Come to our show this Friday! 7:30 @SOTA Mainstage, free for students, $15 for adults!
On Saturday, Abigail, Frances, Mykel and I piled into the Schott-Rosenfield minivan and drove down to UC Santa Cruz, where the annual National High School Ethics Bowl was being held.
This is only the second year since its inception, but competition was intense. Schools from across the Bay Area sent one or two teams— Bentley, Kirby, Hillsdale. Competing teams were given fifteen cases to prepare for before hand, each with its own ethical dilemma to consider. The day of the competition, two teams went head-to-head, giving a five-minute presentation, a three-minute response to the rival team’s rebuttal, then ending in a ten-minute section for judges’ questions. We were scored on presentation, depth of argument, and cordialness to our opposing teams.
There was talk of starting an Ethics Bowl team in SOTA since the end of last year. Jerry Pannone, SOTA’s previous Orchestra director, led the charge in November; we had two months to prepare. SOTA managed to put out three teams, so three graduate students at SF State coached us in the cases regarding argument and presentation. The team of CW Seniors (we actually didn’t plan it? It just ended up that way? Maybe?) got Matthew (or Professor Howery, in his classes), aaaand…
We got to semifinals! I’m typing with a stupid grin on my face. We won against three out of four teams and went to semifinals!
So philosophy has this reputation of being all, “So what is the meaning of life?” with bitter old men and wine, and there were concerns going into this that Ethics Bowl would be like that. It’s not that at all, thank the powers that be. We take very real, very contemporary situations (Frankenburger, Indian Child Welfare Act, One Child Policy, Trayvon Martin, just to name a few) and determine the essential ethical conflict, then decide on a stance to take. I’ve found that often times, I would discuss a situation and immediately have a gut feeling about it being right or wrong— the case that comes to mind is “Political Sex Scandals,” in which the question is whether or not it’s moral to reinstate a politician who conducted sexual indiscretions back into office. My gut feeling told me No, that’s just bad. However, Matt then told us to redefine the question, specifically where “sexual indiscretions” mean “a breaking of a sexual contract between the politician and his or her partner(s).” Given that the politician does not misuse public funds or violate another person’s autonomy/cause them harm, the question becomes a little bit harder. Ultimately, it was an argument that Mykel gave in favor of “Yes, we should reinstate the politician, if his/her previous track record proves his/her competence” that solidly changed my mind— that it was the duty of the voters to be rational and get over that gut feeling if the politician produces good results. This is just one case in which my ethical intuition (as it were) became more fleshed-out.
Competition day was intense. I’ve never done anything like debate before, so I was shaking, and I had a stomachache, and I was dizzy, and I could hear my heart pounding in my ears… It started out somewhat dreadful. As the day went on, though, my confidence in and love for my team grew more and more— gosh they’re so cool. Bee-Gail had this stately, austere way about her (as she often does), Frances was precise and eloquent, and Mickel was a boss on articulating snap responses. My favorite moment was when Matt was, I guess, so happy with one of our responses (I think it’s when Frances shot down someone’s attempt to draw a Hitler analogy) that he put on his shades in the middle of the relatively dim competition room. In that moment, I could feel my confidence sky-rocket.
Conclusion of this story: ethics is a ton of fun. Our team wants to begin building next year’s team now, as to better prepare them (as we found out, meeting once a week for eight weeks was not enough time). Also we just want to keep debating ethics. An interesting topic to possibly have in Creative Writing— questions such as the ethics of writing fiction (misrepresentation of reality?), or even a character exploration exercise in developing how they respond to the ethical dilemmas proposed in our cases. I’m already writing one for a character in my thesis. Matt is super cool— our team talked for hours during celebratory dinner on Tuesday night, and we’d love to share his brain and person with the rest of CW. (He’s even a cat person. Wow.)
by Frances (’14)
On Friday, we continued our playwriting unit by workshopping our plays. I’ve always liked workshopping. It’s a staple of the Creative Writing department, and a good complement to the feedback we get from our teachers. Peer perspective is much different from professional perspective. When, for instance, Isaiah gives us criticism, he focuses on what he thinks we should change because he is viewing our plays from the eyes of a more experienced playwright. During workshopping, we tend to see each other’s work the way an audience might see it. We let ourselves get excited about our favorite parts. This is important, I think. We see our art the way an art viewer would see it.
