Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

I never write poetry, though I love reading it. But after Sinead Morrissey’s talk at the RIA on Friday, in which she spoke about found poetry, I thought I’d give it a go. I nearly fell over sideways when someone said they’d publish it. The original piece came from The Daily Telegraph , and the poem I made, Babies Understand Fairness, is on Poetry24 today.


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Symposium at the Royal Irish Academy, Friday 7th October 2011.

Teaching and Learning Creative WritingSqueeze a whole day’s discussion into a blog post? Eek, not me. I hope someone else will take on that task (someone will be blogging it for the Stinging Fly, I believe). I’ve just plucked out a few points of discussion – I’m still digesting everything I heard.

1Gerald Dawe pointed out that the practice of writing is making the work, thinking about what you’re doing and then challenging yourself, or being challenged by others, to do it better. And this is the case whatever environment – academic, community workshop, garden shed – you’re working in.

2. Mary O’Donnell talked about distinguishing sincerity from truth. She reminds her students that a literal retelling may be sincere, but may not add up to a poetic truth. She described a workshop occurrence we’ve all observed, where a writer has written about a trauma of some kind, and on reading the piece aloud, dissolves into tears (I’m sorry to say, I’ve been that sobber). Other members of the workshop see this emotion and attach its weight to the poem or piece. But great emotion does not on its own make great art.

3. “Writing is not decanting of personality. The truth, on the page, need not have been lived. It is, instead, all that can be envisioned.” Louise Glück

4. The importance of developing the habit of patience.

5. Paul Perry is currently editing Beyond the Workshop. He pointed out that even if the title of the book suggests that the workshop has outlived its usefulness, the workshop is an ever-changing space, a model in flux. He outlined several rules of thumb:

  • Assume a learner stance – anticipate that your thinking will be altered in every class by the students.
  • Foster co-participation, not just by leaving silences for students to fill with responses, but by giving them clear points of entry.
  • Give students decision-making power.
  • Design major process-based assignments (such as writers’ journals, not for assessment) as well as product-focused ones.
  • Emphasise descriptive feedback, spotting patterns and philosophical themes.

6. Why should writing necessarily be a creative endeavour that happens in isolation? No-one queries whether students of music or drama should work in groups.

7. From a workshop, teachers, facilitators, students should all find their own “desire paths”, in Gaston Bachelard’s expression.

8. Sinead Morrissey spoke about teaching a particular poetry class. An early session deals with found poems (and she gives as examples work by Colette Bryce, Paul Farley, Kei Miller, Michael Longley and Ciaran Carson) and requires the students to find and shape their own poems and think about the transformative nature of context. This steers the students away from the domain of their own subjective feelings.

9. Nessa O’Mahony spoke about teaching on the National Learning Network’s Fresh Start programme which aims to get people back into the workforce. She described how students reconnected with important parts of themselves through the rediscovery of memories and the harnessing of life-writing techniques. In this field, changes can be small and can be a long time in the making.

10. Yvonne Cullen said concentration is the key, narrowing the flow, disciplining oneself. She said that after twenty years she still has the energy she had when she started, and this is necessary if you are to make every workshop count. You have to be present in the workshop, engaged with the work, giving it for those couple of hours the concentration you give your own.

11. John Kenny spoke about learning by osmosis: reading, talking, thinking and being critical.

12. James Ryan described a particular Craft and Composition class he teaches at UCD. He echoed what Mary O’Donnell had said about holding a mirror up to life – with particular reference to dialogue, actual transcribed dialogue can sound stilted and unbelievable. Writing dialogue is not imitative, it’s your own construction. He teaches a class on speech attribution, using The Dark, The Stranger’s Child and Let the Great World Spin.

13. Mary Morrissy described the teacher’s role in workshops outside the academy as helping students to

  • find a route to the subconscious
  • abolish self-consciousness
  • loosen tied tongues
  • develop the habit of writing.
    She acknowledged the difficulty of assessing and grading creative work, and pointed out that often it’s an instinctive reaction to a piece of work, a reaction which obviously lacks the academic rigour of the grading of a literature thesis.

Sadly I couldn’t stay for the hour-long moderated discussion with the audience that followed the speakers’ main contributions – but I gather an active debate got underway, and I’m sorry to have missed it. More later. And thanks to organiser Éilís Ní Dhuibhne and the Royal Irish Academy.

Reading List:

The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing  by Mark McGurl
(due out shortly in paperback so if you’re saving your pennies, wait for November)

and two responses to the book:

Elif Batuman ‘Get a Real Degree‘, London Review of Books

Louis Menand ‘Show or Tell‘, The New Yorker

Louise Glück, ‘Against Sincerity’, Proofs & Theories

The Elephants Teach: Creative Writing Since 1880

NOTE: There’s something wrong with WordPress today which is not allowing me to make links or include images  – I’ll come back and edit later and see if I can fix it all up.

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All-Ireland Poetry Day is today – look for your county’s listing of events.

Our poet presidential candidate will be canvassing in Tralee today, and later on talking to the UCC Philosophical and Law Societies but I’m sure he’d squeeze a reading in if asked.

On the poetry front I’ve been reading Kinsella’s wonderful, wonderful A Dublin Documentary, the account of his origins, a beautiful collection of prose pieces, photographs, sketches, letters and poems. I love the album feel of it.

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Poet Helena Nolan has won this year’s Patrick Kavanagh Award for an unpublished poetry collection. Great news for Helena, who was last year’s runner-up with Kissing the Ceiling. She’s won this year with The Bone House, and accepted the award in Inniskeen on Friday night. The organisers brought things forward by a couple of months this year to avoid the snow and ice that made getting home from last year’s ceremony a bit hairy.

Previous Patrick Kavanagh Award winners have been Celia de Freine, Paul Durcan, Peter Sirr, Sinead Morrissey – a solid company. I’d love to see a collection of Helena’s in print – I’m hoping this is what 2012 will bring.

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