Old Notebooks & New Directions
Very often, the key to writing lies not in inspiration, but in the accretion and management of language. We’re often told to keep a notebook and write everything down—but what does that actually look like? Where does the poem form? How do we transition from being the magpie to the maker? In this seven-week online course, we’ll develop new compositional processes, first by gathering a great amount of textual material in a notebook, then harvesting it into poems. Authors and journal-keepers we’ll discuss: Rainer Maria Rilke, John Ashbery, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Sylvia Plath, Donald Hall, Robert Hass, Joan Didion, Susan Sontag and Elizabeth Bishop, among others.
The first three weeks of the course will be our Gathering period. This will be labor-intensive: writers will be expected to add daily to their notebooks and to find and transcribe language—quotations, eavesdropped speech, two- and three-word combinations—from at least two new sources each week. Our online sessions during this period will be devoted to discussion of process and texts we’re reading to complicate and kickstart our creative inputs. Following that initial period, the next four weeks will be the Harvest. Using the notebooks we’ve filled as foundational material, we’ll employ a number of different procedural strategies to build, collage, revise and rethink our poems, which we’ll workshop every week. In so doing, we’ll discover how much of poem-making comes not from composition, but from juxtaposition. By the end of the seven weeks, students will have the experience to set off in new directions in their writing practice, with a refreshed sense of what authorship really means. Class sessions will meet synchronously via Zoom every Tuesday night, and assignments, poems and critiques will be shared via Wet Ink.
Jay Deshpande is the author of Love the Stranger (YesYes Books, 2015), named one of the top debuts of 2015 by Poets & Writers, and the chapbook The Rest of the Body (YesYes Books, 2017). A Stegner Fellow at Stanford University and the winner of the Scotti Merrill Memorial Award and Narrative‘s Annual Poetry Contest, he has also received fellowships from Kundiman, Civitella Ranieri and the Key West Literary Seminar. His poems have recently appeared in Denver Quarterly, Washington Square, LARB Quarterly Journal and Horsethief. He holds a BA in English from Harvard and an MFA in creative writing from Columbia University, and he has taught workshops for Poets House, the Academy of American Poets, Rutgers and the MFA program at Columbia University.