Why It’s Important to Struggle With Your Work Sometimes by Pascal Lockwood

Creative writing has always been somewhat of a “love-hate-but-mostly-love” situation for me.  I enjoy the community, I enjoy my classmates, The fun games we play, the interesting challenges that get posed for me, and I enjoy learning new ways to think about my writing, but there is one part of that system that I have not yet become accustomed to. This is the lit crit. Before I share my personal troubles with the lit crit, It’s important for me to explain what the lit crit is. A literary critique, in the Creative Writing Department, revolves around us Creative Writing students having a poem selected for us or having you select your own. We then write an essay about the poem based on how we understand it. Three paragraphs make up the body, along with a conclusion and a beginning, and you have your lit critique. 

 It is not necessarily that the main idea of a lit critique is troublesome to me, it is simply the most recent issues I’ve had to work through are among the most frustrating moments of my schooling days. The constant struggle of pushing around words on the paper and making them sound good is actually harder than it sounds, but I have faith that one day I will be able to look back on this and laugh. For the time being, however, I think it’s best if I vent my frustrations so you may understand what I’m going through. 

Back in marking period 4, I had written a literary critique about a poem written by William Carlos Williams entitled A Portrait in Greys. It wasn’t the best essay I had ever written, but it wasn’t half bad either.  Just like that, this meant I had to do it over again. The frustrating thing was, I knew I had written better essays, but I did not anticipate the feedback. While I had been writing about the ideas the poem presented, I was actually supposed to write about the literary devices. I know it sounds like I’m whining and moaning. After all, it was my fault! I had written three other lit critiques prior, and I had done them all in the style that was now getting called out over. None of my peers or my teachers ever explained that what I was doing in the lit crit was incorrect, or if they did, I didn’t get it. I wish I’d had the feedback I needed on each of those previous lit crits. If I’d let rip three of  my unearthly stinkers in class, I’m sure someone would have put me straight.

Determined to fix this, I decided to go back with the help of another student and tried to fix my previous essay in an attempt to get a better grade. It was hard at first, considering how stubborn a person I am (If you believe in that Horoscope malarkey, I’m a textbook Taurus) and unfortunately took to criticisms and new ideas on my work like a duck to acid. After a while, the other student and I finally found a rhythm. So what had to happen next? Another lit crit I’d forgotten about. I. Was. Livid. It was bad enough that I was worried about having to work on a completely new essay for this marking period, but I still hadn’t even finished the one from the last marking period. After starting again, and again, I’m stuck at paragraph 2 for the third time. A truckload of other work is also beginng to beat down on me. 

Moral of the story? Always ask about homework before leaving class with ‘no’ work. What that means is, if you’re unsure about something, like I was, you should never be afraid to ask your teachers (or even your peers!) for assistance. The consequences will really suck. Your writing buddy, who usually is a Junior or a Senior, will be a fantastic resource for helping you out when you need it. What I’m trying to say is, enjoy working with and alongside Creative Writing students on subjects you’re confused on. Not once, in any situation, should you ever neglect these resources that are right there for you. I messed up pretty badly with my work more than a few times, and even then, I was still able to get back up onto my feet thanks to the help of my other students and teachers. I know I have a lot to learn, but I really feel the support of the community of Creative Writing. To quote Steven McCranie, “The master has failed more times than the student has tried.” 

I’m learning the hard way; now is my time to fail.

I want to say to anyone looking to join the Creative Writing department: Please do not be discouraged from doing so because of what I wrote. Our department is a lovely place filled with lovely individuals that you should definitely get to know. What I have written, I intend to be a somewhat cautionary tale on why it is so important to not only get help when you’re struggling, but why it’s important to fail sometimes. We grow with each trip and bump in the road. That lit crit I’m re-writing is stronger and more put together than anything else I could have written first-time. 

We fall hard. 

We get back up harder.

Pascal Lockwood (Class of ’24)

Literary Critiques by Liam Miyar-Mullan

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

Lit Critiques by Ren Weber

Today in class Maia Ipp came in to teach us about Lit Critiques. For those who don’t know, Lit Critiques are papers written to extrapolate literary devices/analyze a piece of writing. Accompanying the essay is a creative response that demonstrates some of the literary devices in the poem, fiction, etc. that was analyzed. For the first lit critique of the year we work on the essay with our writing buddies, which I feel really helps the freshman become less confused. We need to complete one per marking period (six per year) so these papers are an anticipated and vital part of CW, and as a freshman I felt somewhat anxious about making my first one.

Maia first explained what a lit critique was supposed to do and have, and then told us the different between form and content (shown in the photo). She gave us examples of literary devices, which really made it easier for me to understand what to write for a critique. Then we split up into our writing buddies and showed each other the pieces that we could choose. My writing buddy, Clare (’17), and I came to a consensus on the piece we would work together on, and got to work analyzing the poem (“The Poplar” by Vladimir Nabokov).

Overall, today was a great day. I’m excited about writing my first (of many) lit critiques, thanks to Maia.

Ren Weber, Class of 2019

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