Recap on Great Writing 2016: The International Creative Writing Conference, UK, Part I

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On the outskirts of Imperial College, London and just a block away from Hyde Park and the Royal Albert Hall, in the Huxley Building set on Queens Gate road, Great Writing 2016: The International Creative Writing Conference took place Saturday 18 June through Sunday 19 June.
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On my way to the conference, a fifteen minute walk from our Kensington Flat where three generations of my family were blessed enough to call our home away from home in London, I got to see a quieter side of the great cosmopolitan city. Streets were virtually empty, and I spied one of the iconic historic blue plaques, alerting me to a former residence of none other than Benny Hill.
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The conference was all about process, valuing process more than the product of writing, which was really a pleasant surprise. Below are some tidbits from the panelists, whose ideas I will definitely be thieving for writing courses and for crafting my creative writing.

Rachel Robertson of Curtin University spoke on “A Mosaic Patterning: Space, time, and the lyric essay” where she illuminates on Bakhtin’s “chronotope,” how time and space are fused and unraveled, in which time knots and unknots itself, and narrative is suspended. Robertson cited the Zen phrase “emptiness is form and form is emptiness.” Form was a continual theme that arose throughout the conference, particularly the shaping of form through the crafting or process of art-making. Robertson compared how music and dance are the only art forms that truly free us from the historical space, embodying the “presentic” space, where time fails to be to be anchored or concretized. She also spoke of the bricolage, which was first introduced to yours truly at Miguel Syjuco’s reading of Ilustrado, when I asked him how he researched for his novel, he said he used a bricolage. Robertson spoke of bricolage as a repetition of imagery, a mosaic.

The second presentation of the panel was one of the most enlightening talks from Karma Waltononen from UC Davis. Her presentation covered “Writing Outside the Lines: From ‘Essay’ to Creative Non-fiction” where she talked about teaching the creative non-fiction essay as breaking away from the required rhetoric and composition. Many students tend to believe an essay means one thing only: a three point thesis with five point paragraphs and no real development for each paragraph.
Waltonen discussed how when she introduces an essay students feel like they’re having the rug pulled out from under them. She takes them back to the root of the word’s origin. ‘Essay’ is simply: to try.
She lets students know that they need to just take a chance and be rewarded for taking a chance.

Waltonen immerses them in the 4th genre and has her students think about the choices they make. She emphasizes that a good essay demonstrates a voice. At the end of the semester, students try to determine different writers’ style by having them guess whose voice is is whose. Another assignment is to have students record a conversation in the cafeteria, so they get a feel for what true conversational writing is.
They cover metaphor and simile, and, most especially, reducing wordiness or tightening prose.

She also goes over what she called ‘breaking rules prudently,’ which is what her grade school teacher taught her. Breaking rules should only be done intentionally for a certain effect, such as run-on sentences. What effect do you want on your reader? Finally, she has her students do a complete revision, and tells them she should only feel a slight deja vu when reading their revision. The changes should be foundational such as change in POV or moving from present to future tense. She does not want to know what happens next. Her challenge to students is letting them know that every word a student uses is a choice, and asking them “Are you being brave with this essay and how?”

Yours truly had a cushy presentation time, not too early and not too late. I was slotted at 11:15am on the first day, which gave me just enough time to see how other presenters presented, get the hang of the logistics, and then dive right into it. Along with the advantageous scheduling, I enjoyed the pleasure of presenting with two savvy professor writers who covered some innovative writing and teaching practices.

Laura Wetherington from Sierra Nevada College presented “Flipping the Creative Writing Classroom: Reading and Writing as Workshop.” In the flipped classroom, students gain exposure to new material. The flipped classroom is the anti-lecture, discussion based or workshop based, turning the workshop on its head. This kind of teaching has been dubbed the “new frontier” of the classroom. Students can reflect on authorial decisions to articulate why they made the choices they did and take creative approaches to reading. The emphasis is on reflective writing for each draft, and she has students revise with specific perameters, giving them a set amount of time to revise. Wetherington really stressed that students be conscious of the decisions they make on what to change with revisions, and she does this by giving them specific revision strategies that they have to choose from. She also quizzes them on technical terms and gives minute papers to guide their questioning with reading. Finally, she talked about the free-reading period where students came up with their own reading lists at the Poetry Center in the Sierra Nevada College. They roamed the library on their own to chose what they wanted to read to inspire their work.

