Tag Archives: teaching creative writing

‘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.

‘Live like you’re already dead’: Exquisite Corpse poems, August 2016

Here are this fall’s Creative Writing classes’ poems written in the Exquisite Corpse method. See here for previous semesters’ poems.

Why even go to the extreme of doing absolutely nothing.

Pretty girls are not nice guys.

Nice guys don’t get wemen [sic].

The small dog slept quietly but the small words speak truth.

My only weapon of mass destruction hurt like a dislocated kneecap.

Cows eat grass like nothing is fun to do.

Everything I ate today was walking down the street I live on.

Aren’t you going to help, cried the helpless boy.

Do you like to read the title and wonder all the time?

Skunks — I don’t even know what they are saying.

You’re never going to be who you want to ask her to dance.

Invisible people would like to be or not be.

Go at the green, light the cigarette, and pass out next to fire.

Say absolutely nothing until a giant panda just took my hand in marriage.

Towards the end he liked that girl but he never knew why.

To me love is like the ice cream is melted the chocolate into bars.

We clapped to the music inside a penguin.

Backwards people are like books.

Milk tastes bad when warm like a fresh fart.  

Expensive dogs were cuddling aggressively.

This is my life story of how grandpa got rid of all my best friend.

My best friend came over to pick the nose of the future and past.

She gave birth quickly. She ran home.

Surprise, it’s me, the money-hungry son of a huge turkey leg.

A lot of things are yet to come and eat our babies.

Go iron pancakes.

High School Musical was disappointing me by killing Harambe.

You never really need to go through puberty.

Insane boys are not something Santa didn’t get me.

Butts are all different sizes. So are things that we all think about.

A lot of things are confusing like a donkey at the fair across town.

She told him to leave, but she is naturally pretty.

She should go die in a big hole with love and affection.

I help to build the dog that hid the dog.

Live like you’re already dead.

Peas are little green balls of fury in China.

Ear holes are where sound goes.

She dumped a big fat black book in the library’s cracked shelf of total complete shame.

The funeral pyres are very green today.

Very cute guys lie like a dog on my mother’s grave.

Sweet corn tastes like sour candy.

Your dad spent time with my life choices.

Poison her drink so she will die today and live in heaven while in the kitchen, mom makes nasty friggin’ meatloaf.

Pancakes are very soft like a baby’s foot.

My dear horse was riding a monkey swung from a tree.

The girl is lonely far away among Walmart’s towels twisted like tongues kissing in a tree slowly falling to her death.

Applies cry at apple cider festivals.

Dumb like a broken skunk.

Peacefully they agreed on stuff, like Hercules and Andromeda.

Never eat the red jellybeans shoved up hard in her no-no parts.

Do you ever want to watch your slow cat eat a dead body?

Rats like to bathe in sugar and blood.

I know how to fly a cat.

My stomach is in your abdomen.

Very very good pie is good three years old.

My knee has a baby.

Dude, Imma take advantage of having a knife.

The sun is big and round with plum sides.

Junior is your year of solace and solstice.

Fleek is my eyebrows’ jelly time.

Blue donut powder is like Heroine.

She loves to go to be or not.

Night is jealous of her best friends.

Baby aliens are insanely great to take pills with.

Baby aliens are insanely great to take pills with the bottles of the time we went to the store to the end of time.

No patatoes [sic] taste god.

You are a wonderful person that is sitting.

Mayo goes on ham sandwiches made of mayo and then a cat got told I was adopted.

Dirt doesn’t love you.

Round table knights were delusional.

Delusionally, this mouse got stuck.

Bro, I love me some people.

The pleasure of the pig ran into the dog.

The dog ate the cheese cake and lots of the boot and two children playing alone.

Bees’ knees get ACL surgeries.

‘T’was the night before the end of time’: Exquisite Corpse poems, January 2016

Here are my current semester’s students’ Exquisite Corpse poems. See the explanation for how we created these here. See earlier samples here, here, and here.

Snow tracks.

Snow tracks.

 

I am in love with only one friend: you.

Small towns are full of pumpkins all in the front yard of the house.

Love the way you lie like the wind.

Have you ever felt like I have never felt, like a lion?

Cold air hurts my face-to-face conversations.

Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha want whatcha really really diamonds.

Women are men except when Tyler Perry get(s) annoying.

The girl loves to be or not to be the change I need to get home by bus.

The fat whale with a chimney blowhole is what you are.

Illinois is a joke like the kid next to buy many drugs for my baby brother.

Shame on you for thinking of my mom and dad, so I car-crashed into the side of an apple pie.

All the plants were stinky like father, like son.

Who are you talking to, the girl next to fish in the ocean of dead whales?

With respect, he shot her and him.

To the bank we went, to rob it.

