Everybody’s favorite literary journal is now online at theumlaut.org
Every Sunday morning, I drag myself out of bed at the ungodly hour of nine thirty and get ready for the seven and a half hour time commitment otherwise known as “Film Workshop,” taught by Ronald Chase and mentored by SotA artists-in-residence Jesse Filipko and Isaiah Dufort (the Great).
The workload and demand for quality are high. Yes, Film Workshop can be stressful at times and has definitely given me nightmares about 3D uses of space and visual concepts, but it has also provided with me with a new understanding not only of film and how to analyze it, but also with a new way to see works of literature. Sure, the visual aspects don’t really apply, but as far as critique goes, the methods are very similar. There’s still form versus content to consider, as well as the pacing and subject matter.
As much sleep, hair, and sanity as I’ve lost through the workshop, getting to work with so many young artists from their different backgrounds has been a great experience for me, and I highly recommend it to anyone who has a high pain tolerance and/or a passion for new artistic experiences.
Davis DuBose-Marler, class of 2017
This week we started or Playwriting unit with writer-in-residence Eugenie Chan. Having never really written a legitimate play before, I was a little daunted at first, especially when Eugenie handed of 500-page readers to each of us. I was already clogged with academics and wasn’t looking forward to daily Creative Writing homework.
Eugenie’s approach to writing is different than any I’ve seen before. We start off every class with a physical warm-up, consisting of some stretches and then three “centering” breaths. On top of that, much of our class time thus far has been spent outside, whether it’s to act out plays, write them, or peer-edit.
When I write in my free time, I am never still. I have never been able to just sit down and come up with something magically. I often pace when I write, and often before starting I take a walk or do a repetitive task. I suppose it has something to do with my “creative process.” When I was younger, some of my peers and teachers called me “hyperactive” and even went as far as to unofficially diagnose me with ADHD. I was told to “reign it in” and progressively learned to keep still and quiet in class.
It is extremely relieving to have a physical outlet during class, given that both writing and staying active are important to me. I don’t feel right if I don’t stretch daily. Some of my less athletic friends lovingly call me a “freak” for these habits and scoff when I ramble about how great it is to get fresh air. However, I do know that everyone has a different approach to writing, a different process, different rituals. Playwriting has proved that the celebration and embracing of such peculiarities is vital to a larger appreciation of the art.
Stella Pfahler, class of 2019
A question that often comes up is, “Why do you write?”
In my department, we have used this as a generative exercise; and outside of the department, the question recurs in conversation. It takes a moderate amount of determination to pursue writing. It sometimes seems masochistic to revise time and time again, or to submit work to publishers every marking period. So I believe there is a core ambition in every writer that motivates them to work with their art tirelessly. Hitherto, I believe the reason that people choose to write is multitudinous.
There is an anthology entitled We Will Be Shelter: Poems For Survival that illustrates the core of my motivation to write. The anthology, published by Andrea Gibson, focuses on addressing inequality and social justice. It encourages the reader to analyze the social constructs and ethics of the world around them – to contemplate the mechanics of the system and then what can be improved or changed within it. For me, poetry is dauntless and inexhaustible – it is a tool for survival.
As Audre Lorde wrote, “Poetry is not only dream and vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives. It lays the foundations for a future of change, a bridge across our fears of what has never been before.”
Thalia Rose, class of 2018
Things You Can Do When You Turn Eighteen:
2. buy spray paint
3. buy a lottery ticket
4. buy things from TV infomercials
5. buy a lighter
6. buy cigarettes (and then promptly throw those away!)
7. buy your own plane ticket
8. rent a hotel room
9. get married
10. drink a beer in most countries outside of the U.S.
11. have a full time job
12. call all your underage friends “children”
13. convince your parents to buy you something big
14. get a state issued I.D.
15. get a tattoo
16. donate blood (whoop! whoop!)
17. change your name (I will henceforth be known as Queen Esmeralda Anastasia Rosebud)
18. get jury duty
Things You Cannot Do When You Turn Eighteen:
1. Say “but I’m an adult!” when you don’t want to do dishes
2. Say “but I’m an adult!” when you don’t want to go to Calculus
3. Say “but I’m an adult!” when you don’t want to write a blog post
4. Say “but I’m an adult!” when your work doesn’t get published
Noa Mendoza, class of 2016
“Gears Turning Poetry Series” at Modern Times Bookstore
In Creative Writing, once every six-week period, each student attends a literary reading
that they then write a reflection about. Typically, I go to smaller readings at local bookstores that allow the audience to feel intimate and close with the writer who is being featured. On January 10th, I attended a reading at Modern Times Bookstore that focused around the experiences and ancestry of Native American poets and the recently published poetry anthology Red Indian Road West. I assumed that the reading would be similar to those I have usually attended, with a similar atmosphere. However, I am writing this post on the event because it was altogether the most enlightening, entertaining, and personally influential readings I have been to.
