Middle School Reading Adventures by Lauren Ainslie

As part of an effort to improve Creative Writing’s Middle School outreach, the director of Creative Writing, Heather Woodward, had us complete a survey detailing our reading habits in Middle School, as well as the English reading and writing assignments we completed. It seemed to me that I had read very few books, only a few appearing vividly when I tried to recall them. I felt depressed, knowing that I had blasted through shelves of books in elementary school, and it seemed as though I had only read five in the following three years. There were a few factors I immediately knew to have caused this in part: time constraints, re-reading, and the internet. For most kids (in my experience), their parents give them their first cellphone in sixth grade. Before then, our only option for relaxing entertainment was reading books; I was forced into reading by boredom. Then, a new option appears, one that requires a lot less work, and so it makes sense that I’m reading a little less. As for time constraints, we suddenly had real homework, so that made sense, and as for re-reading, if technology wasn’t cutting it, I would fall back to something familiar that didn’t require real participation. 

All of this made me re-examine my relationship with reading for entertainment throughout my life, and why it changed. After thinking about it for a few weeks I’ve come to the conclusion that yes, I did read more in Middle School, but the books mattered a lot less. Unlike before, I don’t have to read, it’s harder and more time consuming, and reading of my own volition made the book’s impact more meaningful. As cringey as it sounds, I’ve also been coming to terms with my own identity, and how I was placed in current society, and books were a more personal guide to life. I also began writing in Middle School, which changed the whole game, as reading also became a tool to better my writing skills. Thinking about the stages I had to go through to understand where reading would fit in with my daily life makes me appreciate books more, and even pushed me to lend out books to friends, to share the joy of literature with them.  At first I wanted to yell at my younger self to read more books, but I now understand that taking a step back, and realizing why I returned, gave me the value I place on books today.


–Lauren Ainslie Class of 2021

Red Indian Road West Reading by Anna Geiger

“Gears Turning Poetry Series” at Modern Times Bookstore

In Creative Writing, once every six­-week period, each student attends a literary reading
that they then write a reflection about. Typically, I go to smaller readings at local bookstores that allow the audience to feel intimate and close with the writer who is being featured. On January 10th, I attended a reading at Modern Times Bookstore that focused around the experiences and ancestry of Native American poets and the recently published poetry anthology Red Indian Road West. I assumed that the reading would be similar to those I have usually attended, with a similar atmosphere. However, I am writing this post on the event because it was altogether the most enlightening, entertaining, and personally influential readings I have been to.

I had never been to Modern Times previously, and upon joining the crowd for the reading, I was immediately introduced to what seemed to be a whole literary community. Each poet and audience member knew one another, which contributed to an atmosphere of security and enthusiasm for every reader. The event began with readings from three Native American poets who had work in Red Indian Road West, primarily stories about their family and ancestral roots. Because I am not knowledgeable about many aspects of Native American culture, and I have come to realize that my favorite way to learn about different communities is through the deeply personal context of poetry and other writing, this aspect of the reading was fascinating. The other artist at the reading was a guitar player. He sang three songs that he wrote and composed himself, that were all a combination of alternative and country sounds. His songs were entertaining and witty, one about how he was doing assigned reading for college and realized that Jack Kerouac was “kind of a dick,” one written in 2012 about eating in a diner when people believed the world was going to end, and the last one of finding a giant squid. Listening to his music was one of my favorite parts of the event because his songs combined skill, good acoustics, and lyrics that were a balanced combination of funny and unique.

Up until this point, I already felt as if I was becoming immersed in this rich community that apparently regularly congregates at Modern Times readings; however, the most important part of the night would still be an entirely new experience for me. At the end of the reading, people in the audience began to encourage me to read one of my poems, as they had asked earlier whether I was a writer, and I reluctantly accepted. I am typically awkward, uncomfortable, and nervous when faced with reading my work in front of a crowd, even when I have rehearsed doing so. It took quite a lot of willpower to talk myself into going onstage, but I am glad that I agreed to read one of my pieces. The sense of reassurance and encouragement that came from the audience allowed me to come out of the reading feeling more confident about performing in front of strangers. I was not rehearsed, and as a result did not read entirely smoothly, but since I went to the event, I’ve realized that being confident about sharing your work is not about reading it perfectly; it is about putting yourself out there and trying new things, even if it seems daunting, In the future, I am going to seek out opportunities to read my work for people instead of being nervous about it, which is a tool that I believe will help every young writer to become more assured about their writing.

Anna Geiger, class of 2017

Read A Book, by Harmony Wicker

Before I was accepted into the Creative Writing Department, I often did not read literature outside of young adult novels. I had felt as though I had found my home in-between the lines of badly-written romances. My knowledge of how to develop my writing was, therefore, limited to stories that often existed in the Twilight universe. It seemed to me, in my pre-high school days, that I could learn everything I needed know by sticking to what I already knew. I never imagined that I could find pleasure in the words of old English novels, contemporary poetry, personal narrative, autobiographies, translated stories, and culturally diverse work. (The list goes on.) In this way, I am thankful for the Creative Writing Department because it pushed me to overcome my fear of venturing beyond teenage pulp fiction.

