I am stalking the clock persistently, like a killer to its prey. The hand’s fingers are frozen, but I wait. My eyes never shift from the clock, for the fingers would sprint away. I would stand helpless, like a deer on the road, trapped in the headlights of a car. Why aren’t you making more friends? Why are you eating that? Exercise. I’ll do it tomorrow. A plethora of hopes, goals, and accomplishments waiting at the end of these minutes; both academic and personal. So I rushed through my days, like something was chasing me. Expecting something, without working to make that expectation a reality. I sit, glued to a desk, watching time pass me by, hoping when the day, week, month ends, my work and self will be improved in some way or another. At the moment, life seems to be going by like a turtle walking a marathon. After the turtle has crossed the finish line, I realize that I let each mile go by uncounted, when I should have utilized each one to create something better of myself and what I can achieve.Start tomorrow. I should have started today. The lit crit isn’t going to write itself. Everyday, putting off the goals you have, expecting results. The quality of my work, no chance of improvement, a stalemate, or so I thought. Waiting weeks without pushing myself, the same results. How could my work for Creative Writing or work towards personal goals have a chance to improve without time spent? Spending time you have for worthwhile activities will ultimately help you achieve any goals you have in mind. There are a plethora of ideals I wish to achieve in the near future, and I haven’t done anything to help myself reach them and rather watched time slip through my fingers. A message to everyone reading this piece; don’t watch time pass in hopes of your ambitions coming to fruition, and rather make your expectations a reality with diligence.
Tag: Literary Critique
Literary Ditches by Natasha Leung
At the beginning of my first year in creative writing, the seniors gave the fresh peeps a lesson on what might be the most important assignment in the class: literary critiques. We got a lesson about what literary devices were, and how we would have to write an essay about them, but I focused more on the exciting new aspects of writing—poems, skits, and other fun games. While the topic had been mentioned over the course of community weeks (and quite heavily complained about), I didn’t imagine an essay to be the most difficult part of the class. In middle school, I loved writing essays, especially about works of literature. I had thrived in analyzing tiny aspects of topics, and sharing my perspective on the meaning of situations. I had, naively, hoped that I would be one of the few people who at least semi-enjoyed writing literary critiques. However, my hopes were dashed as soon as I got back the comments on my first draft. A slew of comments, mostly repeating the same message: I was completely all over the place, didn’t stay on topic, and overall had a horrible ability to be concise while still making sense.
Wrapping up our fifth literary critique for this year, I’m beginning to find myself closer to the knowledge of what in the world I am even supposed to be writing about. I chose my own poem to critique for the first time, which I found a liberating while also quite stressful experience. The ability to handpick a poem that specifically stood out to me after paging through websites for a good hour seemed to help me get into a groove of digging through layers of literary dirt. After finishing the first draft, I counted four printed-out copies of the poem, each page so covered in annotations I wished for a pair of binoculars. As the due date loomed closer, I traded drafts with a fellow classmate and felt my inner professor kick in, as I peppered their analysis with responses of my own. I spent what felt like years condensing every note, every question, every single thought that crossed my brain in regards to the poem into four pages of connections and realizations.
None of the process I went through is to say that I’ve gotten particularly good at writing a literary critique, one that doesn’t leave my reader scratching their head and wondering how I managed to write something so completely nonsensical. On my most recent one, for example, while doing peer revisions I received at least three comments simply asking “Natasha, what the heck does this even mean?!” I admit I asked myself that many times while writing: “Natasha, what does anything you’re thinking even mean?” Despite this hagarring inability to do what appears to an outside view a simple assignment, I haven’t given up on ever writing a perfect literary critique, something that makes my reader think to themselves, “Yes, you took the words right out of my mouth!” I still believe that I’ll be able to sound intellectual instead of spewing randomness. Despite the randomness, I would have to admit I love the feeling of getting into a poem. I love spending the day as an archeologist, sifting through mounds of gold in the form of words, and finding pieces that connect like bones creating the skeleton of a newfound perspective.
