CW at the Magritte by Hannah Duane

On the last Monday of September, Creative Writing made its way to SFMOMA to see the exhibit of Magritte’s late work. We met, excited in the lobby. Many students among us had already seen the show, were quick to tell us it was fantastic.

In the first two weeks of school, Creative Writing builds community by going on many field trips. Some of these excursions are purely enjoyment, such as our ritual swim in aquatic park, however many connect CW with the culture and art happening in our city. This year, we went to SFMOMA to see Selves and Others, a collection focusing on modern self portraits, as well as the De Young to see a Judy Dater photography show, and attended a reading at Booksmith to hear Thomas McBee, and finally, back to SFMOMA for the Magritte. After two weeks of talking about art and learning to further develop our vocabulary, this final show was our chance to take the art in on our own. Most of the Creative Writers went through slowly, and by themselves or with a few friends, talking about their opinions with each other, and occasionally stopping to write.

The show was set up across many rooms, each focusing on a different period in Magritte’s life. I very much enjoyed seeing his progression, and beginning to understand the themes and motifs Magritte found most interesting. As a writer, it was intriguing to see how these same techniques are applicable across art forms.

Magritte’s exploration scale, light, and weight most affected me. In the final room displayed a painting of a rock suspended over the sea. In this image, entitled “Clear Ideas,” the rock is the same size and shape a cloud above it, asking the eye to equate the images. However, while a cloud is light, and in its whiteness does not connote danger, the rock is menacing. It nearly represents rain, and yet the light coming from the position of the viewer illuminates the rock as quite solid.

I also enjoyed the way he captured light in the painting “Evening Falls.” This piece features a sunset behind a window frame with the fractured glass strewn around the floor. Though the glass, in reality, would show what is newly behind it, the shards depict the sunset as well. This surrealistic image invites the reader to question representation, and merge past and present visions.

I left the exhibit inspired to write surrealism and explore what themes I am drawn to in my own writing. It is easy, at a school full of artist to attempt to find clear lines between the different disciplines, however in reality, art is far more fluid than that, with a variety of forms in conversation.

Hannah Duane
Class of 2021

On Writing My First Play by Hannah W Duane

Playwriting is hard. As a perfectionist, I found it near impossible. The third large unit of CW’s academic year is playwriting, when the department comes back together (we split into CW 1 and 2 for fiction and poetry) to write plays and put on our second and final show of the year (S’il Vous Play happening April 13 at 7:30, you should come). I had never written a play before. I had read very few, most in anticipation of this part of the year. On the first day of playwriting, we shard hopes, fears and the upperclassmen gave the freshman advice. Almost all of them reminded us sleep was important. This I perhaps should have taken as a sign.

For our big project of the unit, every member of Creative Writing composes a ten-minute play. I, however, wrote three. The first was contentless. The characters didn’t have names, there wasn’t a setting, there wasn’t a plot, or a title, or a purpose or anything being communicated. I turned it in for working shopping, and most of the feedback was something needs to happen. It was Waiting for Godot without an ounce of Samuel Beckett’s genius. I had my science teacher read it (she’s also a playwright) and she told me to delete all but half of a page out of the ten I had written. I decided I might have to start over.

Having ideas is hard. I always loved writing, however before SOTA, I wrote when I had an idea, when I wanted to. Having ideas was never something with a deadline attached to it, and though it is clearly imperative to have a functioning creative writing department, sometimes pressure, for me, can get in the way of allowing my brain to come up with something. I was stuck. I spent the better part of a week of classes scribbling in a notebook, trying to come up with a plot.

Finally, I had a halfway viable idea. But I was also getting on a plane to France in 48 hours. I frantically got my friends to promise me to read drafts for me, and pounded out one of the most atrocious pieces of writing ever to ooze from my brain to the page. On the plane, I attempted to edit, but soon, exhaustion and distraction and the anxiety of being alone heading to a foreign country where I do not speak the language took over, and I gave up.

I was on a climbing trip, and every day came home physically exhausted from scaling boulders, and mentally exhausted from dealing with toddlers. It was an interesting state to try to write in. I snapped at people who asked my how my play was going. I also wanted to talk about it all the time to figure out what on earth I was writing. When I finally created a draft I could show my closest of friends without being absolutely mortified, I immediately did so.

