Category Archives: Teaching writing

We write in place: My students and I in a hallway at school

From our school announcements of 23 February: 
Matt Hagemann decided to let his creative writing students feed the muse, so they left their classroom and sat in the north-facing second floor hall facing away from the windows. “It was a free writing assignment,” Hagemann said. “I told them to write about whatever they noticed.”
Hard at work were Hagemann, Riley Lodico and Cody Thompson. Noah Mershon and Angel Aguirre were taking notice at the time the photo was snapped.
Photo and caption by Vicki Snyder-Chura.

Where and when: In RTHS hallway outside Counseling Center, 2nd floor, facing windows to the north, Tues. 20 Feb. 2018, 8:31 a.m., 1st hour

I’ve never sat here and written before, but here I am, with a creative writing class. There’s a featureless gray sky — though there look to be a few horizontal features off to northern horizon. Most of my students sit on the radiator across the hall. They’re facing south — I wanted to see north. A woman holding what looked like the phone cover to her ear while the phone bounced alongside. It seems odd. Maybe I didn’t see it well.  There are reflections — well, silhouettes — of my students on the floor. There are waves in the reflections — the terrazzo floor’s not quite flat. Phone-ear woman and a young woman leave the Counseling Center together. Two people wearing glasses and carrying books come in thru east-end doors, walk a bit, then run into Counseling Center.

 

Where and when: In RTHS hallway outside Counseling Center, 2nd floor, facing wall to the south, Tues. 20 Feb. 2018, Noon:50 p.m., 8th hour

There’s water splashing on the rubbery roof over the student entrance — same place I saw ice last week. Mr. Oldenburg just passed me headed west to the teacher lunchroom. I don’t eat in lunchroom. … I heard a shout or shriek from the student-lunching area, a shout-shriek. … I see a couple fans spinning above the student commons. Some fans aren’t running. There’s a thereness to this school building — it doesn’t have to do anything (like any object), like I feel pressured to do when I’m here at school. C. and N. are sitting at the left and right sides, respectively, of the top half of the sans serif T shape painted on the wall. I forgot about these letters when I was sitting on that side of the hallway. It’s kinda funny to see these partial letters and to realize that these letters aren’t written to me but to someone much further away, that we’re too zoomed in to see what’s being spelled.

‘Love is Fake News’: Exquisite Corpse poems, Spring 2018

Here are this semester’s Creative Writing classes’ poems written in the Exquisite Corpse method.  What I love about these lines is how they were created almost randomly but have a kinda of weird logic. I like how some of these seem almost brilliant, in an obtuse way. See here for previous semesters’ poems.

Mysterious is what my relationship goals are not.

 

My future is the best artist.

 

The kid who’s rude, he is not all people.

 

Massive pencils write words fastly.

 

Night and day are different colors.

 

I is a letter in the corner that was like nothing.

 

Greatness exists only in the darkest of nights.

 

Summer is when I am always struggling to spell out the reasons why.

 

It was a weird feeling, like the wind understood I was very discombobulated.

 

Words can make everything interesting.

 

Writing makes me wanna sleep in your bed tonight in the moonlight under the enchanted sea dance at the red light at the end of trains.

 

I loved and I lost: one mitten, orange, with the help of shoes on the old person of interests.

 

Birds are all flying to be or not to run from the police who started at me, a person who loves the cold pillow during the hot summer night.

 

Time stills in the silence.

 

A golden mountain lived a long time before the end of the end of the day.

 

Great people make life worth my time.

 

You are dumb, even though he can remember his own death.

 

When I woke up in the sky — tonight is before tomorrow — I will sleep in time.

 

I watch way too much of what we say.

 

The picket fence keeps me safe from me.

 

Coat is all bloody when she hits the baseball bat hard.

 

Eerie quiet came after I went to Heaven and Hell.

 

Slowly the body decayed — until the last minute.

 

The way the waves slide over the next few years.

 

Stuff is a lot of stuff. A lot of stuff can be really annoying.