What did you do to the mall with my little pony farts?

Yes, she said, for a date at the bakery in town.

Anytime he sang, he broke the mirror because she is wrong for you.

Daddy never came home, for I tell you nothing was the same, but I shot him.

He was a dark man who killed civil society under the sea, under the spider.

The spider crawled down slowly, took a breath[e], and the boy ran home.

Go tell it on the end to that story.

Bad times for saddle-makers since I was sleeping with liberty and justice for the old lady’s dog.

Hobby Lobby is a rockin’ place to go when it’s lit up nightly.

During the night, we stared at people.

Scared little children yelling at the trees softly.

Softly and quietly, he walked the dog sideways.

Angelina said mean stuff to her stepmother because I’m so fancy.

I’m so fancy; you are the kindest person.

The rain cries to the moon tonight.

Shouting at the sky rudely interrupted the class.

They duel with mice that have no sense of direction.

Hell is where they go, saying he will change, wrong or right, it doesn’t matter.

Matter doesn’t affect the brain that searches for answers.

My pet cactus Tim has a big forehead.

You never know when I’ll eat bananas.

People like to do bad things in rentals.

Miley Cyrus, she makes me feel like I’m a baby, it’s very cold outside.

T’was the night before the end of time.

Time heals all, and snow flakes fall freely.

Can’t go to work, so I opened that poem, but I don’t know who likes you.

Why would you say whatever you want to this day? You’re weird.

Strange children live under my leg.

My grandma makes cookies with or without you.

I’m so afraid that bird just landed on the top of her mom.

You can’t believe the dinosaurs like to eat people.

Friends don’t murder each other.

Are you a laughable kitten in my hand?

Rhyme time for the apples of your eyes.

Stupid homework-giving teachers wrote your legacy on paper.

You can shut up to the top of the small birds.

I can’t wait to go to the bathroom spiders on my face.

Can you please rush into the great beyond?

Humans are the bane of my inner self-image.

He told me he brings joy to the weird kid.

Scary like the girls from that one IHOP down the road he drove through.

Now (or how) you decide what you can’t always say.

No two things are the moose.

The same type of songs describe the meaning of life.

But today, I will not today, not tomorrow, never fathom the bottom depths of the fiery Hell.

Small dogs are bait, for only two can tango.

With him I felt good, so that he became the love of my shoes and my dress.

Little moose in my pizza.

The man stood. Still, he fell off. The dog ran after him.

Dessert pizza is kinda disgusting between the good.

It was black shoes, white hat, with my favorite person in time.

“Luke Skywalker is my son” is my cat’s name.

So colorful and funny at the bus stop, and she wanted more than God said.

A feline tree-topper

A feline tree-topper

The block-quoted section below is the entirety of one paper passed around the class. A few lines were skipped, but the remainder felt like it shared a mood.

In the light,

she never wanted to keep going fast.

In the night, he (thought), why are you a weirdo?

A weirdo was singing loud.

Today is quite dark,

and he wasn’t home today.

Today is really boring,

so freaking bright and cold.

Cold makes me chilly- hot.  … [1 line skipped]

I don’t know what teen drinking is.

Very hairy Mary said snow is super freakin’ cold.

Cold heart sucks, but whatever you want, I don’t.

Play with a dog. … [skipped 8 lines]

Without her, I’m falling.  [skipped 2 lines]

All about my mother told me to hurt your bestie.

You look like grass.

Weird children should go to make a cake with time.

Everything will fall from the top stair. [skipped 3 lines]

When you see me — and my friends are a cute couple — so we took a trip in our favorite rocket ship in space.

Yeah. 

 

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.

‘Beowulf at Breakfast’: A poem

This famous poem-story, written in about 850 A.D. in the Old English/Anglo-Saxon language (and translated into modern English below by Seamus Heaney), is about a Nordic warrior tribe’s battle against the monster Grendel. This poem uses a solid, stolid language – lots of one-syllable words, concrete words (rather than abstract), and consonant-prominent words often repeated within the line.  For example, in translation:

Lines 442 to 455:

If Grendel wins, it will be a gruesome day;

he will glut himself on the Geats in the war-hall,

swoop without fear on that flower of manhood

as on others before. Then my face won’t be there

to be covered in death: he will carry me away

as he goes to ground, gorged and bloodied;

he will run gloating with my raw corpse

and feed on it alone, in a cruel frenzy

fouling his moor-nest. No need then

to lament for long or lay out my body:

if the battle takes me, send back

this breast-webbing that Weland fashioned

and Hrethel gave me, to Lord Hygelac.

Fate goes ever as fate must.

