Maggie Nelson at the Nourse Theater by Ren Weber

On Friday, January 19th, Creative Writing attended a conversation with Maggie Nelson presented by City Arts and Lectures at the Nourse Theater. There, Nelson talked about her books, The Argonauts and Bluets with Julia Bryan-Wilson in a onstage, recorded interview. I enjoyed hearing about how Nelson views labels and titles, particularly surrounding the idea that she is a “genius” due to the award from the MacArthur Foundation. I noticed how she seemed to slightly evade each question about labels directed at her by the interviewer (about being a queer writer, a poet vs. fiction writer, a genius, etc.) which seemed to parallel the way she dislikes the aggressive way our society attempts to classify and categorize people.

One of my favorite parts of the reading was when questions were opened up to the audience. One audience member mentioned Maggie Nelson’s background in dancing, and asked how Nelson physically feels when writing. I had never thought deeply about the connection between physicality and writing until then, because to me it had always seemed that writing must inherently be a very solitary and stagnant act. I thought it was interesting how she tied movement and writing together, creating a link between the two art forms, almost blurring the lines between the two genres. The excerpts I read before the reading from The Argonauts and Bluets eludes and bends genres as well, introducing layers of poetry, memoir, and literary analysis, which makes one question why we are so engrossed with classifying art into categories.

Maggie Nelson talked about how she can only write from experience, which means that her writing is mostly memoir. I find it interesting how writers seem to pick sides on this debate, either unable to write anything from past experiences or are mostly inspired by moments that have occurred within their own lives. However one may label their own writing, I am wholly of the opinion that art usually stems (if only minutely) from a place of personal experiences and feelings. Seeing Maggie Nelson speak through City Arts and Lectures made me question the way I view my own writing, the way we classify art, and the many boundaries we can cross when we don’t confine our work to arbitrary labels.

Ren Weber, class of 2021

A Day of Silents by Ren Weber

San Francisco Art and Film for Teens holds Art Saturday every other weekend, taking Bay Area students to the many galleries, museum exhibits, and art festivals that San Francisco has to offer.

This Saturday we attended A Day of Silents at the Castro Theater. It was a full day of cinema with silent-era films set to live music, put on by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. With Art & Film I had the opportunity to watch The Rat, a 1925 silent film about a man named Pierre Boucheron, otherwise known as “The Rat,” king of the Paris underworld. What really sold the film for me was that it was musical accompaniment by Sascha Jacobsen and the Musical Art Quintet.

Quoting the San Francisco Silent Film Festival website, “Jacobsen is the founder of the Musical Art Quintet, which performs his original compositions, and plays bass in the group, along with Matthew Szemela and Michele Walther on violin, Keith Lawrence on viola, and Lewis Patzner on cello.” The quintet’s accompaniment enhanced the silent film’s excitement and suspense, as the live music, timed to fit each scene’s tone perfectly, filled the theater. During brawls and dramatic sequences, the music had a low, ominous tone, whereas  scenes with romance and intrigue were met with soft, soothing violin melodies that support the silent film stars longing looks.

Many people have perceived silent movies to have lost their cultural relevance and value, yet, in many ways the style of silent films is still being emulated, with modern films imitating the grainy and subdued washes and tints created during the silent-film era to signify a certain mood. At A Day of Silents I learned that with the proper musical accompaniment silent films can be just as gripping and charming (or even more so!) than the films we see in cinemas today.

Ren Weber, class of 2020

Formal Transgressions by Ren Weber

In light of CW’s most recent unit on Experimental Writing with Momo Wang, I’ve been interested in what defines and limits transgressive and experimental writing. In her unit, Momo juxtaposed two literary transgressions: writing bound by set limitations and constraints, and writing with very little or no literary constraints that may use stream-of-consciousness and interiority. The examples she brought in on writing with limits and restrictions (restraining word choice, structure, or verse form) intrigued me the most.

Momo showed us many pieces that included elements of constrained writing, such as A Void by Georges Perec, a novel that entirely excludes the letter “e.” Perec is a self-proclaimed Oulipian, belonging to a group of artists who define themselves as “rats who must build the labyrinth from which they propose to escape.” They essentially attempt to use constrained writing methods to create works of art. A Void is particularly interesting to me because of the sheer amount of time and dedication it must have required; it’s difficult to imagine composing a few paragraphs of an “e”-less narrative, nonetheless a 300-page novel!

I often find myself trying to avoid limitations and constraints in creative writing. I like writing pieces that are sometimes incoherent and not bound to proper formatting, line spacing, or narrative structures. This being said, I think it would be a very interesting experience to try and write a piece in which I am limited by a vowel or verse form, and I think experimenting with this might help me hone in on the actual content of the piece. I am grateful for Momo Wang’s guidance over the week and hope to explore experimental writing in the future!