 

Father, why are we fighting chickens?

 

Always play along with the other people.

 

In the front of the lonely rowboat that couldn’t go too far away from dogs today, it’s finally Friday.

 

You are the best person who is good at that.

 

Sleeping with the fishes is why she left him.

 

Sentences are fun when you swim with sharks.

 

Nothing to do with her smile brightens the room.

 

To love is to live as though you are fairytales.

 

Integrity is an important attribute of fire.

 

Cake is the best kind of pizza.

 

So I learned a new chapter in life: you only live once. Or twice.

 

It became real to secretly speak to her.

 

More people will die if I can fly high and eat fresh prince.

 

My friend, your desire to pass physics class is boring.

 

Songs are fun to jump off the stairs from.

 

Light mayonnaise is the best taxidermied pigeon I’d ever seen.

 

To hide the children, have a secret language.

 

Pumpkin pie is a good dessert eagle.

 

Galaxies are very extra around here.

 

Food is the best thing that looks yellow.

 

Time something that is priceless.

 

My sister hit a judge. I am not guilty.

 

Circles are so dang round like a circle.

 

Please enjoy the hemoglobin because my mom said no.

 

The pie is done and now I can really be true and false.

 

Safety belts out a loud burp.

 

True feelings are definitely not sure if it’s correct.

 

My life story is not aloud at Walmart.

 

I love to sleep like a baby who finds a big kite in the sky.

 

I went to eat everything in my house, family, love, laughter.

 

In my best friend is crazy bread.

 

That an old lady is old and dying seems like quite an apple pie: sugary, delicious.

 

I can’t breathe. Slow down your thinking.

 

Yesterday, all my troubles seemed awfully sketchy to me.

 

With stars I dance.

 

Parties never really end well.

 

Dance is fun when you will never know why.

 

Purpose is just an illusion of dreams and desires.

 

Hidden talents are just ways to drown a rock.

 

Hats and cats don’t rhyme like dogs and cats.

 

A cat is a bad idea when your head is gone.

 

Yesterday it feels like I’m the very best liar we have. Come over and you’ll see if this makes sense.

 

Consequences are not needed anymore.

 

Awesome is a boring word that rhymes with time.

 

Crazy people are very fun games to play.

 

Novels are neat, tidy, and clean lawyers.

 

Bombs make strong enemies.

 

Love is fake news.

 

The dog is to cat as if I were Little Red Riding Hood.

 

Jobs are not done by the water.

 

Boxers get paid money and let the rest happen.

 

Fruits and vegetables aren’t healthy because everyone likes different things.

 

Good apples aren’t good bananas.

 

Rabid weasels don’t know what’s up.

 

Poop is a common side effect.

 

You don’t have to say that this is weird.

 

Hairless cats are really awkward and hairy men.

 

She won the medal for sleeping like a teenager.

 

On top of a mountain is where we fell down a mountain.

 

My favorite item that is very overpriced is everything everywhere.

 

My tummy growls when you are a class that is music always on replay.

‘Best leave it to the pros and cons’: Exquisite Corpse poems, Fall 2017

Here are this fall’s Creative Writing classes’ poems written in the Exquisite Corpse method.  What I love about these lines is how they were created almost randomly but seem to have a kinda of weird logic. I like how some of these seem almost brilliant, in an obtuse way. See here for previous semesters’ poems.

Americans are impatient with my whole life.

A big storm came to my house, for I am a gentleman.

A strange door is where I be the person you admire.

I go to party like an animal goes to get some gas.

Gross-looking fish often smell what the man cooks.

I literally can’t stand people that like me or unlike my milkshake.

When he woke up, he was not in poverty.

Since 2000, I was born in the hospital.

Beautiful panda breaks the Internet to order some parts of the world.

She has an ugly smile like you’re eating lemons to make lemonade.

Boy, you have betrayed me, and you are great.

Miles we have come to the gorilla festival.

Penguins that live in the patience I held.