The assignment I gave myself (and, later, my students) was to write in the word-style of “Beowulf,” but in an everyday (not military) situation. I wanted to use Beowulf’s forceful language but not his subject matter. Here, then, is my poem “Beowulf At Breakfast”:

Back at my house-lair, I go to food-room

and gather eat-stuffs to break my night-fast.

Steel pot clangs hard on steel stove grate.

Flames cast blue light ‘neath flat pan-side.

Still-water soon leaps with boil-chaos; a song

of water-splash and fire-sputter dances away.

Whence I hear this ear-noise, I click knob

to off and pour steam-stuff into tea cups

and pour more soak-stuff onto flat oat-grains

in clay bowl. Also, there is syrup of maple

(or black-strap molasses) and raisin of grape

and butter of cow-milk and dust of red-bark

to boost my tongue’s taste-lust for else-dry oat parts.

Why lit classes should teach bad novels

Looking though a catalog of books for use in English classrooms, I saw many of the old classics. Here are the contents of a bundle of books labeled “Common Core Literature Pack for Grades 9 and 10“:

The Odyssey, The Best of O. Henry, The Metamorphosis, The Grapes of Wrath,  Fahrenheit 451, Things Fall Apart, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Killer Angels, The Joy Luck Club, Oedipus Rex, Macbeth, A Doll’’s House, The Glass Menagerie, Great American Poems, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Great Speeches

This list seems tedious — it’s hard to imagine 14- and 15-year-old humans getting excited about reading Sophocles, Shakespeare, Ibsen, or Tennessee Williams — but this list is certainly full of books that are commonly considered to be worth teaching. These are good books, worthy of the title “literature.”

The tenth graders I’m teaching now are currently reading “Of Mice and Men,” another classic that this catalog company describes as “one of America’s most well-known naturalist stories.” As we read and discuss this book, I guide students in finding “textual evidence” to support their judgments of characters and their interpretations of themes. And Steinbeck’s novel/novella is very tightly structured; as I’m rereading this book this semester, I can see that Steinbeck foreshadows in the first 16 pages almost everything that will happen in the next 91.

The story works in the sense that readers can accept the text’s storytelling logic. Once these strongly defined characters are set together, they act on each other in ways that make sense. Curley starts a fight with Lennie because that’s what Curley likes to do, pick fights, we’re told. And once Lennie fights back and hurts him, Curley seeks revenge. This all makes sense (if maybe perhaps it’s a little too pat, too easy) and we readers are able to suspend our disbelief enough to accept this story as an entity worth discussing.

This isn’t always easy to do, as writers of fiction would acknowledge. It’s not hard to put words down on paper and say that one has written a story, but convincing readers that such a text is actually a story is a different matter. What exists on paper as merely words must build into a kind of (paradoxical) imaginary quasi-reality in a reader’s mind in order for a reader to think that there are “people” behind the words “George” and “Lennie,” and thus, to care about those people. (Perhaps psychologically, we readers think of fictional characters the way we think of our friends and family members who aren’t physically present to us. Maybe “Lennie” is a concept like my Dad, dead now 15 years, is a concept to me — it’s just that I also have a concept that my Dad was once alive, and Lennie never was. But, of course, it’s more complicated than that, because “Lennie” isn’t merely a fictional idea, either, as Steinbeck once said, “The characters are composites to a certain extent. Lennie was a real person. He’s in an insane asylum in California right now. I worked alongside him for many weeks. He didn’t kill a girl. He killed a ranch foreman.”)

A text that doesn’t convince readers it is a functioning story isn’t a story at all — it’s the literary equivalent of a set of car parts that can’t drive anybody anywhere. But when those car parts are properly assembled, they produce a machine that works, that functions. The physical objects, acting in consistent ways (we describe these ways as laws of physics), can produce motions that seem useful to us — namely, by moving us. But when a text works in conveying a usefully coherent story to readers, is it acting according to some psychological laws? Some thinkers, including Aristotle, this guy, here and here and here, have tried to discern the laws of making a satisfying story. But if there existed an adequate explanation of how to make stories that are effective and attractive to audiences, certainly book publishers would not make books that don’t sell. Even when a new story may follow the model of an familiar story that works, this may feel too formulaic for readers to really engage with the story. Readers may stay aware of the text as a text, not transmuting into story.

If literature students read only those novels that are good, that are judged to have succeeded, students are studying the effects produced by a text — the story — rather than the text itself. To continue the car analogy, it’s as if students experienced riding in the car but didn’t look at the parts of the car, or how the parts contribute to the car working, except as how the car parts affect the car rider’s experience. Saying “Lennie kills the girl because he likes to pet soft things and he gets carried away” is like saying “I could see out the windshield because the dashboard doesn’t rise too high” — both of these things are explicit to readers and riders (and these things are obvious to a more experienced reader, but maybe not to inexperienced students in schools. On the other hand, maybe part of what literature instruction is trying to do is to get students to make their implicit understandings explicit).