In other news, Midori lost her phone and spent a good deal of class looking for it. At first, she assumed that she’d left it in one of her morning classrooms, but then she used a GPS tracker to locate it, and realized that it wasn’t even in San Francisco. She watched helplessly as it moved from city to city across the peninsula. Molly called several police departments. It was only after a lot of strife that Midori realized her classmate, Cristina Rey, had taken the phone.
After a veritable forever of Maia being sick and gone, she’s finally less-sick and more-back!
We welcomed her with a sign:
We also expressed our fondness and love for Maia in form of algebraic graphs:
(This one describes the exponential increase in the level of suckiness of Maia’s illness over the time that Maia’s gone.)
(This one describes the general upward trend of the department’s mean “Missing Maia” value with a blip in it over time.)
(This one has a Z-axis? I don’t frickin’ know.)
(This one describes CW’s functionality and productivity in all its varying stages, with the asymptotes representing Maia’s absence from our department. We approach levels of productivity, but never manage to reach it with Maia gone.)
CWII had been with Maia Ipp for our poetry unit (recently ended), during which we studied Jack Spicer and his whole thing with Federico Garcia Lorca. There were a lot of bewildered questions and exasperated exclaims: “So Spicer just claimed that Lorca wrote everything in After Lorca? Even the ‘translations’ of other people’s poems? Even the poems Spicer himself wrote?” We studied the concept of translation, as well as Spicer’s “transmissions” from Lorca (who is, of course, dead at the time Spicer wrote in his name).
One topic that particularly gripped me was found poetry. Of course I’ve known of them– my fellow senior Giorgia loves them (and I the way she does them, by cutting out the lines in strips and manually rearranging them)– but I’ve never had much interest in the form. Maia’s class, however, and what my fellow CDubs were doing with found poetry, made me think twice.
The first exercise we did was to make found poetry from Spicer’s Vancouver Lectures. I’ve always been a categorical thinker, so the stuff I pulled out of the text belonged in certain categories, so my poem read more like a list than anything else. However, as my classmates began sharing their constructs, I realized how linear the poetry could be. My thoughts and intent had more freedom than I had initially thought; the original text is not a constraint, but a guide.
(As it happens, I like my poem enough to throw it on here– so maybe this entire blogpost had just been an excuse to show it off.)
After Spicer’s Vancouver Lectures
Tonight, Eliot on one hand and Duncan on the other, you know, nice poetry
hang it onto metaphors
emotion machines in perpetual motion
One-eighth of the struggle
FIve dollars from Ten dollars
First step, step Two, Third stage
Two or Three years later
I prefer more the unknown
the furniture in the room
nonsense you have to avoid
Or you are stuck with
being inside you
Some of my best friends are dying in loony bins
Some of m friends are dying in loony bins
Some are dying in loony bins
Some are dying
Some are loony bins
On found poetry, Poets.org says: “Many poets have also chosen to incorporate snippets of found texts into larger poems, most significantly Ezra Pound. His Cantos includes letters written by presidents and popes, as well as an array of official documents from governments and banks. The Waste Land, by T. S. Eliot, uses many different texts, including Wagnerian opera, Shakespearian theater, and Greek mythology. Other poets who combined found elements with their poetry are William Carlos Williams, Charles Olson, and Louis Zukofsky.” I had never thought that including lines from other texts could count as found (though now that I think about it, duh). That’s one of my favorite kinds of allusions– referencing not only the content, but also the style and form of another piece of writing.
The Found Poetry Review came up in my brief research for this post. It looks sleek and awesome, and I’m definitely checking it out. (Let’s end on a random plug.)