They told me to rid myself of one of the two characters. Basically, write a new play. I had two days until the due date. The first night I organized, as this unit clearly laid out for me, playwriting is more technically complicated than poetry or fiction. It doesn’t work (generally) to just start writing without an idea of plot, that’s how one ends up with a contentless scene (see my draft #1). The second night I spent in the home of an elderly Parisian family friend. I was able to disappear for a few hours, edit, freak all the way out, be calmed down by the same friend that I’m choosing to wrongly blame for causing the stress, and then reappear for a European-timed dinner. They wanted to know how the play was going. I said great. Then I went back into my room, sighed, and turned it in.

It might have been an awful play, but one of the things I love most about Creative Writing is it doesn’t matter if it’s your favorite kind of writing, you still do it. That’s how one learns. Playwriting is probably never going to be my favorite thing, or the thing that comes most naturally to me, but in six weeks struggling with it has taught me about dialogue, plot and character far more efficiently than fiction, which was a more comfortable experience. And I lived, I’m excited to write a play next year and fully intend to spend an entire year thinking of an actual idea.

Hannah W Duane, class of 2021

A Poem Every Day by Hannah Duane

With the onset of winter, the Literary Arts department has begun poetry, so for the past week Creative Writing 1 has been writing and analyzing poems daily. I have been enjoying the simplicity of theses exercises. Every afternoon I arrive for Creative Writing, and settle into the warm room for our careful analysis of a variety of styles of poetry.

I’ve been hearing poetry for most of my life. My father would read me William Carlos Williams poems as bedtime stories, and I can still remember him telling me how Williams’s simple but precise language was what made each poems melodious and refreshing. Now, being able to discuss poetry with friends has been insightful as well as enjoyable. Reading poetry is also crucial for writing poetry. It’s hard to improve one’s own work without reading masterful examples to learn the craft. My personal favorite poem of the week was “An Atlas of the Difficult World” by Adrienne Rich, a freeform piece with the refrain “I know you are reading this poem,” that creates a comforting feel, assuring both the reader and writer that they are not alone in their appreciation for poetry. Imagery also creates pockets of worlds, familiar and unfamiliar.   

For homework each night, we write a poem. Monday night was emerging from a blank screen and noticing the space around ourselves, Tuesday a blessing, Wednesday an invitation and Thursday an aubade (a poem about dawn and the morning). Though before joining the department I wrote poems fairly frequently, I have found formalizing the ritual and having a prompt as well as editing to be relaxing and informative. Most days there is an opportunity to share these prompts, and reading my work aloud for my classmates, while nerve racking was encouraging. We discuss everyone’s piece, which gives room for feedback. For me, sharing is definitely a stretch out of my comfort zone, but is also a positive and informative experience. I don’t know what to expect for the next five weeks of poetry, but I’m excited to continue to grow as a writer and make connections with the people in the department.

Hannah Duane, class of 2021

Writing Buddy Collaboration by Hannah W Duane

On August 29, all thirty members of the Creative Writing department took a long, hot bus ride out to the Minnesota Street Project art museum. Here, we saw the collaborations of Griffin McPartland and Paul Urich. Over a number of years, Urich sent McPartland his drawings, asking McPartland to write on them. At first he declined, not wanting to disrupt his friend’s art. However eventually McPartland decided to comply with the request, and together they created a number of pieces. These pencil or ballpoint pen sketches each had what McPartland calls a short story over them. These stores were very short, a fragment or sentence in length, and not visibly connected to the images. Most were funny, and many complex or puns with multiple meanings. This exhibit inspired our three-week independent buddy collaboration.

My writing buddy and I decided we would text each other photographs we took each day, and write a short response. I wrote mine in prose poetry, responding to the image but not necessarily addressing its content, while my writing buddy opted to pose questions in response to the photograph or write “stream of consciousness opinion pieces.” We traded nine images, ranging from humorous (I received a photograph of someone putting a trombone over another person’s head) to tranquil (a sunset over Twin Peaks). We kept our responses informal and did not share them with each other. Occasionally, we asked questions about the photos received, but most of the time just wrote pieces loosely based on the content shared and did not worry about what exactly the photo represented. For the conclusion of the project, we printed out all of the photographs and then inscribed our written responses over or next to them. We ended up with eighteen pieces, each from a different day and with different mood and presented them to the class by laying them out on tables and asking our classmates to walk around and look at them.

I very much enjoyed taking part in this collaboration. It was a pleasant exercise to every day be looking for something beautiful or interesting visually in my surroundings, however towards the end I did struggle to find something I deemed interesting enough to photograph (we’re creative writers, not photographers…). Some of the photos I received were easier to write from than others, but it was exciting to each day get a window into what another person found interesting.

Hannah W Duane, class of 2021