KASISCHKE: The End: A Lecture (July 2004)
LAURA KASISCHKE: The End: A Lecture (July 2004)
Though as a culture we place a great deal of value on the idea of closure, many of our most important experiences, Laura Kasischke argues, don’t have it; instead, they “linger, fester, [or] echo.” Referencing Barbara Herrnstein Smith’s book Poetic Closure, Kasischke conducts close readings of poems by Robert Browning, Philip Larkin and W.H. Auden to explore different kinds of endings and how writers can allow their endings to continue to resonate—and perhaps, in a sense, not end at all.
LAURA KASISCHKE: What Doesn’t Kill You (July 2003)
LAURA KASISCHKE: What Doesn’t Kill You (July 2003)
No writer really knows where the “source of power” necessary to write a story or a novel comes from, Laura Kasischke notes, yet we all need it and fear losing it. Kasischke looks at the sometimes superstitious lengths to which writers have gone to try to invite this power, focusing on the lives and work of Balzac and Stephen Crane, while also showing the creative tension between the world of their experience and that of their imagination.
LEADER, MARY: Sestinas & Other Chances (July 2012)
LEADER, MARY: Sestinas & Other Chances (July 2012)
Through an examination of the sestina, Mary Leader’s class investigates the relationship between form and content in poetry. Focusing on poems by Elizabeth Bishop, Frank Bidart, Ezra Pound, and others, Leader meditates on themes which the sestina is particularly well-suited to suggest or to render.
LEVIN, DANA: Who is Who: Pronouns, Gender, and Merging Selves (January 2016)
LEVIN, DANA: Who is Who: Pronouns, Gender, and Merging Selves (January 2016)
Dana Levin’s investigation of the history of the third-person singular pronoun takes its spark from the work of trans poet Stacey Waite. In exploring how Waite gets around English’s pronounial either/or (he or she) through a trick of syntax, Levin’s lecture also discusses the sexism embedded in grammar rules, the multiple nature of the self, the mystic properties of naming, and the relationship between body and identity.
LEVIS, LARRY: On Elegy:  Seamus Heaney’s “Station Island”  (January 1994)
LEVIS, LARRY: On Elegy: Seamus Heaney’s “Station Island” (January 1994)
Through a close reading of Seamus Heaney’s “Station Island,” the late Larry Levis reflects on the challenge which the elegaic form presents to a writer. Levis believes the dual purpose of the elegy-- to remember and to inter the dead-- can involve a poet, ambivalent about forsaking the beloved to seek a new object of affection, in an ethical dilemma. Levis looks at the effect of this complexity on Heaney’s poem and concludes that what matters in poetry, as in life, is passion.
LONGENBACH, JAMES: Image, Figure, Sound (January 2016)
LONGENBACH, JAMES: Image, Figure, Sound (January 2016)
Poems and novels are made of words: why have we become accustomed to saying that poems contain images or are constructed out of images? Like what we call a voice, what we call an image is a second-order craft element, one that is constructed out of the more primary linguistic materials of diction, metaphor, rhythm, and syntax. Drawing upon work by Shakespeare, Pound, Susan Howe, and others, Longenbach explores how our vocabulary of image uses visual language to account for a linguistic effect.
LONGENBACH, JAMES: James Joyce: An Odyssey of Style (January 2012)
LONGENBACH, JAMES: James Joyce: An Odyssey of Style (January 2012)
“All of writing is stylistic extravagance,” asserts poet James Longenbach, “no matter how simple it may initially appear.” In his introduction to Joyce’s Ulysses, Longenbach identifies Joyce’s shift from direct realism to “linguistic extravagance” over the course of eighteen episodes. Through close readings of key passages, Longenbach explores the novel’s stylistic nature, asking: What makes us who we are, the DNA passed on to us or the language that encases us? Does character determine style, as is suggested by the earlier episodes, or, as the later episodes indicate, does style determine character?
LONGENBACH, JAMES: Poetic Amplitude (January 2009)
LONGENBACH, JAMES: Poetic Amplitude (January 2009)
How do great works of verbal art incorporate language that might seem, in another context, to violate any familiar prescription for what makes writing good? In this lecture, James Longenbach examines how writers can use moments of flat or enervated language to thrilling, amplifying effect; he looks, for examples, at three of Shakespeare’s plays and at poems by Bishop, Eliot, Moore, Ashbery, Bidart, and Glück.
LONGENBACH, JAMES: Purity, Stillness, Restraint (July 2005)
LONGENBACH, JAMES: Purity, Stillness, Restraint (July 2005)
“More than lack of ambition,” James Longenbach remarks, it is “the inability to surrender to our characteristic callings and rhythms that keeps us from fulfilling our promise.” But what does this surrender look like? Longenbach explores one of its forms by looking at poems that strategically restrain their diction; this restraint, he argues, as it comes of the writer’s submission to what is truest in herself, suggests something unsaid beyond itself. For examples, he draws on work by Pound, Yeats, Blake, Marvell and Oppen.
LONGENBACH, JAMES: The Construction of Voice (July 2015)
LONGENBACH, JAMES: The Construction of Voice (July 2015)
To speak of a poem’s or a story’s “voice” is to use a metaphor; poems really don’t have voices. Longenbach’s lecture examines, in works by John Donne, D. H. Lawrence, and others, the precise linguistic strategies that give sentences the illusion of a speaking voice.
LONGENBACH, JAMES: The Excess of Poetry (July 2010)
LONGENBACH, JAMES: The Excess of Poetry (July 2010)
James Longenbach argues that excess is crucial to art, even to art that does not seem obviously excessive. Drawing on Keats’ idea of “fine excess,” Longenbach shows how Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale,” Pound’s Canto 74, and Dickinson’s “The vastest earthly Day” embody the tension between limit and excess, and enact the wish to exceed their own restraints.