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)
A Critique of Eros the Bittersweet by Thalia Rose
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
Remember the de Young
For a week in September, Maia Ipp came into Creative Writing and taught a “Craft and Critique” class in order to prepare us (well, us being CDubs sans seniors, ’cause our three years of sweaty toil has earned us privileges, dammit) for a new department requirement— the literary critique (see Smolly’s Daily Report for reference).
We began by defining the word “critique” and its connotations— for someone to be critical is usually negative, though to look at something with a critical eye is pragmatic and sort of good. Using these definitions as a springboard, we then worked to redefine “critique” and came up with a new operational definition: analysis of the text and its effects with the intention to either better it or to simply point out its success.
(Yes, those are my words, and yes, they are carefully diplomatic, but that’s the jist of it, I think. Y’know, people always say to not shoot the messenger, but what if the messenger screws up?)
(No I change my mind. Please don’t shoot this messenger.)
We also discussed ekphrasis, which is sort of the evolved version of part two of the lit critiques, which are the creative responses. An ekphrastic piece of art is inspired by another piece of art in another medium— the example we looked at was a poem inspired by a painting. The poem stood on its own well enough, but with the painting there was a basis to work from, and there was suddenly a synesthetic duality to its evoked meaning.
On Friday, September 20th, Maia’s class ended on a high note. We visited the de Young museum and the Diebenkorn exhibit (which I will admit I did not see, sadly— it was just so… populated there) to create our own ekphrastic pieces of writing. And it’s kind of hilariously awesome, because Maia was so inspired by all the poems we turned in, that she took lines from all of them and created a group found poem, so it’s something like meta-ekphrasis.
(Though if we really did the math, it’s 1.5 ekphrasis, because while not everything we wrote was poetry— mine certainly wasn’t— words to words still doesn’t count as an entire ekphrasis, I don’t think. Hence the point-five.)
On top of that, Frances (’14) and Lizzie’s (’14) poems were chosen for special mention. Here they are below:
After the de Young: a group found poem
The poem that follows is composed of lines taken from the Fold-Up responses. Every Creative Writer is represented, and lines have been only minimally changed where necessary.
Tell me about the life you’ve built
the way it seems to fall apart
in the drifting winds that run through empty houses.
I, too, remained nameless that year.
A stretched film over the skywater above us.
It fractures though, by gravity or worse.
How hard it is to keep it together:
the water that was made in darkness.
The sun is smooth and patient, a pulse of light wavering between leaves and branches.
The ocean offers a flat relief.
I would die in this place,
my body slouched on a blue plastic chair, the door
open for the world to see.
Skin the taut surface of water—
A round, flat eye.
It is dangerous without being alive.
Examine for bloodlessness the bold predawn birth.
I had golden feathers,
but now everything is moonlight
Stung, bitter, by our blackened palms.
I found you beached,
your burnt snow gills gleaming.
To do something with these arms—
I nod quietly, stare into wind and snow, letting its sting replace the one I feel in my chest.
I am not to be approached.
The most refined woman is nothing but texture.
You may be full to the core with honey and old water.
So soon, we’ll both be useless things.
Frances Saux, after Richard Diebenkorn, Untitled, 1955
I, too, remained nameless that year—learned in the clench of summer the constituencies of self, somehow—
One night she’d gone and I took three, four tries at a match, but too selfless to start supper I let them die out—
What was moving that year, what was anything?
I needed medicine and thought a spoon of vinegar, a slice of lemon looked all right.
And I thought I’d go on a walk but of course I didn’t. She came home, I stayed seated, she let the water run in the kitchen sink, I thought about the lengths of water, for lengths, the anonymous water.
Lizzie Kroner, response to The Wild Swan by Alexander Pope
It is wild—it is like painted taxidermy. The swan hangs so majestic but still so pathetic in its demise, tied to a door. With its full, faded head it can only exist as a symbol now. It evokes meaning without having a meaning of its own. In its death, as in all deaths, it has lost life, but its corpse, bright and beautiful and sprawled, wings spread, emanates such vivacity you have to question whether it is really dead or not. Of course it is dead, its webbed feet are tied by a string to the hinge of a green door and its gold is only visible when it is directly under the light. But the stillness of its heartbeat means nothing. The painting doesn’t have a heartbeat either, neither do these words, but they mean something.