If we really want students to understand how fiction texts work, maybe we should have them read novels that aren’t good, novels that don’t really lead readers to suspend disbelief and fully engage in the story. By reading only good novels, students might see how a writer intends them to interpret the story’s text, but students might not see how the writer constructs and even manipulates the story to produce certain effects in the reader (for example, why did Steinbeck’s novel deviate from the facts of the story of real-life Lennie mentioned above? Is Steinbeck, as author, trying to tell readers what they should think, as opposed to just describing what happened? What is the point of fiction, anyway?) Students  are learning to follow the text’s decoding instructions, but maybe students should also be wondering why these instructions are there, and are the way they are.

As someone who teaches classes both in reading fiction and in writing fiction, I’m often looking at published novels by adopting the perspective of a writer, by which I mean that I want to see how the text was made, how it works. In literature classes, novels are often presented as inherently valuable, as worth the class’s time to study, and thus it’s easy to see why lit students would start to think of writers of these assigned novels as Great Writers, and thus the mythology around these writers builds (into its own story). In becoming a writer myself, however, I had to tear down this mythology and realize that Steinbeck and other writers were my peers, not my unassailable geniuses. And in a literature class, readers often treat the text as being complete, or perfect, as they find it in the published version. It makes sense for readers to approach texts this way, and yet, writers often view texts as imperfect, as infinitely revisable. This is perhaps what Valery meant by “a poem is never finished, only abandoned.” For instance, Whitman published multiple editions of “Leaves of Grass,” in which poems changed significantly between editions. It may give literature students a more realistic view of the novel to see it both as a reader and as a writer.

‘Amazing like a minotaur’s mancave’: Exquisite Corpse poems (3 of 3)

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See previous recent Exquisite Corpse poems by my current students here and here. These lines are from my 9th hour class.

“Like I really care” is how war starts.

People love when this class ends and then starts again.

Beauty in a girl that we are not terrified of.

Food can taste good with you and me.

Fun-loving father, won’t you sing and dance to the thing?

Peter is a name that is a rib sandwich with turkey and bacon.

You have no food at the front of the panda.

Blue trident of the Poseidon has something like Trident gum.

Teachers are the coolest people that have big feet.

Reindeer cannot really fly, like you won’t again.

Weekend nights are crazy like a turkey sandwich on T.V.

Doing this is so funny that I can’t write anything good at all.

Home is where you don’t slip on the banana shoved in my mouth.

Meth lab coats are so pretty.

Silly rabbit, tricks are for everyone to eat pizza.

Ugly is the new pretty.

Singing Michael Jackson while cooking makes me have to poop.

Number the stairs to remind me to do chores like smoking the salmon.

Medicine cabinets show criminals in a comfy place with friends.

Rosy lips and cheeks bending like I’m the bender.

The ocean said that I’m ugly. Jerk.

Zoos remind me of memories, like the time I liked smelling myself.

The worst feeling in the entire day has gone well for the first time.

In the right mind, your own business people pledge to help but can a wood chuck Norris?

Tomorrow I get to see the dawn’s early light pigs jumping on top.

Real friends are better than a hot dog with barbeque sauce and chicken tenders.

Children are the most adorable cucumbers in their minivan.

Kitten is to cats as basketball games are amazing like a minotaur’s mancave.

Stuck between a rock and roll is lightning!

No question is a horrible thing on a stick.

Bad things can always happen when I decide to go out of house.

I live like you are dying.

Weak boys are for babies, and men are for the first time in the catacombs.

Hard classes make me mad at the cashier’s mood.

Spell sombrero upside down.

We are young so let’s jump off a bridge somewhere over the rainbow.

Skittles are in the toilet like the pink one your grandma had.

New exciting things always happen at the end of life.

My day is going swell, up like a balloon.

Yesterday, all my troubles seemed cold on Thanksgiving dinner.

Mean old man chases down a newly dug grave.

But who even knows the truth to the world?

Very interesting people are in the big giant fluffy bunny.

Bad friends have better things to do.

Lame people are very exciting places to see.

Mayonnaise is like her legs.

Old shoes taste like old men.

A taco is what my mom is who gave birth.

Some flowers smell like red roses are red.

Violet is blue. I prefer it green.

Would you like to kiss me later tonight? I am going to eat a green pickle.

The whole pack of cigarettes is very gross too unless they are in the boogey move dance.

She always forgets herself in the nasty store.

Boy, do I love when school is over the river and through the woods.

Poems rhyme but only sometimes.

Is this a joke or is this a joke?

You are very cute in hot salsa.

Food cramps I get when my father dropped the new Sponge Bob rocks.