I had never been to Modern Times previously, and upon joining the crowd for the reading, I was immediately introduced to what seemed to be a whole literary community. Each poet and audience member knew one another, which contributed to an atmosphere of security and enthusiasm for every reader. The event began with readings from three Native American poets who had work in Red Indian Road West, primarily stories about their family and ancestral roots. Because I am not knowledgeable about many aspects of Native American culture, and I have come to realize that my favorite way to learn about different communities is through the deeply personal context of poetry and other writing, this aspect of the reading was fascinating. The other artist at the reading was a guitar player. He sang three songs that he wrote and composed himself, that were all a combination of alternative and country sounds. His songs were entertaining and witty, one about how he was doing assigned reading for college and realized that Jack Kerouac was “kind of a dick,” one written in 2012 about eating in a diner when people believed the world was going to end, and the last one of finding a giant squid. Listening to his music was one of my favorite parts of the event because his songs combined skill, good acoustics, and lyrics that were a balanced combination of funny and unique.
Up until this point, I already felt as if I was becoming immersed in this rich community that apparently regularly congregates at Modern Times readings; however, the most important part of the night would still be an entirely new experience for me. At the end of the reading, people in the audience began to encourage me to read one of my poems, as they had asked earlier whether I was a writer, and I reluctantly accepted. I am typically awkward, uncomfortable, and nervous when faced with reading my work in front of a crowd, even when I have rehearsed doing so. It took quite a lot of willpower to talk myself into going onstage, but I am glad that I agreed to read one of my pieces. The sense of reassurance and encouragement that came from the audience allowed me to come out of the reading feeling more confident about performing in front of strangers. I was not rehearsed, and as a result did not read entirely smoothly, but since I went to the event, I’ve realized that being confident about sharing your work is not about reading it perfectly; it is about putting yourself out there and trying new things, even if it seems daunting, In the future, I am going to seek out opportunities to read my work for people instead of being nervous about it, which is a tool that I believe will help every young writer to become more assured about their writing.
Anna Geiger, class of 2017
On Tuesday we started our playwriting unit. As a Freshman this is my first time truly delving into playwriting. The only writing of a script that I’ve done is for my portfolio and four to five times on my own. But this year the experience of the unit is new for everyone. In the past the playwriting unit has been taught by Isaiah Dufort. So this will be the first year that anyone currently in Creative Writing will have playwriting with our brand new artist-in-residence, Eugenie Chan.
Having acted in plays before, I have more experience on that side of the play-producing business. Once, when I was attending the reading of an author making her debut novel, I was told that once you publish a book or piece of writing that you get this uncomfortable feeling of having to let go. You realize that this story that you spent so much time on, that you essentially dedicated a portion of your life to producing and revising, is no longer only yours. It’s not personal anymore and that can be hard to let go of. In playwriting this takes a more physical form as your words and ideas are being portrayed by somebody else. But you can imagine that at the same time it’s probably wonderful to be able to see your work come to life. It might be worrying as the actors and director will most likely interpret your work differently than you had intended. As cheesy as it sounds, that’s part of the beauty of writing: the reader always brings their own experience to the writing and makes it—in a way—unique to them. In fact, as you are reading this you are making it your own, interpreting it differently than another person would by subconsciously bringing your own background knowledge to the writing. Of course it depends on who you talk to, but writing can be an interactive experience. Yes, us holed-up writers who are said to spend our time staring at our screens and have a permanent indent in our hands where a pen should be and who develop carpal tunnel at the age of twenty, can create an interactive experience.