Thing One and Thing Two plus two equals to all human rights and lefts.

I really cannot control her nuclear proliferation.

Everyone and everything is not what you are.

I’m swimming in a sea of something funny that happened.

The school sounds fun like tying a fish to crash into a car.

Best leave it to the pros and cons.

My own sorrow cannot hold onto my hand.

Me is something that was already said.

You are my sun shine is like the sun shine.

I lost my pencil in your name.

Place the gun on the only husband.

Those who appreciate you look very hot today.

Fender on a car breaks so simple like ice is cold.

The Wright brothers are like sisters but boys.

The zookeeper ran to keep the penguins inside the body.

Dude, I want to hang out with me, said no one ever.

Here I once was a way you smile.

Be smart if you want to survive — it’s not that hard.

The bird flew far, far away where the movie was very boring.

That gray cat leaps off the sofa, but will the world end?

Behind the wall exists God or aliens.

“Duh” is what I exclaimed to your mama’s grave digger.

Dispute this because I think about it, and you are so nice.

First I went bald yesterday.

I slipped and fell down the stairs at room temperature during winter.

Sad like a broken plate with soul food delicious.

I’m trying so hard for somebody to notice the fire alarm.

My student Ali gets published!

My creative writing student Ali Van Vickle recently took initiative and submitted a short story to TeenInk.com, which published her story! Here’s the start:

I was born in New Orleans into a wealthy family who gave me everything I needed. I’m your typical 13 year old. I love to ride my bike with my friends. As long as I can remember I’ve been happy. I remember my first day of kindergarten was terrifying because I didn’t want to leave my momma. I remember meeting all of my friends and all of the people who weren’t my friends. There was this girl named Sara. She has tortured my friends and I everyday from kindergarten to seventh grade. One day my friends and I were riding our bikes down by the bayou even though our mommas always told us not to. Sara and her friends came and told us that this was their bike path, and if they ever caught us there again they’d throw us into the bayou to the gators. I never road my bike so fast away from something before. I’d never been so scared either.

See more of the story here. She also dedicated the story to me:

My biggest inspiration is my Creative Writing teacher Mr. Hagemann. He has always been encouraging, supporting, and helpful with any of my questions. And he always gives me his honest opinion on my work.

Thanks, Ali! Keep writing!

How to break through writer’s block

Thanks to former student Sam Moore’s request for advice, I too have something to post this evening: 

Two pieces of advice:

1. Sometimes it helps to stop working now and try later if you’re really not feeling it. But if the deadline is soon,

2. Just do a freewrite where you throw down onto the page or screen any and all words that come to mind, the closer to the assigned topic the better. Afterwards, go back and delete as much of the crap as possible, and turn the assignment in and hope to do better next time.

Thoreau had some advice I like in the “Conclusion” to Walden:

Having considered that in an imperfect work time is an ingredient, but into a perfect work time does not enter, he said to himself, It shall be perfect in all respects, though I should do nothing else in my life.

Or, in other words: If the quality of the work is the priority, then take all the time you need to make the work great. But if getting done on time is the priority, then do it without worrying so much about quality — it’s not the priority.

 

A sonnet of Eustace Tortoise

To have my high school creative writing students show they can write to the iambic pentameter rhythm, I assign them to finish the last 6 lines of a Shakespearean sonnet we start together in class. Rather than using our sonnet to present or evaluate a romantic claim, we told a narrative of one Eustace Tortoise, which narrative some students wanted me to post here:

So Eustace Tortoise went to chew some gum. 

He rode a unicycle to the club.

He wore a tunic but he looked a bum.

He hoped to meet a hamster with a nub. 

Then Eustace took the hamster by the leg

(which leg was made of dense and crispy lard);

they danced until the hamster lost its leg

that’s good. She hopped along the boulevard.

The students diverged in their conclusions of the narrative, but we all got some laughs out of our protagonist Eustace.

