Friday, January 30, 2009

De-Familiarize the Familiar*

All right, I realize these are crazy, but here’s the newest. This came together as a result of three separate things. 1) Imad was talking about Gordon Lisch, and one of his revision assignments was to go count the number of sentences in your story, go to a bar or a restaurant or something, and write down ten or so random numbers between 1 and the number of sentences in your story. The revision was to eliminate those sentences. 2) I was helping a student to write a sonnet, and had her do some free writing on a topic of interest, and she wrote words and phrases having to do with religion, so I started thinking of holy numbers, 3, 6, 7, 9, 33 etc. We paired those words and came up with some interesting results. 3) I had my juniors read “Thanatopsis” today.

Here’s the assignment.

Write DEATH at the top of a piece of paper and, for five minutes, free-write a list of words and/or phrases that come to mind.

Count the number of words and/or phrases. Write the number at the top of the page. Students had any number from 10 to 165.

Get a partner. Have your partner give two random numbers from 1 to the number written at the top of your page. Find the two corresponding words and/or phrases and go nuts combining them. See what you get. Some Results: Teabags of Darkness, Skull Popsicle, Bewildered Justice, Dirt Finger, Murder Crayons, Rough Cape.

Finally, explain The Directive (something "Thanatopsis" is desperately in need of). Have students turn their phrase into a directive. Steep those teabags of darkness, lick the skull Popsicle, slap bewildered justice, kiss the dirt finger, snap the murder crayons, touch death’s rough cape.

*Something Elton Glaser says is one of the goals of poetry

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