By being introduced to unfamiliar ways of storytelling, I was able to gain new insights into the art of writing. I learned how to comprehend complex writing, which helped me get a better understanding of what literature could accomplish. The world of complex literature had opened up to me. Somehow, I learned an amazing code that lets me join some bootleg version of The Breakfast Club where reading and writing is at the center of our lives. As I read a range of literary forms from the plays of Shakespeare, to the inclusive poetry of Walt Whitman, and the beautiful language of Audre Lorde, I became more comfortable in my ability to understand writing.

As I am guided toward new genres and literary forms by the curriculum and teachers of the Creative Writing Department, more and more of these stories surface, and I get to discover them. These discoveries make me excited to develop my own writing and ideas about life. And by doing so, I have become a more entertaining, intelligent, and engaging person. Hopefully, I will continue to venture into the large variety of unfamiliar genres so that I drive myself to be the most amazing version of me.

Harmony Wicker, class of 2018

Talking About Reading by Colin Yap

As a kid, I harbored a secret belief that the way I read was much, much different than the way anybody else read. It wasn’t driven by a superiority complex—I just didn’t understand why people talked about books the way they did. Admittedly, I had no better solution for the problem of how stories should be discussed. I adopted the personal policy that talking about stories ruins them, and that was it for me. Nobody had the right to muck up the pipeline between the individual writer and the individual reader.

Growing as both a writer and reader in the Creative Writing Department has forced me to confront this prejudice. The principal exercise of the department is deconstruction: the dismantling and analysis of the working parts of poems, stories, and plays. No sentence is left untouched, and no theme unnoticed in our discussions. While for most of my young life I thought of this act as poisonous, I’ve come to realize the value in a shared understanding. The more I talk about words and stories, the more I understand them, in a way that is wonderfully separate from myself. There was no big event that spurred this change, just a gradual willingness to step outside of my singular interpretation, and appreciate the hundreds of different ways a piece could be read. In this way, I began to understand the miracle of the word “I,” in fiction and in life, with its innumerable owners.

Being a part of Creative Writing means being a part of a community that values the intentionality of words above all else. It means being a part of a group of people who cares about writers: about Eliot, Hemingway, Murakami. But most of all, we care about each other, and the work each of us is producing. We critique and compliment and push one another. I think my younger self underestimated the idea of conversation surrounding stories. I maintain the belief that I read and write in a much different way than everybody else. However, it’s not a phenomenon that’s exclusive to me. For all of my high school years, I’ve been able to surround myself with people who love words as much I do. They’ve shown me how much I love to debate, to talk endlessly about stories, and made me a believer in a community of lovers of language. 

Colin Yap, class of 2016

Reading Poetry by Isaac Schott-Rosenfield

I started reading poetry again. Not that I really had stopped, but I hadn’t read any in maybe months. I’d been in a fiction unit in school, which meant reading it and writing strictly prose for class, and prose was all I was getting in my English class with The Great Gatsby and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Plus I’d been reading novels back to back; Hemmingway’s A Moveable Feast and A Farewell to Arms, and Faulkner’s The Wild Palms. The tangibility of the prosaic object assailed me on all sides. The poem was being subverted to the abstract slur which many of my peers maintain it is. It was too fanciful and too intellectual in turns.

I was beginning to have doubts.

Then my mother asked me to help her find a poem. I went to grab a book of poetry, and looking at the bookshelf, got distracted with the titles and authors that jumped out at me. I made a stack of books I’d read, and grabbed a few I hadn’t, looking for the poem. I brought a few books—Unattainable Earth by Czeslaw Milosz, The Simple Truth by Philip Levine, a book of Merwin, a book of Ferlinghetti, and a copy of The Bhagavad Gita—to bed, and then to school the next morning.. In a couple days I wrote a poem, unbidden.

It hadn’t left.

I am always scared poetry has left me. That I won’t like it anymore, that I won’t be able to write it, that no one but a poet would ever read it. It turns into a blank word document and retreats up in to the air.

But only for a while.

Isaac Schott-Rosenfield, class of 2017

In The Redwood Grove by Mykel Mogg

In the spirit of Doing What We Want (which is the name of our 3 day unit in which we explore a list of Things We Want To Do More Of In Creative Writing), we hopped on a bus and went to the botanical gardens. Magnolia leaf hats were worn, leaves were licked, and birds and airplanes were listened to.

We almost didn’t go because of the weather. It was damp and gray, and we were worried about getting cold. But we decided by popular vote to go anyways and get our butts wet. We went to the redwood grove, where there is a log podium and some benches. We took turns going up to the podium and standing on the wobbly stump to read short pieces we’d written.