Ren Weber, class of 2020

Bruce Connor: It’s All True by Ren Weber

“I am an artist, an anti-artist, no shrinking ego, modest, a feminist, a profound misogynist, a romantic, a realist, a surrealist, a funk artist, conceptual artist, minimalist, postmodernist, beatnik, hippie, punk, subtle, confrontational, believable, paranoiac, courteous, difficult, forthright, impossible to work with, accessible, obscure, precise, calm, contrary, elusive, spiritual, profane, a Renaissance man of contemporary art, and one the most important artists in the world. My work is described as beautiful, horrible, hogwash, genius, maundering, precise, quaint, avant-garde, historical, hackneyed, masterful, trivial, intense, mystical, virtuosic, bewildering, absorbing, concise, absurd, amusing, innovative, nostalgic, contemporary, iconoclastic, sophisticated, trash, masterpieces, etc. It’s all true.”
–Bruce Conner

It’s All True at the SFMOMA is a collection of Bruce Conner’s work over fifty years as a Bay Area artist. It’s an almost overwhelming exhibit: a combination of experimental film, photographs, collages, paintings, etc. My vivid recollection of this exhibit is due not only to Conner’s ability to stretch far across many genres and medias, but also how well he carried it out.

His first film, A MOVIE, is a twelve-minute edit of old newsreels. The non-narrative film is similar to others in the collection: incorporating a washed-out, hazy black and white style and also having no story, rather a collection of images or one long shot. CROSSROADS, made in 1976, is an extremely slow-motion replay of an underwater nuclear test at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific. The intense slow-mo gives the audience room to capture every detail as the mushroom cloud descends towards the camera, expressing a deliberate destruction. Conner, who is clearly a fan of replaying and rewinding clips, includes this in BREAKAWAY, my favorite in the exhibit. The five-minute movie is a black and white rendition of Toni Basil (known for “Oh Mickey, you’re so fine”) dancing to her song, “Breakaway.” The entire film is made up of very quick shots of Basil, rapidly changing from close-up to far away, all moving quickly so she looks feathered and a flurry of white against the black background. When the song is done the clip and track rewind, becoming an eerie, indistinguishable gurgle.

Besides the films, Conner showcased his paintings and assemblages, which often include different textures created with netting or fabric layered on photo collages. These pieces as well as his ink drawings have a distinct color scheme: monochrome, dusty brown, or beige. The exhibit has a wall dedicated to punk rock show photos, appropriately gritty and faded, and in the next room the “angels,” gelatin silver prints of human silhouettes with hands outstretched towards us. These collections of photographs, as well as his avant-garde films, relay a signature style of white figures against a black background.

With many artists these days, I feel there is an underlying fear of “stretching oneself out too thin” in art. At SOTA, with separate departments, the idea is furthered that we should hone one art. However, if anything, Conner’s art disproves this in a way. His work is a full, vivid, synchronized range of art that surpasses the limitation of genres, blurring the lines and filling the gaps between them.

Ren Weber, class of 2018

A Discussion on Sappho and Commas by Ren Weber

Today the entirety of Creative Writing had a long and passionate conversation about the American school grading system (and the problems that entail). Then, with only forty minutes of class left, CWII left with Maia and the rest of us remained with Heather. She told us a story about rediscovering a book with Sappho poetry, and thus we began the reading.

First we read the foreword that included this Latin phrase: “Non omnis moriar, magnaque pars mei vitabit Libitinam.” With the power of the blessed Internet and temperamental school wifi we learned that this meant, “Not all die, and a great part of me will escape the grave.”

Something quite a bit of us realized early on about Sappho’s poetry is that each one is about 3-4 lines (at least, the poems we read). Another thing I found interesting about the process of annotating and discussing short poems, though, is that they held incredible amount of things to talk about in those short lines. Her poetry writing felt (in Heather’s words): “Sweet, sensual, luxurious.”

Then the topic came to the line in Sappho’s poem “Standing by my bed,” and it goes: “In gold sandals / Dawn that very / moment awoke me.” With short poems like this, there were so many different ways to understand it. Is the narrator waking up standing by the bed? Does the narrator sleepwalk? Is it Dawn standing by the bed? Is the poet personifying the Dawn?

Eventually we came to one understanding of the poem as Dawn wearing gold sandals, standing by a bed. Then we thought about how there could be a comma between “Dawn” and “that”. Upon remembering that these poems were written in (if I recall correctly) 3 BC, we asked ourselves: Were there even commas back then?

With another round of research we learned that commas didn’t exist at that time. Later we realized that commas could be found in other poems in the same collection, and those were simply the result of the poems’ translation.
Only two days in the Poetry Unit, days and lessons like these make me feel very excited for what is to come.

Ren Weber, class of 2019

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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