Project Challenge Week 2; or: Three Hours with Eleven Teenagers

Warm-up: Write anything you want but keep writing. Try not to lift your pen or pencil from the page except between words. Let whatever is in your mind out (you won't have to share any of this unless you want to). Try following the rhythm of the music if you want to, or describe it. . Grammar for poets: Last week at the end of class we focused on concrete nouns. Go back through what you have just written and circle or underline the concrete nouns, then do the same for active verbs. What do you notice about the sentences in which these words appear? I want you to keep looking for concrete nouns as well as active verbs. These are the main elements of good imaginative writing.

Nouns

Verbs

Concrete

Abstract

Active

Abstract

table love touch is
kiss courage kiss was
kneecap happiness choose are
sky beauty push be
moon sadness reach being
bone niceness fly am
coffee bravery drive were
Notice for the moment that abstract nouns easily get turned into adjectives: lovely, courageous, happy, beautiful, sad, nice, brave; and also into adverbs: happily, beautifully, sadly, nicely, bravely. All these words are useful to the creative writer, of course, but some should function as the centers of our sentences, some as occasional add-on parts, as if for decoration. Some writers like more decoration, some less. 2. Quick exercise: Create a collection of at least ten sentences using concrete and active language. The first five will be in the form of similes, the second five in the form of metaphors. A simile is a sentence that says one thing is like another; a metaphor is a sentence that says one thing is another (very different) thing. Simile: The moon is like a woman's face. Metaphor: The moon is a woman's face. Note that in both cases the comparison is between unlike things, so that to say, for example, The moon is a satellite is not a metaphor, but a literal description. There is plenty of room for literal description in poetry and fiction, but non-literal comparisons play a larger role than they do in everyday uses of language. Examples: Fill the blanks in the sentences with concrete nouns or noun phrases. (Notice that is a place where we use abstract verbs.)
Similes: The __________ is like a _____________ . _____________s are like ____________s. Metaphors: The __________ is a _______________ . _____________s are ______________ .
If you have extra time: Can you make similes and metaphors with verbs as well as nouns? 3. Lies: Write a poem of at least ten lines in which every statement is a lie. I will ask for volunteers to read these poems aloud when we are finished. 4. Cool-down: If we have time, we'll spend the final part of the class writing to music again. You can write anything in any form. 5. Continuations: If you feel like working on the material from today's class on your own, here are a couple of things you might try:
  • Collect nouns and noun phrases in your notebook, the weirder the better. Listen to people talk, note things you find in books or hear on the radio or TV.
  • Same thing for verbs. Try to be startled by the language around you. Take notes.
  • Write your own poems however you want, but try to use the things we've been doing in class.

Author: jd

Joseph Duemer is Professor of Literature Emeritus at Clarkson University in northern New York state. His most recent book of poems is Magical Thinking from Ohio State University Press. Since the mid-1990s he has spent a good deal of time in Vietnam, mostly Hanoi. He lives with his wife Carole & five terriers (four Jack Russells & one Patterdale) on the stony bank of the Raquette River in South Colton.

11 thoughts on “Project Challenge Week 2; or: Three Hours with Eleven Teenagers”

  1. you know poetry itself is an odd and restricting term. marianne moore (“i too detest it…but find in it ….”) and william carolos williams (“but men die every day for want of what is found there….”)–or something like that. but the forms and the meter and syllables and the cadence and the syncopation and the lineation are ball-breakers. i don’t even want to censor myself when i am writing with the corset of the word “poetry”. just start writing. later you may discover a seed there aand if not then you have some compost for some other seeds. time to destroy/ to discover said lawrence fixel in a long poem of his of that title published by panjandrum press in san francisco in 1972.
    today, i just decided to remember family history and took note for my aunt jane (she’s to be 92 on feb 28,2008–my dad’s birthdate is feb 28 4 years earlier in 1912, but his mom Margaret Powers Mycue was from Dublin and had the old superstition abt leap year feb 29 and had the parish –irish priest–list it as feb 28, 1912). i don’t know if i’ll continue with the zillions of stories in my family (s), but at least i have set this down. anyone can do it. no one says they can make you continue. i challenge you challenge we challenge others to go do it, the cowards. we start it. and when and if we feel like it we can or may not go on. here’s what little i got today–and don’t say it isn’t poetry. i hate poetry that restricts you. but in it ms marianne moors said there is a place for the genuine. and i love what is genuine. well sometimes it’s worth pursuing.
    DANIEL OWEN DELEHANT ONE OF MY 4 GREAT GRANDFATHERS

    Lockport, NY, nested next to Niagara Falls, has a lot of files with story connections.

