My poor neglected blog! I first started it so that I would have a platform to write, but I have been doing so much writing for my MFA program that I’ve had no time to spare for any other “scribblings”.
We had our last Creativity class – the core class for the course – on Monday, and I have been feeling rather bereft. It’s like coming to the end of a wonderful book when you just don’t want to relinquish the characters and the experiences. It’s quite incredible how much I have learned. I even begin to feel the first twinges of being a real writer.
The extraordinary thing about the course is that so much of it was to do with creativity other than writing, to make one aware that writing never happens in isolation. It is the synthesis and crystallization of experience, memory, observations. So, we took photographs, interacted with a chamber music ensemble, became intimate with a work of art at one of the museums, we hand-made books, made a nature sculpture and, through it all, we kept a journal.
The first project was the photo project, taking detailed, close up photographs as well as random ones, then finding connections between the two. This we made into a PowerPoint presentation for the class. I called mine “Pairings” and this is it:
The next big project was to visit either the BMA or the Walters and spend time with a piece of art; studying it, making notes, sketching it, photographing it. I chose Marguerite Gérard’s painting called Motherhood.
Then we had to write a letter (or two) about it. Out of that letter, we looked for a text within the text and made a book inspired by that. After a couple of false starts, I extracted a story about the servant girl in the painting, and made the book to look as if it came from that period around 1800.
The process from the idea to the execution took every ounce of ingenuity! I folded back double pages and inserted the little pictures on each of the four facing pages. The biggest problem was the binding. I eventually settled on sewing it and covering the spine with more of the old shopping bag I had cut up for the cover.
Our next project was a nature sculpture. I had never heard of Andy Goldsworthy. This is the link to his website.
He’s an English artist who uses rocks, stones, flowers, even ice to create sculptures, and then photographs them because clearly many, if not most, of them are ephemeral. We made our own nature sculptures, photographing the process and also the devolution. This is my finished piece before it began to blow away and decay.
A thread running through the semester was the poem, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird by Wallace Stevens. We copied it into our journals, and read it in different ways at the start of each class. Then we were given a collaborative project to work on, inspired by one of the stanzas from the poem. Our stanza was:
I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.
All three of us in our group had a musical background in one way or another and the whistling seemed to suggest a musical theme, so we came up with the idea of composing a little tune, which we recorded at the radio station. For our “book” I soaked paper in tea to make it look like parchment. The composer in our group wrote out her tune in plainchant, and I used the calligraphy pens my mother gave me years ago to write out the stanza.
We then made a concertina book that was like a CD cover.
When we presented it to the class, we had them all sing along with us, and that was fun – multi-layered collaboration.
All the calligraphy inspired these two journal entries:
For our final project we worked again from a poem – quite a challenge for all us non-fiction types. This time it was a poem called Things I Didn’t Know I Loved by the Turkish poet and dissident, Nazim Hikmet. I wrote a piece about Things I Didn’t Expect, starting with the class and the course, and developing it into thoughts and ideas about unexpected aspects of adapting to a new country. This time I had the idea of making the book to look like a passport.
The MFA program hosts a reading series each semester. For the first one, our professor, Kendra Kopelke, gave a reading from her newly published collection of poems inspired by the paintings of Edward Hopper. The poet and memoirist, Mark Doty, was another reader, and we made journals entries about his book, Still Life With Oysters and Lemon.
The fiction writer, Amy Hempel, gave the final reading for the semester. When she addressed our class beforehand one of the things she said that really struck a chord for me was that she doesn’t have such a big imagination but she is good at observation. That’s so how I feel; I couldn’t ever imagine creating a whole novel out of my imagination, for instance, but the idea of creative non-fiction has opened up a whole new world for me.
As well as reading the book by Mark Doty, we also dipped into the letters that Rainer Maria Rilke wrote; to a young poet, and to his wife about Cezanne.
And we read from Walden; or, Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau. This was interesting because, serendipitously, I had listened to it on tape over the summer. It’s very different on the page.
And all of this is just the Creativity course! The Seminar in Reading and Writing is another whole blog post.