‘Time Closes One I’: Erasures and rewrites of Rod McKuen’s ‘Lonesome Cities’

Rod_for blog (1)

So, last January, about the time Rod McKuen passed away, I picked up his poetry book Lonesome Cities, which I’d obtained long after its publication in the 1960s but which I’d never read. I didn’t really like the poems: their language felt too chatty and their subjects too familiar and too precious.

But alongside each poem was plenty of blank space in which I could rewrite the poems to my own taste, to make the poems sharper and stranger, more surprising. Some of the poems are simple erasures (see also resources here), while others have some words replaced by sound-alike words, and all poems have certain amounts of re-arrangement, editing, and rewriting (however those definitions may overlap).

I debated whether to put my new poems alongside McKuen’s originals. I have chosen not to, partly out of concern not to step on his copyrights (and this writing process felt like authentic creation, but it also prompted questions of what, exactly, copying means). But I also don’t think comparing the new to the old is necessary, as the poems below range far beyond the topics of McKuen’s poems to represent their own questions of consciousness and philosophical inquiry.

Here are my poems, with reference to the titles of the originals the new poems came from:

“An Out,” an erasure of McKuen’s poem “An Outstretched Hand”

Each of us was God.

Some of us grew.

The wind bent.

Darkness-up life.

Love is, is.

Each eye turned sound,

shoulders their feet.

It takes a hand.

Ω

“Sting,” an erasure of “Rusting in the Rain”

The old world coming stops as it goes.

Did anybody ever grow older?

Come see where we have been.

Ω

“I’ve,” a rewrite of “I’ve Saved the Summer”

I’ve.

I give you to winter when new.

I’ve need. Darkness can feed. I’ve kept your smile.

You were 19. You’re older, you’ll know.

I know no answers. Your way lies somewhere.

But I’ll give you the road.

Ω

“Like the Window,” a rewrite of the last 2 stanzas of “It’s Raining”

It’s like the window if we wait.

There’s here now. Don’t be anymore.

It’s the crickets.

Do you think? You love.

Raining.

Ω

“Summer’s It,” an erasure/rewrite of the last 2 stanzas of “Sommerset”

wind

the memories–

times: summer’s set?

Life,

day: Sunday

month May,

years–

summer’s it,

Time?

Ω

“To Glean Sin from the Crows,” a rewrite of the first two stanzas of “Sommerset” made by replacing each word in poem with a sound-alike word:

Several ways were sunny.

Canned eels’ mouths were made.

Sand heavy birds down a long cane;

that seems to compensate

for muddy ears. Comb fuzzy bats.

Tin filters amore.

Hens heal ivy. Where summer went,

him no team ignores.

Cats rhyme some more. They gored some pigs.

Endure, he knew, but how?

Repair in size our wooden trunks.

Two seen beneath a stall.

Cows mainly hear enough of static

to glean sin from the crows.

Whine was learned, yet summer kept

land-cropping all sender’s snows.

Ω

“I Live That, Always,” an erasure of “The Single Man”

I live that, always.

For just a night,

the talk wasn’t a better day.

At home, or in his private cloud, I am

a time I can’t remember.

The house might have been help.

Ω

“Cans,” an erasure/creative edit of “Cannes”

Cans waking in the morning

sweep down the street.

The empty bottles go back.

As crossword puzzles on the sidewalk,

a new foundation crawls

back under buildings

to avoid the Jets.

Still adjusting our heads,

we shoe up in the hallway

and lose bed.

Thank God for the coasts.

Ω

“Form,” an erasure of “For Bimby”

Some things you can put down.

Sheep grazing on the airport stale February days.

Smile balloons look to me.

Surprises held in the day.

A blaze with tourists and cats ruins time.

Her smile is elaboration lost

Ω

“The cross Atlantic,” erasure/edit of “Atlantic Crossing”

I gave up a while.

I had written songs to my family’s safe for years.

Had some women liked my animals in luxury?

I’d miss me, but they’d be it.

The way did much paint.

I’ll admit there were eyes I’d keep.