    A greatgreat grandmother Catherine Finn (McCrary when she was married) at 12 was the oldest of the 4 girls her parents sent for once they were established in USA. Bridget, 2, died and was “slipped into the sea”. Anna was 10 and Jule (Julia) was 7. This was in the 19th century. Greatgrandma McCrary died when Aunt Jane Delehant Ryan (mom’s sister next in line and my godmother born 1916) was in the 2nd grade. I got this information from Aunt Jane on the phone. She’s the only one left. Her son Anthony Ryan has collected a lot of information. And, also, Annie O’Connor, Aunt Blanche Delehant O’Connors’s youngest will probably know a lot. And if not her, her sister Bridget Flynn and her brothers Edward Michael O’Connor and Daniel O’Connor.

    Aunt Doe (Dorothy Taylor) my grandmother Agnes Taylor Delehant’s youngest sibling
    was 12 years older than my mother. It was she and ‘uncle’ Roy I recall after great uncle Will McCreary and greatgrandma Taylor died who took responsibility of my mother Ruth, at 17, and aunt Jane, 16, and Blanche, 14, when they returned from Cincinnati upon

    the death of Agnes Taylor Delehant

    who with her children (when my mom ruth was 14) had moved (after the death of mom’s dad Edward Vincent Delehant) to be near Jennie (Jane) Delehant Jack who lived their with her felt manufacturer husband and son. Mom’s grandmother Jane Kennedy Delehant and grandfather Daniel Owen Delehant lived with them in the early days of the great Depression. There are many stories there of deceit, alcoholism, grand theft, love,
    suffering, heroism, collapse and renewal. Had Edith Wharton lived long enough she could have told it.

    Edward Mycue 25 January 2008 8:27PM Friday

  2. you got me there, joseph. but i don’t really feel sincere, nor insincere. one grows into technique and into one’s own vocabulary. and it’s a good idea to play/ really PLAY/ with the forms. in the early 1970’s william dickey and i were in the same group who met monthly sometimes at his place. bill was a forms & technique genius, the best i have ever known and it didn’t hurt his poetry. he’d say: ed, you know what you have here is…with a twitch here or a tweak there…a rondo…a villanelle…or whatever..and you can work it that way if you want…or not, he’d add. sometimes it helped the poem to do so: but i liked having a choice about a final shaping. but not always. or even usually. but i never liked writing to a form. my way is not that. (of course, another person may do or feel differently. i was too much a fighter and bridled against discipline. well, you see where in nowhere got me. bill’s way would have been better. but i sadly let things get up my nose. but that made my path.) edward mycue

  3. Ed, I want to say more about this, but for the nonce I’d just note that what I’m trying to do for these teenagers is about the same thing as their woodshop teacher would do — showing them how to use the tools.

  4. that’s a target reply, and one i understand. i went to n.r.crozier technical high school in dallas, texas beginning 1951 and had this (many thought ‘severe’) woodshop teacher mr. butler who wanted us not to get hurt with the tools, some of them quite dangerous –the electric planer, the table saws, and so on–: he was a magnificent teacher teacher and quite nice to me. not once did i get that big paddle that was used judiciously and forcefully and it seems not infrequently. he must have been in his 40’s then and loved, just LOVED, the differences in woods. of course, i might ask you how your tools can be dangerous and i’ll bet you’ll have some fine reply. i’m waiting. i’ll bet you’ll be remembered as i remember mr. butler. no nonsense butler, but with a great sly sense of humor. edward mycue

  5. I guess my answer about how the kids might get hurt with my tools would be to toss that WCW quote back at you — Men die horrible for lack of what is found there [in poems]. It is mostly people without cultural capital who fight the wars of the empire.

    By the way, I would have loved to know William Dickey — a real favorite of mine, whose forms were never there merely for their own sake. From what you write, he sounds like the kind of poet for whom form served as a stimulus to invention. That’s not the only kind of poet, of course, as your work & practice demonstrate.

  6. yes, bill dickey was the finest of poets, and his best friend adrianne marcus living and writing her glass clear poems over there in marin county’s san rafael is his historical conscience.

    i keep banging out stuff w/no publication plans and don’t think of them as ‘privishings’ (as lawrence fixel spoke of work assigned to the drawer vs publishing work you consciously decide to send out).

    there is where they come from: ‘there’, for the inside to outside and i don’t pay attention to the shape the outside becomes. of course, i may change it, reshape it by mixed arrangements.

    here’s a development that is a back-and-forth effort i am initiating to get my retired (from the history museums of the rio grande’s nuevo santander area)archivist & historian brother david mycue to jump-in and take over. you can see i operating not simply without shame or style but from impulse (pulse)because i feel the time is a worn thread.
    DANIEL OWEN DELEHANT ONE OF MY 4 GREAT GRANDFATHERS
    today, i just decided to remember family history and took note for my aunt jane (she’s to be 92 on feb 28,2008–my dad’s birthdate is feb 28 4 years earlier in 1912, but his mom Margaret Powers Mycue was from Dublin and had the old superstition abt leap year feb 29 and had the parish –irish priest–list it as feb 28, 1912). i don’t know if i’ll continue with the zillions of stories in my family (s), but at least i have set this down. anyone can do it. no one says they can make you continue. i challenge you challenge we challenge others to go do it, the cowards. we start it. and when and if we feel like it we can or may not go on. here’s what little i got today–

    Lockport, NY, nested next to Niagara Falls, has a lot of files with story connections.