Elizabeth-Jane Burnett from Newman University in Birmingham, UK covered “Trick or Retreat? The Value of Creative Writing Retreats in HE,” explaining how she takes her students to retreats where they learn how to write by deadlines. It’s a challenge to write on spot, on location, and they use the model of flipped classrooms. The marking or assessment is based on informed analytical engagement–a term I may have to borrow for my Craft is Culture class–and the students work on writing prompts first as a group then move onto their own individual work.

Our panel raised some heated debate, which was most welcome since I expect to answer the same questions and address the same reservations from my students and other faculty. For more info on my paper presentation “Craft is Culture: Writing and Reading a Global Imagination” click here and here. A South African writer kicked off the Q&A by asking me why we should force students to write diversely. She understood why reading diversely is important but writing with diversity in mind didn’t see urgent or necessary. Three other presenters answered her immediately, talking about intention, motivation, and the need to expand voice and perspective. Some recommended reading they pointed to me, which I have to look into is Paul Gilroy’s After Empire and Kimberly Crenshaw’s work on Intersectionality.

More on the conference and what I’ll be nicking for my own teaching and writing practices to come soon…

Part II: Recap on “Great Writing 2016: The International Creative Writing Conference UK

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The view from the Kensington Flat, where I stayed during the conference.

Continuing coverage of “Great Writing 2016: The International Creative Writing Conference UK,” held at Imperial College, London, there were so many enlightening panels that offered great insight on the process of writing and best practices in teaching. Below is a taste from the hastily scribbled notes I took. Check out Part I here.

Melissa Bender’s “Just Like Us?: The Novelist’s Responsibility to the Historical Record, which she said was more of a meditation, focusing on Gwendolyn Brooks, Year of Wonders, a historical account of Derbyshire, 1666, where the town of Ames was quarantined to prevent the plague. Bender highlighted the idea of fidelity and reflected on how writers make decisions to be or not to be faithful to history, knowing that there are different histories. She focused on our responsibility as writers and readers to history, and how the historical novel transports readers to a different place, which allows readers to empathize with points of view that aren’t their own. The historians’ challenge versus the historical novelists’ challenge covers such questions as (some of the below are from yours truly):

  • What or who is demonised and why?
  • What is fetishized and why?
  • What is exalted and why?
  • Are the specific subjects demonized/fetishized/exalted to reflect our contemporary values or the values of the past?
  • What is the source of all the problems?
  • How do you develop empathy though you have a different set of values?

Bender cited Sarah Vowell, who says “education is empathy” and that we learn about our situations by taking in other’s people’s POV. Its not about policing the details of historical fiction or the duty to historical record. Novelists must use their imagination since we can’t recreate the past. As readers and writers we need to think about the choices we make and the consequences we create through narratives.

Lauren Hayhurst’s research perfectly coincided with mine in her talk “Creative Writers as Cultural Representatives: A critique of the ‘political’ in relation to ‘literature’ and how Creative Writing can help reinvent Multiculturalism.” Hayhurst doesn’t doubt the power of Creative Writing in multiculturalism. She spoke of the difference between process and product, and how the process is hidden. Reviewing the idea of British Multiculturalism, which she explained was met or is viewed as “confusion and ambiguity,” she highlighted how there is no consensus in its definition. Hayhurst pointed to Paul Gilroy’s After the Empire, and how Gilroy claimed that reckoning with history requires active dialogue to create cohesion. Fiction as an engagement with creativity. Writers must take ownership of our responsibility as cultural representatives, especially since we rely and use our products, the novel or text, to engage and understand the world. What biases inform our interpretations? Hayhurst demands a recognition of novels as a source and form of knowledge. She also referenced Jennifer Web and Donna Lee Brian’s idea on “agnostic thinking,” how knowledge is contingent as opposed to “true,” which provides a framework for an active dialogue. Hayhurst urges us to examine our motivations and intentions as writers.