I’ve recently been in a bit of a writing rut, but listening to the diversity of voices in our department riff on mysteriously similar themes never fails to inspire me. I filled up a page of my notebook with poetic odds and ends instead of the lists of facts/responsibilities that it’s been filled up with over the past few weeks.

Just as we confronted the cold to go out and have an adventure, a lot of us confronted feelings of inadequacy in order to step up to the podium and say, “Hey guys, this is my art. It’s worth your time and attention.”

I’m thinking about the how incredibly lucky we were to be somewhere damp today when our state is in the middle of a drought. And I wonder how that connects to the feelings we have to confront to share our art with each other. Anyways, I loved our non-judgemental sharing space. I leave you with these thoughts and an assertive moo, which is apparently how I express deep appreciation for writing now.




CW Alum at an Oakland Reading!

Reading alert! The lovely Sayre Quevedo, who graduated from the Creative Writing department last year, is going to be featured at the Bitchez Brew reading series once again. He, along with several other talented writers, will be reading at the Awaken Cafe in Downtown Oakland on May 12th at 7:30 pm. Come and have an utterly “bohemian” time, maybe do some old-fashioned networking, or make some neat friends.


Thursday at City Lights

The Book of A Thousand Eyes by Lyn Hejinian

Written over the course of two decades, The Book of a Thousand Eyes was begun as an homage to Scheherazade, the heroine of The Arabian Nightswho, through her nightly tale-telling, saved her culture and her own life by teaching a powerful and murderous ruler to abandon cruelty in favor of wisdom and benevolence. Hejinian’s book is a compendium of “night works”—lullabies, bedtime stories, insomniac lyrics, nonsensical mumblings, fairy tales, attempts to understand at day’s end some of the day’s events, dream narratives, erotic or occasionally bawdy ditties, etc. The poems explore and play with languages of diverse stages of consciousness and realms of imagination. Though they may not be redemptive in effect, the diverse works that comprise The Book of a Thousand Eyes argue for the possibilities of a merry, pained, celebratory, mournful, stubborn commitment to life.

Lyn Hejinian is a poet, essayist, teacher, and translator. She is the author of several books of poetry including Saga/ Circus, A Border Comedy(Granary Books, 2001), Slowly and The Beginner (both published by Tuumba Press, 2002), and The Fatalist (Omnidawn, 2003). The University of California Press published a collection of her essays entitled The Language of Inquiry in 2000. Hejinian is also actively involved in collaboratively created works, the most recent examples of which include a major collection of poems by Hejinian and Jack Collom titled Situations, Sings (Adventures in Poetry, 2008). Other collaborative projects include a work entitled The Eye of Enduring undertaken with the painter Diane Andrews Hall and exhibited in 1996; a composition entitled Qúê Trân with music by John Zorn and text by Hejinian; two mixed media books (The Traveler and the Hilland the Hill and The Lake) created with the painter Emilie Clark; the award-winning experimental documentary film Letters Not About Love, directed by Jacki Ochs; and The Grand Piano: An Experiment in Collective Autobiography, co-written with nine other poets. Translations of her work have been published in Denmark, France, Spain, Japan, Italy, Russia, Sweden, China, Serbia, Holland, China, and Finland. She is the recipient of a Writing Fellowship from the California Arts Council, a grant from the Poetry Fund, and a Translation Fellowship (for her Russian translations) from the National Endowment for the Arts; she received an Award for Independent Literature from the Soviet literary organization “Poetic Function” in Leningrad in 1989. She has traveled and lectured extensively in Russia as well as Europe, and Description (1990) and Xenia (1994), two volumes of her translations from the work of the contemporary Russian poet Arkadii Dragomoshchenko, have been published by Sun and Moon Press. Since 1976 Hejinian has been the editor of Tuumba Press and from 1981 to 1999 she was the co- editor (with Barrett Watten) of Poetics Journal. She is also the co-director (with Travis Ortiz) of Atelos, a literary project commissioning
and publishing cross-genre work by poets. She is currently serving as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. She teaches in the English Department at the University of California, Berkeley, and is the Chair of the UC-Berkeley Solidarity Alliance, an activist coalition of union representatives, workers, staff, students, and faculty fighting to maintain the accessibility and affordability of public higher education in California.

Poetry Cafe Show!

The time for our annual January Poetry Cafe has come once again! As usual, the seniors are running the show, from venue to auditions and all the in-between. There are two evenings, each with its own arsenal of poems: Friday, January 27 (at 7:30) is being held on the Mainstage at School of the Arts. Saturday, January 28 (at 7:30) is being held at the Greenhouse Cafe

on West Portal. Please come and bring friends! Who won’t want to spend their weekend with cultured and opinionated teenagers, right?