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

Eros the Bittersweet is a lyrical-esssayist novel by Anne Carson, published in 1986. It was included in the Princeton University Press. A fragment of Sappho opens the book: “Eros once again limb-loosener whirls me / sweetbitter, impossible to fight off, creature stealing up.” The epilogue is placed appropriately to the rest of the content, as this poetry fragment is essential to the thesis of Eros the Bittersweet. The description ‘sweetbitter’ is translated from ‘glukupikron’.
     Sappho’s usage of the Greek word glukupikron insinuates (upon translation), that sweet prefaces bitter. Sappho placed the character gluku- before pikron- as a statement on the nature of attraction. When an individual is infatuated with another, the sweet side is more visible than the bitter side, and the discovery of the opposite side of the coin is obstructed by the shallowness of face-value adoration.
Anne Carson claims that novels are interwoven with triangulation. Carson defines triangulation as the phenomenon of loving what another loves. The reader of the novel is in a formulation of Pascal’s triangle, where the characters in the text are the objects of cupidity. The two perspectives of the characters are dissociated from one’s own, and activate a sense of multifaceted desire.
     “To be running breathlessly, but not yet arrived, is itself delightful, a suspended moment of living hope.” Eros acts cognitively and emotionally to signify longing or the lack of something. Objects of cupidity are subject to bittersweetness, since Eros is interpreted through the reader’s own intuition and biases.
     The Velázquez painting Las Meninas is interpreted, in the novel, to be a model of triangulation. A young girl is illuminated in the center of the painting, surrounded by her attendants. Carson focuses on a miniscule detail of the background which possesses human, visceral ardor. Anthropomorphism is shown in the description of this Classical painting. This is also ekphrastic, as the visual art piece is taken into Carson’s body of work. It acts as a vessel of Eros.
     In Las Meninas, it appears that the people in the scene would be most directly involved in Eros, but instead, it is the outside scene that provokes Carson’s interpretation.Triangulation consists of three components: the lover, the beloved, and the obstruction. The blind point is the obstruction.
Eros is reflected in several entities, some as minor as ice, and others as grandiose as Ancient architecture. The lives of Sappho and Plato are essential to Carson’s inspection of desire. She argues that what people long for is to experience longing. Sένδεια (éndeia) is this desire and its correlation to deficiency – an individual can only experience desire for what is not in their own possession or being. Once what is desired has been obtained, the fixation disappears, and a new object of affection is chosen.
This differentiates it from non-cyclical love, affection with a foundation of contentedness. “Eros is an issue of boundaries. He exists because certain boundaries do. In the interval between reach and grasp, between glance and counterglance.” Plato’s Phaedrus, which is anatomized in the second section of the novel, pertains to this definition.
     Phaedrus is a dialogue between two philosophers: Socrates and Phaedrus. After hearing the speech of Lysias, a reputable argument writer or λογογράφος (logographos), the dyad discuss the matter of Eros. Socrates chronicles four types of ‘divine madness’, the last derived from Aphrodite and known to stimulate concupiscence. The argument affirms that controlling one’s prurience is an assessment that will grant ascension to Heaven.
     Socrates’ “Great Speech” is composed from the perspective of the lover. To establish parallelism, Phaedrus was created by Plato with the sole purpose of opposing the lover’s perspective. Phaedrus was a fictional antagonist of equivalent prestige.
     Carson extensively references a plethora of ancient texts and figures in lyrical essayism. Empirical circumstance is denied through defamiliarization. The reader is stripped of reality and human condition in the examination of the subject. It isn’t until the last page of the novel that humanity is addressed. Authenticity is translated through Greek mythology.The truth is based on the reincarnations of Eros through several subjects, not human experience. This assembles verisimilitude.
     “Now and again a man and a woman may marry and live very happily, as travelers who meet by chance at an inn; at night falling asleep they dream the same dream, where they watch fire move along a rope that binds them together, but it is unlikely they remember the dream in the morning.” Appetite creates the ambition and motive to persist. Carson states that if there were to be no desire, “The art of storytelling would be widely neglected.”
Thalia Rose, class of 2018

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
undersea.
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.