One of the questions her presentation raised for me is how do we maintain the creative journey and intellectual discovery for the writer but also take into account our responsibility as “cultural representatives” or as givers of “knowledge”? How do we balance our discoveries as artists with the discoveries of the reader or what we want them to discover in our work?

Hayhurst wrapped up her presentation focusing on how writing requires developmental, growing consciousness?  Aesthetic values and ethical values are tied up she argues, concluding that our positionality leads to interpretation and therefore representation to the readers. “Its about flexing the imagination, imagining for your own gain or for someone else’s,” she concluded.

I truly hope to reconnect with Hayhurst, so we can collaborate on future work!
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Toward the end of the conference, I had a chance to reconnect with a fellow Hawthornden resident, poet and professor Julian Stannard (photo above), who said that a poem is an accident. He read from his new work What Were You Thinking.

There were two papers that intriguingly covered process, valuing the craft of writing more so than the product. Annabel Banks’ “The Poesis Project: Real Time Capture of Poetic Process” and Rosie Shepherd’s of Goldsmiths College, UK, “Where is the Creative Process? Its right there!” seemed to be speaking directly to one another in terms of the physical process of writing and the process that takes form and eventually turns to content with a poem. Banks talked about how as we edit a text it grows and shrinks. The finished product could in a sense, as Banks explains, be the dead body, the corpse after its life has run its course. “We are networked, part of a knowledge matrix when we go online and work on a computer as opposed to working with the simpler technology of pen and paper” she says. Both Banks and Shepherd seemed to consider the product as secondary to the process and had me thinking how technology assists and enables content, meaning, and therefore interpretation.

Some general thoughts, that came up for yours truly is how do we imagine our imaginations? How is form formed? Craft is part artists’ intuition and other part artist’s extreme rationality. We make countless decisions as artists, and those decisions have to be calculated or based on some knowledge and prior experience or perhaps the artist’s intuition is simply based on gathered knowledge and experience. The product is a time stamp, a time capsule, and part of the continuum of work of the networked matrix. There is lots to ponder as the rains started to flood the streets of London. See the sky view from the Kensington flat below.

One more final installment to come. Stay tuned…

 

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Literary Pilgrimage 2011: Londonium, 5-12 July

July 2011 hails as a month to remember with the trip of a lifetime, a literary pilgrimage honoring favorite writers from England, Wales, and Ireland.

London served as the first leg, where we pilgrims discovered that parachute pants have made a fashion comeback and the streets of the English capital are laced with joggers who prefer to sprint with small backpacks hitched to them. What was that about? A friend from Southampton explained that many Londoners jog to work. Could this be the reason?

Nestled between the Lords Cricket Ground, the Central London Mosque, and the London Zoo, in St. John’s Wood, we lodged at the Danubius Hotel Regents Park ( 18 Lodge Road, NW8 7JT, 020 7722 7722 Subway: Edgware Road), which was seated right next to a shisha bar, known in the States as a hookah lounge. Every time we neared, the lane was filled with the scent of cherry tobacco.

Leaving most of our time to whimsy, we sketched a rough itinerary using some of the following online sources as guides:

Soon as we arrived, we dropped off our bags, and, without even taking time for a quick shower after flying in from California, we dashed over to the British Library (open: Tues-Sat 9.30am-5pm, closed Sun). I broke into tears gaping over Charlotte Bronte’s handwritten manuscript of Jane Eyre, listened to an original recording of Yeats’ “Wild Swans at Coole” and bowed down before original manuscripts by Woolf, Beethoven, Conrad, Wilde, and so many more greats. Too bad no pics are allowed in the archives.

After wiping the tears, we stumbled onto an overwhelming collection of sci-fi from its European incarnation at the gob-smacking exhibit “Out of This World: Science Fiction But Not as You Know It” Talk about over-stimulation.