Solange Baker, class of 2019
Every marking period (usually six months), Creative Writing students have to turn in a series of things we’ve been working on: submissions, responses to readings we’ve been to, a response to a movie we’ve seen, and a literary critique. These are called “Department Requirements.” Although they’re stressful, time consuming, and kind of a lot of work, literary critiques are fun. It’s an unpopular opinion over here in the Creative Writing classroom, where every “Lit Critique Day” is met with a loud wall of moans, but if you get into them, they’re really quite enjoyable. Now, I have to say, I think a large reason they are cool is because THEY DON’T ALWAYS HAVE TO BE A CRITIQUE ON SOMETHING LITERARY. Two times out of the six total times we do them a year, a lit critique can be on a song or a movie or anything else, which really, really, really makes the whole thing better. Below is an example on a critique of a favorite song of mine…
On “The Sickbed of Cuchulain”
Written by Shane MacGowan
“The Sickbed of Cuchulainn” marks a point of highest success in Shane MacGowan and the Pogues’ careers, kicking off their second album, “Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash.” (1985.) A song about famed playwright Brendan Behan, who MacGowan compares to Ulster Cycles hero Cuchulainn, it talks of art and creativity in terms of influences and muses. The song differs from other tributes to fellow artists by painting a much darker and bleaker scene to the life of the muse, pounding through a message of hopelessness for the art world and its future. By using grand allusions and a keen sense of rhythm, Shane MacGowan writes the strongest homage to an artist I’ve ever seen.
Being the center and nucleus to the song, I should talk first about the muse: Brendan Francis Aidan Behan. “Sickbed of Culchulainn” is an allusion to many things, but primarily an allusion to the life of Behan and his travels to Germany and around the world. The song reads as a textbook, not in the way that it bores you to death, but in the way that it serves as a historical document about a legend who’s famous downfall into alcoholism left him virtually buried and obscured from the public as an artist, and instead idolized as a drunken, half-witty, Irishman. By using a chronological, document-based-question format, Shane MacGowan lifts Behan from his common state of mockery to his proper seat as one of Ireland’s most profound and influential artists. This specific format rings most clearly in lines such as “When you pissed yourself in Frankfurt and got syph down in Cologne” or “Now you’ll sing a song of liberty for blacks and paks and jocks”, where MacGowan references specific events in chronological order. This format not only pairs with the song’s content in that way, but also matches with the fact that Brendan Behan’s public image was depressing to MacGowan, who in turn wrote this song from the perspective of an Irish artist who’s work had been greatly influenced by Behan. In his autobiography, A Drink With Shane MacGowan, Shane says of Behan, “I was really into Brendan Behan…I think I identified with him because I had a massive drinking problem and because I liked his writing and because he was Irish…he was a writer who really lived, he was in the IRA, he’d been in jail. It appealed to me that he had really been there, that he wasn’t making it up.” Shane’s and therefore the song’s love for the muse is what creates this very unique, historical format.
“Sickbed of Cuchulainn” is really one large conceit, comparing the life and death of Brendan Behan to Cuchulainn, a famous Celtic war hero. Cuchulainn first gained fame as a warrior when he slayed a large and frightening guard hound who guarded a blacksmith named Culann’s house. Later in his teenage years, Cuchulainn fought off Queen Maeve single handedly when she attacked Ulster in the Cattle raid of Cooley (The Hero Deeds of Cuchulainn). The theme of fighting and violence is not only abundant in Brendan Behan’s works but also Shane MacGowan’s, “The Sickebed of Cuchulainn” specifically. Cuchulainn’s most famous quote, “Here am I—no easy task—Holding Ireland’s men at bay. My foot never turned in flight From a single man or ranks of foe.”, captures exactly what Shane MacGowan is painting Behan as: a muse and a cultural rebel. By writing a historical biography as mentioned in paragraph one, and comparing this same biography to the biography of the most famous warrior in Celtic mythology, Shane MacGowan not only paints Brendan Behan as an influential Irish author but also as one of the world’s most profound writers in all of history.
As well as allusions, the song displays many types of rhythms, weaving out of slow, bleak refrains and into fast, violent choruses. The song’s biggest themes are drinking and violence. By writing a chaotic song that at one point hurls a loud tin whistle solo at you, Shane MacGowan captures Behan’s drunken behavior. The song opens on the deathbed of Brendan Behan (compared to the deathbed of Cuchulainn), who’s lying on the bed drunkenly surrounded by devils “with bottles in their hands.” The use of a minor, almost scary melody to recreate this scene works well, especially on lines that mirror the unfriendly, unfamiliar tune of the first refrain, for example, “One more drop of poison and you’ll dream of foreign lands.” Then we see the song suddenly explode into a crash of speeding mandolins and drums and flutes and MacGowan tells us of all the drunken, stupid things Behan has done: “And in the Euston Tavern you screamed it was your shout, but they wouldn’t give you service so you kicked the windows out, they took you out into the street and kicked you in the brains so you walked back in through a bolted door and did it all again.” Using different rhythms, MacGowan recreates Behan’s life of drunken violence.
