Writing to Music by Xuan Ly

Last Wednesday marked CW’s last day with artist in residence, Taylor Duckett. For the last two weeks, Taylor taught us the foundations for performance poetry. In the unit, we differentiated a storyteller from a music artist and analyzed what being a storyteller meant; we wrote and performed pieces written to a sixteen beat, and compared a line of poetry to a measure of music. As these lesson changed each day, one aspect would stay the same: the free-writes.

At the beginning of the unit, Taylor asked each student for one song in order to compile a class playlist that we would listen to for each free-write. Every day to start class, end break, and end class, Taylor would play one of our songs for us to respond to. Her challenge for us was to keep our pen moving for the entire song. Which is difficult when I am trying to jam to a song that I have not heard before, or trying to make out lyrics on the first listen.

Taylor’s hope was that we incorporate what we hear into our writing. For each song, maybe we would use the song’s beat in our piece, maybe sample a few lyrics, or respond to how the song made us feel. Typically, when I listen to music, I am reminded of the events surrounding the first time I heard the song, but what happens when I hear the song for the first time? With a pen in hand and paper in front of me, I found that, for me, I am transported back to a time that resembles the mood of the song.

Oftentimes, listening to a certain song on the list brought up a memory that I had not stopped to think of since. For example, the song “Handle With Care” by The Traveling Wilburys reminded me of when my brother and I would go on bike rides to a school near our house during the summer. I found that music can evoke emotion by relating to its audience with parts like the beat or lyrics. The ability for music to bring up instances from the past is something I found fascinating.

While I was able to enjoy the music and relive, mostly happy, memories that the songs brought back to life, it was difficult for me to write a creative response to the song. I felt that I was too focused on listening to the song, or trying to uncover more details of a memory that the song evoked rather than allowing the song to aid my creative writing.

Everything that Taylor taught during her performance poetry unit were things that I had not attempted or observed before. Her lesson also prepared us for our upcoming showcase.

CW Performance Poetry Playlist

  1. I’m Not in Love – 10cc
  2. And the Waltz Goes On – Andre Rieu
  3. Millionaire – Kelis
  4. In the Kingdom – Mazzy Star
  5. Wigwam – Bob Dylan
  6. Cassiopeia – Joanna Newsom
  7. What You Won’t Do For Love – Bobby Caldwell
  8. Moody’s Mood for Love – Tito Puente
  9. Heavenly Father – Isaiah Rashad
  10. Every Planet We Reach is Dead – Gorillaz
  11. Will of the Wisp – Miles Davis
  12. Thinning – Snail Mail
  13. Feel It All Around – Washed Out
  14. Pienso En Mira – Rosalia
  15. Fireworks – Animal Collective
  16. Transit – Fennesz
  17. Suzanne – Leonard Cohen
  18. Handle with Care – The Traveling Wilburys
  19. Lonely Girl – Oceanlab
  20. Mythological Beauty – Big Thief
  21. Pool – Tricot
  22. He Loves Me (Lyzel in E Flat) – Jill Scott
  23. Wham Bam Shang-a-lang – Silver
  24. Fancy Shoes – The Walters
  25. Come Together – Beatles
  26. Powerlines – Riz La Vie
  27. No Other Plans – Sunny Levine
  28. Graceland – Paul Simon
  29. Hear You Me – Jimmy Eat World

Xuan Ly, Class of 2021

The Four Fundamental Conditions of Theatre by Xuan Ly

Playwriting is the last of Creative Writing’s three main units (the others being poetry and fiction). This week, for this six-week unit, Creative Writing welcomed our artist-in-residence, Nicole Jost. It is Nicole’s second year teaching CW. She is a local playwright, and is finishing her doctorate at SFSU this spring!

In the week that Nicole has been us, we have read four plays, seen one play, and learned about the four fundamental conditions of theatre. The four conditions include: collaborations, group audience, suspension of disbelief, and perpetual present. These four things, among others, are what differentiates playwriting from other forms of literature. Collaborating with other actors and writers is a crucial part of playwriting. With novels, there is no need for collaborations unless the author is co-writing their novel. Collaborations allow more than one perspective on the play. While reading a novel or collection of poems, there is only one person in the audience. While viewing a play, the group audience and surroundings may reflect how a single viewer experiences the show. Suspension of disbelief implies that the audience must believe that the world that has been created onstage is real, despite any other logical reasoning. Lastly, the idea of perpetual present time urges the audience to forget any past knowledge of what the topic of the play, or what the play is about. The idea encourages the audience to experience it in the present as if they did not have any prior knowledge.