Day 2 in Londonium took us north on a Thames River Cruise to Kew Garden (earliest departure from Westminster:10.30, last boat from Kew: 16.00) accompanied by the Miss Marple crew. Apparently, our interests coincide with silver Centrum-aged travelers.

George Eliot lived in one of the pastel buildings
Cruising up Thames River

Sodden with rain, Day 3 was a perfect chance to soak up the sites at Highgate Cemetery (open 10 am weekdays, 11am weekends closes 5pm, last admission 4.30pm, $L3 )where I found myself empty-handed for any offerings to leave at George Eliot’s gravestone. We also chanced upon a headstone that had been blackened with tar. I’d love to know the story behind that defacement. Winding our way through the tombstones and markers, at every turn, I felt like I saw dark presences lingering in the corner of my eye.

The best scotch egg, and the only scotch egg I’ve tasted yet, was enjoyed at the swank pub The Bull and Last tucked on Highgate Road in the posh neighborhood of Hampstead Heath, Keats’ old haunt. Wonder if he’s ever had a scotch egg, which is a soft-boiled egg wrapped in sausage which is then breaded. Its the Brits hand-held version of moco loco, and this one was perfection rolled into a beautiful oval. The sauteed greens were incredible as well. London knows how to treat their vegetables now. No longer boiled and tasteless, they give just enough heat to let produce stand on its own naked savoriness.

Before meeting up with our traveling companions, K&C on Day 4, we strolled through Portobello Market (Sat ONLY 5:30a-5p, shops open M-Sa. Tube: Ladbroke Grove or Notting Hill Gate, Pembridge Rd), which we missed on our first trip to London. After divulging in some retail therapy, we connected with K&C at Leighton’s House in Holland Park (10-5.30 closed Tu, $L5, 12 Holland Park Road, W14 8LZ, Tube High Street Kensington) , which preserves the breathtaking abode of Victorian artist Lord Frederic Leighton. Highly decadent and sumptuous in its design and decor, the architect George Atchinson makes use of all the four life-giving elements. A Byzantine pool of water greets visitors in the foyer, decked with mosaic tiles collected from Leighton’s travels to the East. His library/study, paneled with wood, elicits contemplation, and his dining room is feted in fiery rich reds and a plush wallpaper made of fabric. Light floods the stairwell that boasts paintings from artists who gifted Leighton with their own work. The second floor opens to a carved out Turkish bed that overlooks the water fountain foyer. To the right of the bed is his studio, which includes a special door wide and long enough to move huge canvas paintings in and out of the room. Leighton had two studios, including a winter studio, overlooking a lush green landscape. The winter studio avoids the obscurity of fog and smog which hindered the seasonal skies.

After Leighton’s house, we found ourselves in London’s Chinatown, which is a small section of neighborhood that doesn’t quite meet the boisterousness of San Francisco’s Chinatown or the serene history of Vancouver’s.

Day 4 started with all 841 steps up to the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral (doors open for sightseeing 8:30, 11:30 last entry. Cafe 9-5, Afternoon Tea 2:30-4pm M-Sa; Cafe 10-4 S, Evensong daily 5pm). The fourth largest church in the world turned out to be one giant tomb for Britain’s military personnel, where the Suffragettes planted a bomb in 1913. The views from the top rival the London Eye.

During our stay, we also stopped at the Emirates Stadium for a peek of the Gunner’s home. Our traveling companions, K&C stayed at the The Rookery (Peter’s Lane, Cowcross Street, EC1M 6DS – Tel +44(0)20 7336 0931, Tube: Farringdon), and they visited the following sites:

All told, we sipped and dined in at least 21 pubs throughout the three weeks traveling, which included some of these London spots, but not all: The Harp, Covent Garden, The Seven Stars, The Old Cheshire, The Jerusalem Tavern, and The Bull and Last.  Our pub research came from the following sources, The Guardian’s Ten of the Best Pubs in London and View London’s Pub & Bars