    A greatgreat grandmother Catherine Finn (McCrary when she was married) at 12 was the oldest of the 4 girls her parents sent for once they were established in USA. Bridget, 2, died and was “slipped into the sea”. Anna was 10 and Jule (Julia) was 7. This was in the 19th century. Greatgrandma McCrary died when Aunt Jane Delehant Ryan (mom’s sister next in line and my godmother born 1916) was in the 2nd grade. I got this information from Aunt Jane on the phone. She’s the only one left. Her son Anthony Ryan has collected a lot of information. And, also, Annie O’Connor, Aunt Blanche Delehant O’Connors’s youngest will probably know a lot. And if not her, her sister Bridget Flynn and her brothers Edward Michael O’Connor and Daniel O’Connor.

    Aunt Doe (Dorothy Taylor) my grandmother Agnes Taylor Delehant’s youngest sibling
    was 12 years older than my mother. It was she and ‘uncle’ Roy I recall after great uncle Will McCreary and greatgrandma Taylor died who took responsibility of my mother Ruth, at 17, and aunt Jane, 16, and Blanche, 14, when they returned from Cincinnati upon

    the death of Agnes Taylor Delehant

    who with her children (when my mom ruth was 14) had moved (after the death of mom’s dad Edward Vincent Delehant) to be near Jennie (Jane) Delehant Jack who lived their with her felt manufacturer husband and son. Mom’s grandmother Jane Kennedy Delehant and grandfather Daniel Owen Delehant lived with them in the early days of the great Depression. There are many stories there of deceit, alcoholism, grand theft, love,
    suffering, heroism, collapse and renewal. Had Edith Wharton lived long enough she could have told it.

    Edward Mycue 25 January 2008 8:27PM Friday

    sure. i’ll attach it. ed [it’s just a fragment or shard. hardly speaks of dan delehant and his infidelities, nor of grampa ed’s 12yrold request to his mom to take “pap” back, nor or her reply she would but never have conjugal relations thereafter, nor of ggdan’s watchman role for mom’s uncle (aunt jennie’s husband) john alan jack’s theiving in the middle of the night of the stockpiles of cloth that had been bought for the felt-makind and that he sold elswhere, nor of mom and ggdan’s train ride when mom was 7 and found out that ‘french toast’ was just the same as grammy’s dipped bread and how she learned from that when ggdan and conductor sniggered that her pretentional preference for ‘french’ things could cost her a mite of self-respect, nor of ggdan’s abdominal pain and that in the ambulence–or when it came- -mom heard him gasp in relief that it pain went away and that that was when the appendix had burst and so he died soon after maybe a day or so from peritonitis.]

    you’ll remember all of these and more. and ggdan was just one of our 4-gg’s. the one called aiken mycue who’d gone at 12 w/his dad in 1863 w/a land grant signed by lincoln (he signed a lot of these) to minnesota, lake vivian in that county that starts w/a w, and who married the harmon girl on the next parcel of land, our ggaiken, william oliver mycue’s dad and our granddad, killed himself behind the barn in grief over hearing of the –possibly strange?, unexplained?–death of our ggmom who ill had gone to nebraska to be with her sister. so much more there.

    and the greatgrandfather powers, margaret powers, of who i know nothing. when richard and i were in dublin in 1985 i gathered that powers there was jones or chu here and it could be of ‘powers court’ folk or more likely from ‘powers’ meaning poor.
    David Mycue wrote:
    Ed,
    Could you send me another copy of that interesting genealogy. I inadvertantly erased it while trying to do something else. I’d like to make a hard copy of it for my genealogy files.
    Love, David.