These four fundamental conditions allow audiences to more thoroughly enjoy the piece that the playwright has created. It also helps the playwright take the audience’s experience into account. During playwriting, we are taught not just as writers, but actors as well. I am excited to see what where next few weeks of playwriting with Nicole takes us.

Xuan Ly, class of 2021

Haiku by Xuan Ly

For the past month, Heather has led the freshmen and sophomores through a six-week poetry unit. We have read and analyzed many wonderful poems such as E.E. Cummings’ “Chanson Innocente,” Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” and Rupert Brooke’s “Sonnet Reversed.” We have explored concrete poetry (or shaped poetry), open form poetry, and traditional form poetry. The most recent traditional style we have learned about is the haiku.

This form of traditional poetry originates from Japan. The Japanese courtsmen would pass letters in 5-7-5 form for the recipient to respond in 7-7 syllable form. This five line, 5-7-5-7-7 syllable poem they would create is called the tanka. The haiku comes from the longer tanka, taking only the beginning 5-7-5 part. Courtsmen would write about a single moment in nature that expresses something larger than the haiku describes. For example, this haiku about the emotions the speaker felt after a staring eye-to-eye with a snake by Kyoski:

The snake slid away.
But the eyes that glared at me
Remained in the grass.

This poem describes moment after locking eyes with a snake. The glare stays in the speaker’s mind similar to an afterimage. The first line slips off the tongue like a snake slithers smoothly through grass. One of the words that stands out the most is “glared” in the second line. It breaks the silky feeling that the first line gives. The word “glared” portrays an intensity of the moment that cannot come across by using a word like “gazed.” The third line, “remained in the grass,” signifies the impression that the snake left on the speaker. It also could represent the shedding of the snake’s skin that often shows change. If this poem were taken into the context of real life relationships, the snake could represent someone that came in and out of the speaker’s life but left a lasting impression that the speaker cannot forget. There are so many ways readers can interpret this haiku, which is one of the most amazing aspects of this traditional form.

Haikus may be one of the most well-known forms of poetry. The haiku is seemingly straightforward, but as we learned this week, haikus complement Japanese culture’s appreciation for nature and simplicity. We also experienced the difficulty in creating such a short beautiful representation of nature and life relationships. In class, Heather had us collaborate with the person to our right to create a tanka. One person would begin by writing a haiku. We would then pass the poem to the next person for them to respond in two lines written in 7-7 syllable form to complete the tanka. The result of the tankas were astonishing. The thoughtful lines and responses connected so well. Despite the similarities of nature and love, each tanka was entirely unique to themselves.

Writing haikus is much for difficult than throwing words into a form. Haikus are intended to express nearly indescribable emotions and surroundings in only a few syllables.

Xuan Ly, class of 2021

October Heat by Xuan Ly

“It’s like a microwave in there,” Heather exclaimed gesturing towards her office. The main classroom is no different. Within the first months of school, the Creative Writing room became notorious for the heat trapped inside; so being stuck in the there for three hours everyday isn’t always pleasant. San Francisco’s unorthodox October heat also added to the issue. Not only has the autumn sun kept us cooking in the Creative Writing “microwave” for most of the school year, but the collateral damage of the recent wildfires, turning North California into dust, gave us no choice but to keep the doors closed.

Over the past week, the Northern California fires have been unstoppable, spreading smoke and ash into the atmosphere that blew down the coast of California. This has affected the quality of San Francisco’s (among other cities) air, turning the condition to “Code Red: Unhealthy” in a matter of days. At school, many students began wearing facemasks and were heavily advised to stay inside. This meant no one dared to open the back door of the CW room, even when it became unbearably hot.

Despite the lingering heat and suffocating atmosphere, CW continued to prepare for our upcoming fall showcase: Metamorphosis. In groups of four, we would read and revise each other’s work through a process called workshopping. We repeated this process for three long days, sculpting our pieces to the best it could be. Then all thirty of us practiced performing our piece in front of the Spoken Arts director, Rahman. After listening to each performance, he would give tips on how to improve our presentation.

Most afternoons, the smoke would cause the sun to glow red, similar to the fluorescent color of lava. “The world is ending!” students screamed as they studied the sun and dodged floating ashes. As the radiating orb began to set in the evening, magnificent shades of purple, pink, and orange would illuminate the sky like a light show, changing as darkness loomed above. Before the sun disappeared, many people were able to snap photos of the beautiful evening because of the warm October air. Even though us San Franciscans aren’t used to weather over sixty-five degrees, it was nice to see something other than blankets of gray fog.

Xuan Ly, class of 2021