We hoped to make the following but there’s only so much time in the day, so these little hot spots may just have to wait for the next trip:

  • Brick Lane – Sunday market til 2. Tube Shoreditch or Aldgate
  • Chelsea & Nottinghill Shopping
  • Camden
  • Grovsner Square
  • The Guardian’s List of “Top 10 London Outdoor Activities”
  • Tate Britain, Millbank, Westminster, London SW1P with the show, Romantics Dates: 9th August 2010 to 31st July 2011, including paintings by Henry Fuseli, JMW Turner, John Constable, Samuel Palmer and William Blake, exploring the origins, influence    and legacies of Romantic art in Britain
  • Much Ado About Nothing  (16th May 2011 to 3rd September 2011) at Wyndhams Theatre with David Tennant and Catherine Tate.

For more writerly musings on this trip, check out the post “Writer as Traveler” at the salon and for more pics of the places above click on the following:

British Library

Thames River Cruise

Kew Garden

“Collecting Clouds”: more on Munich & London Pilgrimage

“A cloud collection is more honest than any other collection,” so says Gavin Pretor-Pinney founder of The Cloud Appreciation Society in his breathtaking interactive article from The Guardian’s, “Heavenly Clouds” featuring his new book The Cloud Collector’s Handbook. From the society’s manifesto, “[Clouds] are Nature’s poetry, and the most egalitarian of her displays, since everyone can have a fantastic view of them.” During the Munich & London pilgrimage, clouds made the sky their canvas.

In the Bavarian Alps, the clouds literally hovered in place and couldn’t be budged for anything. They seemed set in stone, as timeless and immovable as the mountains:

Garmisch

above Garmisch Olympik Stadium

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Above London, the clouds set the pace for the chaotic traffic below. They were constantly on the move, shifting, restless bodies of action and flight:

Underground Station at Piccadilly Square

London Clouds on Thames River Cruise

More on the Munich & London pilgrimage…click here

Munich & London Pilgrimmage

Returning from Munich & London with over eight hundred shots snapped on the camera. A quarter of them still need to be excised. Many of them require rotation and a little touching up.

Nymphenburg Palace-front ground statueNymphenburg Palace-front ground statue

Munich UndergroundMunich Underground

Trafalgar Square with Double Decker Bus in BackgroundTrafalgar Square with Double Decker Bus in Background

London EyeLondon Eye from Thames River Cruise

Going Under the Millenium BridgeGoing Under the Millenium Bridge

Shillings left in my shoes. I forgot to take the coins out after running the security gauntlet at Heathrow. Receipts transacted in German are scattered on my desk along with pages of notes to transcribe and archive. More musings on the literary pilgrimmage to come…

For more photos on Munich & London click here

William Boyd on London’s Parks

From Sunday, June 21, 2009 The Guardian | Culture | Books | Fiction, Boyd “takes an A-Z literary tour of London’s Parks” in his article “‘Its all too Beautiful'”. Brilliant method of organizing a stream-of-conscious essay!

Charles Dickens and Jane Austen, in the pantheon of English literature, perhaps best illustrate the split between the “town” writer as opposed to the “country” one. It is a very 19th-century juxtaposition, made particularly acute and particularly obvious as the industrial revolution took its remorseless grip on the nation. The widespread development of the city park, in turn, was largely a 19th-century phenomenon. The filth and foetor of the Victorian metropolis made the green spaces all the more important. I have a history of London composed solely by its maps, and one can see the exponential growth of the city over the centuries reflected by the steady appearance of its parks, like green islands in the burgeoning, cross-hatched grid of London’s streets – not so much the city’s “lungs” as the city’s verdant archipelago in its dark and grimy sea.

Definition of a park. It’s time to establish precisely what we mean by a “park”. I’m thinking principally of London, but I feel this definition will fit all parks in all cities of the world. There are certain determining characteristics, necessary conditions, for park status. First, there must be tall, mature trees, the older and taller the better. Second, the majority of the trees in the park must give the impression of random planting…Read more