“The Sickbed of Cuchulainn”, written by Shane MacGowan, uses a historical format, cultural allusions, and differing rhythms to tell the life of MacGowan’s greatest influence: Brendan Behan. By comparing the playwright to the greatest Celtic war hero of all time, Cuchulainn, the song successfully plays homage to one of Ireland’s greatest authors.
Liam Miyar-Mullan, class of 2018
“Senioritis. Noun. a supposed affliction of students in their final year of high school or college, characterized by a decline in motivation or performance.”
Let me begin by saying I’ve been listening to a lot of Justin Bieber lately and I totally have senioritis. I’m not sure yet if the two are related.
I have approximately three months, nine days, fourteen hours until graduation, not that I’m counting or anything. But I’m really not. I’m reveling in this feeling of apathy. It’s liberating to realize that you basically have nothing to lose. A dangerous feeling, perhaps not what I should be feeling, but freeing nonetheless. Thus far, it has translated really nicely into generating new work, and taking risks with my writing. Come second semester, I’ve found that the emphasis of my personal writing practice is not centered around revision, or writing the best thing, or spending a ton of time on a piece, but trying things I’ve never done before. Being weird with my words. Mixing it up formally. Writing from perspectives I’ve never tried to write from before. Breaking out of this mold that I’ve been stuck in for the past three years has felt so good, and I think I’ve generated some of my favorite pieces during this time of extreme motivation decline. And all that time I spend skipping class and avoiding homework, well that’s just purposeful building of experience for my writing.
So, in a lot of ways I think listening to Justin Bieber and senioritis are correlated. Freshmen, sophomore, even junior year, I would have died if someone found out I occasionally dance around to “Baby”. Yet, this year, strolling into school after a restful sleep (because senioritis is really a stress free affliction), I love blasting “What Do You Mean” and even singing along as I past the nervous packs of underclassmen, just trying to figure out what it all means.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that everyone should adapt a little form of senioritis. So you can let go of your inhabitations, and realize that you really have nothing left to lose. You can be happy, and not care what other people think, and it may actually end up benefiting you.
I’ll end with the inspiring words of JBeibs himself: “Love Yourself” and “Never Say Never”
Josie Weidner, class of 2016
Writing a poem is always a sort of backwards thing for me. I tend to do it first as a layout of generally what I want in it, a really rough outline of the poem, like the gesture sketch of a character before you actually start to put any details in. After that, the drawing metaphor stops working, unless you draw an eye and then a finger and then a nose and then decide that the person doesn’t actually need fingers, and that you like the drawing with just one eye, which most artists don’t generally do when they’re drawing people. At any rate, poems are less straightforward than a drawing, at least for me. They always tend to have hidden lines that I have to write seven or eight times before I get them quite right, and there’s always that weird feeling at the beginning and the end, when you’re not sure if that’s really where the piece starts or where it ends. Poetry is less about the artist themselves and more about organizing twenty-six letters in a way that they need to be.
The actual process of writing a nice piece that you can turn in to some publishing companies or, infinitely more frightening, your creative writing teacher, is a convoluted process for me. I sketch it out, and then I detail it in. The original draft for a lot of poems is very loose and raw, and often makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. This actually used to be really discouraging for me, since when reading you only get to see the nice, polished, finished work and sometimes I forget that a lot of editing went into that final product, and the author didn’t just miraculously spit it out and show it to the world. I’ve since had it drilled into me that editing is a) vital, and a part of every piece, and b) one of the things I enjoy most in writing. It’s always so much harder to get out that first bit of what you want to say. Once that’s all out, you can take away words and phrases that don’t make sense, and add words and phrases that are appropriate.
There’s also that phrase in writing – kill your darlings. Take out bits of a poem you love, because it doesn’t have a place or doesn’t fit or is simply unnecessary. That’s the hardest part of editing. I have a couple documents that are just bits and pieces of old writing that I loved and had to take out. They’re recyclable – you can use them in other stories if they fit. It’s always a fun exercise when I write a poem based around the fragment of another poem I really liked.
Writing a poem is an inside-out process for me, because my brain thinks in weird, wiggly, jumpy patterns. Everyone thinks differently, and everyone writes poetry differently. Don’t be afraid of your poems, and don’t berate yourself because you have a different process than so-and-so. Just write your own way, in your own time, and hopefully find something in it you love.
Isi Vasquez, class of 2019