    addendum: how abt ggdad mccrary (sp?)( & can’t recall first name) the ‘fence jumper’ who is believed to be ggaunt kit’s father, making her our greatgrama taylor’s and gguncle will mccreary’s half sister (who was
    adopted –ggaunt kit—from father baker’s orphanage by ggmccrary and raised as her servant in the boarding house she ran, a daily reminder of his adultery to ggrandfather mccrary. he was a railroad man and passed a neighbor’s house where an adolescent girl lived, ‘fence-jumping’ was term mom and aunt jane used in telling me this when I was in my late 50’s when I was old enough for such family history. and of course that set the stage for the great court case put by ggaunt kit and gguncle jim Hughes where kit was awarded (because she wasn’t educated like beck or even will but worked in the boarding house as a servant) I think it was what then was substantial sum of $1000.00 –and that’s what aunt doe could never forgive her aunt kit for, the public scandal. not that it was everafter ‘public’ in our families. mom’s mom agnes always welcomed her aunt kit as you know. of course agnes had married Edward Vincent delehant against her mother’s
    refusal (and that’s why the young father roach married them in the sacristry secretly even though they were well over the legal age for marriage). oh, and how about ‘tiger engineering company’ that ggfatherdan and our grandfather Edward were partners in;
    and of Edward being a city alderman, and abt him losing his job for letting his friends through customs on I think the rainbow bridge—but may be the other–; and ed’s early death in mid-40’s; and of the little shop our grandmother agnes set up w/financial help of aunt jennie jack no doubt and that was robbed, depression depths then, of all those beautiful fine clothes and how that then became a survival store selling whatever she could of tinned foods, etc. and some assortment of dried goods.

    addendum: how abt our ggdad taylor called ‘oren’ who when he died (diphtheria you know—caught from his dying little altarboy son when he against orders entered the deathroom and took his child in his arms & thus died soon after—there was a newspaper notice in the Niagara Falls Gazette, must have been: a neighbor said go ggm Rebecca taylor he’d seen the death notice for a ‘robert nicholas’ taylor and was that man related to
    oren: and ggramma taylor said that was oren. oren was the nickname that he was known by since childhood I guess, r.n. ‘rn’ that became oren. after those 2 deaths from diphtheria ggtaylor never went back to church as she couldn’t bear to see the altar boys.

    edward mycue 1:14pm monday 28-january-2008

    there you have it, joseph, a dumster of memory and idea that is only phenomenologically and momentarily necessary. if the moment passed without proceeding thus, what? edward mycue

  7. Ed, there are a lot of ways to go & what I recommend to teenagers is not necessarily what I’d practice myself, at least in its pure form. Didn’t Bach write litte exercise for his kids? Not that I’m Bach. I think writing from “pulse” is in many ways harder & braver than writing from technique. God knows there are enough ways to go wrong in either case.

    I admire this family material of yours. My family doesn’t exist. That is, I’m a second-generation Californian whose parents & grandparents cut their ties to “back home” as they moved west. All my cousins are fundamentalist Christians.

  8. Joe — a couple of other thoughts. Here’s something I’ve done with Similes that’s had good results. Ask everyone in the class to write down a simile on a strip or paper. Then, in class, tell each of them to tear their slip of paper in half — right after “like” — and give the other half to the person next to them. Have each of them read out their new simile. It’s good for giggles, and giggles are always good. But it’s good for discussion, too. Then you can start talking about the new simile, and how it works — what new windows in the imagination does this unlikely simile open up?

    On the concrete nouns front, I think my “Tired Words, Working Words” essay is pretty good — http://www.opus40.org/tadrichards/tiredworking.htm

  9. that tad richards is another one who knows how to make poetry work fun. if fun is the right word here. (and is it poetry if it isn’t fun in the making no matter how serious the content? well maybe, but i’d have to fiddle with the ‘fun’ concept.) making is the operative word really: and the pleasure or satisfaction of making something well and the thrill of the doing in the making. i feel so limited here. once, the first time i dipped into that book on poetry and the erotic imagination (well not ‘erotic’ erotic )[–i think i mentioned it before but can’t remember (remembery problems? Larry Fixel used to answer: what am i into: i’m into forgeting; and he called it the ‘forgettery’)the potlatch theory guy’s name, “lewis” something] the FIRST time i dipped into that book i was struck with the idea of the gift (GIFT ,,,and then the erotic life or the imagination or poetry or near that) and the necessity of PASSING IT ON. i’d never thought that might be part of eroticism, though it may be. and how i recall leonard woolfe talking abt virgnina needing to have a response abt what she’d published/produced before being able to get onto a new project. so it is the PROJECT and the giving plus the RECEPTION of it that defines the GIFT i felt then. very jungian as justine jones fixel told me.
    now years ago more than or abt 35 yrs ago i wrote ‘SWALLOW’ a short poem that justine was very excited abt and wanted larry to get me to put aside time to speak with her about. justine who was extending her work on sand tray therapy and the used of masks then as well(w/bari rolfe)
    talked abt the GIVE and TAKE congress of relations. here’s the little poem:
    SWALLOW

    There is a stranger
    within me,
    an intruder
    who is not me
    and is a part of me.

    We co-exist
    and yet
    it’s he
    who habitates
    as I exist.

    He swallows
    and I drink
    who’ll die
    when I die,
    or so I think?

    Edward Mycue

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