There always has been lots of talk about how Creative Writing and our operations are vaguely cultish. This is completely untrue, if we understand the purpose of a cult to be veneration for a perceived idol. This is completely true if we base the label on actions alone— small, inclusive, apparently secluded. So for the sake of transparency, here’s a glimpse at one of my favorite aspects of CW:
Creative Writing, when the emphasis is on Creative.
Not in a bipartisan way where it means anti-writing (we try our hardest not to be “us and them,” here). Needless to say, I love writing— love it so much it seems completely inadequate to state it outright like that. I can write a full showing-not-telling discourse on my love for writing on a later date (maybe I’ll use it as a college essay, ooh), but for now, take my claim in good faith. Writing is so entrenched in me that I don’t even need to specifically mention it— it’s become part and parcel of me as a person.
(Consider cooking as an analogy. You get a new wooden spoon, a spatula, a panini press, whatever untensil— and it’s the coolest thing ever. You explore all avenues of its use— the slight indents, the sleek metal that provide numerous functions, whatever you can think up. You do everything— stir fry, whisk, spread butter— with it. But once you get used to holding it in your hand, it becomes a tool, something to help you get to an end. What’s fresh and new become the ingredients, the recipes. It doesn’t mean you lose your love for the utensil, and it becomes so essential to your process that it’s completely unperceivable, the thought that you’d have to fry eggs without your spatula.)
So here in CW, Creative is as much of our content as the writing. My favorite example is that one time in freshman year when we went ice skating. For creativity. And it sounds like a nudge-nudge-wink joke (it most definitely 50% is), but we’re serious about it. To write takes knowledge in both its form and content, obviously, and we can’t write about or with knowledge we don’t have, obviously. So part of CW is supplying us with a large bank of knowledge we can draw from.
And here’s another thing that I absolutely love— the fact that we’re so judicial about what sticks and what doesn’t. We know that ice skating isn’t for everybody as much as we know that sonnets and rhyme schemes are not for everybody. We get that some people can do parkour or capoeira, and respect them as much as we respect us folks that lie on a sunny patch of carpet every chance we get (that is most definitely not just me). If our unit is on Beat poetry, no one will take it personally if that style doesn’t particularly resonate with you (appreciating the topic in context and seeing its value in its time is another story— one that I personally think should most definitely be a requirement). We get and respect that other people have opinions. Whoa.
This leaves us with a lot of freedom to pursue anything we wish. In case it hasn’t been hammer-over-the-head obvious yet, I’ve discovered a heavy fascination with the psychosocial effects of war. For other people, I know there are authors, styles they are enamoured with, or other topics of discussion (social welfare, the prison system) they explore and explore and always come up with something fresh for. It seems a bit counterintuitive, but honestly, in my experience, I think the more you write about a topic and the more you explore/research it, the more you have to write about. It’s all the different perspectives, see— the 7 billion in the entire world, and I’m not even counting the artsy interpretations of the POV of a molecule or something (but seriously, science poems are the best). And should you ever find yourself done with a topic… teach it, I guess. Impart that knowledge onto someone else who wants to know everything about the world (the entire CW department comes to mind).
I don’t know; I don’t really have a thesis. I just love to be around people who love to learn, I guess. That candle-lighting analogy might work here— that lighting another candle is not a detriment to your own, that the more candles there are, the more light there is.
by Giorgia (’14)
On Monday we returned to the classroom from our annual camping camping trip at Kirby Cove sleepy and smoke-smelling with fresh faces and new stories. Among which Heather learned to play snaps, Giorgia (’14) tried to teach samba, Justus (’15) was a sexy bookcase, the freshmen underwent forceful (and ultimately unsuccessful) segregation, the Schott-Rosenfield (’14, ’17) sibling rivalry went crashing into the sea, and Colin (’16) finally took down Jules (’14), our own departmental kraken, during our traditional beach romp. Mostly, it was just, as the young ones say “cold as balls.”
Obviously, we had a lot to discuss on Monday. We did this eating delicious peanut butter chocolate cookies Noa (’16) made for her writing buddy, Lizzie (’14) (happy 17th birthday lizz!), and leftover croissants, potato chips, and izzes from the trip. We talked about our favorite moments, what went well and what didn’t.