All in all, I was ready, so I pray more.

God had frightened years.

He first did run down.

We’d play together if we weren’t one another.

Ω

“Beaching Manhattan,” an edit-rewrite of “Manhattan Beach” as a prose poem

I’m working in a house at Manhattan Beach. Eddie came by last weekend with two women and some books. The books and the women were stacked. (Ha!)

I sleep and breathe the waves. I think of my breathing. I mist my attention on the traffic. Familiar rooms sink past my songs. A half-packed suitcase buys me oughts.

My dog does stuff up on the beach–she doesn’t seem to care that this is the very end of the land. My friends may as well be weathered sticks or bottles sans notes. My dog smells of the smells she smells; they settle on her fur.

Boats fill harbors in a dance stretching back 10 years in a morning. I live mostly in afternoons.

I nearly died. Fever made doubt or walks along. I stayed alive. Letters came, and “I” was the island I would go for. The asshole rides me to see the dog embark a seal.

Ω

“Four for Hands,” an erasure-rewrite of “Concerto for four hands”

Shadows time me.

Mischief

winter

empties forms.

A mattress

grows tired

of some

backs.

Ω

“Now You’re Even,” an erasure-edit of “New Year’s Eve”

The snow

branches

like cherries.

Wind falls

like windows

dying.

The old die.

A hundred

time-products

choose me.

I am the green ground.

I have faces.

I need,–I know.

The town slopes

the curtains.

The next room waits.

Villages rain like celebrations.

Ω

“Urban Herb,” an erasure-edit of “Suburb”

The mountain winds around petals. A desert country like smoke. Those electric-nows pine for perfume towns. The smile is smiles. Centurions anticipate chopping. Down the trees and down the hills, ants make flat.

Ω

“Bag Age,” an erasure-edit of “Baggage”

Only one day shoulders disappearing.

Room crowds your face.

Help me suppose it gone.

Leave me so I stand.

Ω

“Boa Rid,” erasure-rewrite of “Boat Ride”

You yawn.

The boredom drove.

God was full.

You were Texas.

Your tongue, again, knows.

Your arms water time, privately.

Ω

“In Dian’s Summer,” an erasure-rewrite of “Indians”

In Dian’s summer,

riot-bank frogs

empty man.

Every thicket beds flowers.

Sunshine does the painting.

The hills buy the buffalo tower

and fence. Off the factories,

we’ll build shadows.

Men die but gray.

Ω

“Engineer of Pallidity,” an erasure and inversion of “Venice” (pages 34 through 31)

a whole long moment meets time.

I am handsome; a mirror could have a hope.

Find a way to own my reflection.

I excite you with motor cuisine. You, I’ll never smile.

The glance—once—keeps you. I buy. You coin the world, and back a secret.

The sun targets me. The sun beaches you.

My hair lies. I’m your engineer of pallidity.

Tomorrow, sun ends home, shade.

Waiting, the birds.

Feeding. Ignoring me, you, chattering, the pigeons.

Coming. Moving. Eating. Chewing.

Ω

“These,” a selection-rewrite of “Three”

I face country tablecloths.

I index fingers.

I till now.

I paint 20 minutes.

Your eyes say grapefruit.

I ruin mornings.

I draw evenings.

I even drawings.

Ω

“Tuesday,” an erasure/sound-replacing rewrite of “Two”

Back to look—I, you. No!

Understand: I speak same as I bathe,

with a winnowing and a leafing through.

The heat throws. Off, we wormed each other

into tarps in different booths.

Turning me, months mediate a simile.

In the laboratory at the lakefront,

there were some seaweeds in a hair curler—

my mind looked at them—

I had drained my face from the stairs.

Ω

“When,” an erasure/rewrite of “One”

When you corner change

and wrinkle it into day,

you and lovers lose

water to leaded crystal.

Ω

“Disbelief,” a re-make of “Morning, Three”

At any “and,”

disbelief smiles “yet, “or.”

Ω