After our Kirby Cove debrief, the freshmen went off to the dark cavern they call “Freshmen Seminar” with Maia, and the rest of CW settled down with Sarah Fontaine (<3) for umläut. It’s early on in the year, so we are currently lying out preliminary framework, along with rebooting umläut‘s online presence and overall mission statement.
That evening, five seniors– Midori Chen, Mykel Mogg, Giorgia Peckman, Frances Saux, and Abigail Schott-Rosenfield —read at the Book Club of California (of which Abigail is a member). We were asked to the Book Club by Abigail’s grandmother, Kathy, earlier this year. Each of us read through a section of the Club’s collection (the club specializes in fine print press), mostly Tangram books, and each selected one or two works from which to write from. Our response poems focused on California history, and the relation of landscape and the individual. It was quite exciting to read our work outside of the school community, especially in such a rich and resonant environment full of so many monumental works.
We also sold a full set of umläut to the Book Club!
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.
by Midori (’14)
On Friday, we visited the de Young museum, the cherry to top off the ice cream sundae of Maia’s Craft & Critique unit (this is for you, Jules, and all of your food analogies. Except, of course, Jules doesn’t actually read the blog, so I should actually slander his name, the jerk). We received a cute little fold-up worksheet and had free reign over where to go, the caveat being that we should do this quietly, preferably alone, as to enjoy the full museum experience.
I spent most of my time in the Inuit art exhibit, with all of the walrus tusk-carvings of intricate little creatures. I was particularly caught by the smoothness of it all, obviously pieced together yes, but fitted so proportionally that even the seams seemed natural. It’s awe-inspiring to consider it was all done by hand, the stone, ivory, and bone pieces as small decorations around the house, just for fun.
There was a room in particular that caught my eye, for it was really… weird. The de Young channels the sparse, elegant galleries very well, until one stumbles upon this room, with its brilliant array of glass and colors and stuff, all kind of crammed together, so there’s something strange everywhere you turn.
Well anyways, it was super fun (italics absolutely warranted). I work right across the street at the Academy of Sciences, and I rarely go to the de Young. It’s a completely different museum experience than the hustle and bustle and screaming children of the Academy, and I must say, it’s nice to just settle down and enjoy art.
I’ve been reading Petrarch— Scott, my Euro Lit teacher, introduced him to me (well, introduced him to the class, but I took major interest and asked to borrow some books). Prior to this, I’ve known Petrarch only as that one Big Deal Poet Laureate who got the crown from the Pope who wrote love poems to a Lady Laura. Y’know, the standard famous poet stuff.
Now, I know he had never met Laura, and suffered from a crippling depression that I’m surprisingly familiar with.
It’s just weird, y’know, to consider that this figure of practically-myth is actually such a familiar character. He glorified Laura to frightening heights and longed to reach that height, but obviously never could. The funny part though? Is that he knew exactly what he was doing. He was making Laura unobtainable, and hated himself all the more for not being able to obtain her love. This self-crippling cycle seems a very modern thing— we rarely think of figures from Back In The Days suffering from anxiety and depression.
Self-doubt is a very familiar feeling for me, and… Well, I don’t know if it’s comforting to know that Petrarch also had it, but it is somewhat easier to forgive myself when I remember that. It’s such a funny thing, see— just being told that your anxiety is all in your head doesn’t really help, because if it’s all in my head, it’s all on me, and I’m making a big deal out of something that doesn’t matter at all, isn’t that embarrassing? It just makes me more anxious, if anything. Reading famous poetry that many people studied and liked and empathized with reminds me that it’s not just me. Other people are people too; I am not living in a world of perfect Lauras. I shouldn’t hoist the greatness I perceive in everyone else above myself, because that’s not fair to me or to them.
This has been a little life advice, to myself more than others. Just ease up, man. Make like Petrarch and write through the sadness. Frances should make that into a motivational poster.