In Paul Tran’s “Progress Report,” published on Literary Hub and featured in their forthcoming debut poetry collection, All the Flowers Kneeling (Penguin Poets, 2022), the poem catalogues the speaker’s life while filling out a form: “Photograph of the ’93 Mazda MPV he reportedly turned into an ice cream truck. / I marked Humor. / Holes where the nails had been in the wall. / I marked Self-harm.” The poem, made up of single end-stopped lines, uses a call-and-response technique to reveal new information as it progresses. Write a poem in which the speaker is filling out a form—perhaps a progress report, an immigration document, or a demographic survey. How can you use the poem’s form as a way of highlighting an important event?
The Time Is Now
“It was a challenging but exhilarating time, and I’ve come away with a deeper understanding of what I’m capable of,” writes Anjali Enjeti in her last Craft Capsule essay “How to Be a Writer and an Organizer.” In the essay she discusses the importance of finding balance as a writer and how she spent most of last year revising and editing two books for publication, teaching at a low-residency MFA program, reporting for two news publications, and organizing for leadership councils during the presidential election. Write an essay about a time in which your endurance and capacity for work was tested. Whether it be political organizing, parenting, or working several jobs, what did you learn from the experience of trying to balance multiple tasks?
In a profile of Alexandra Kleeman for the New York Times, she discusses her relationship to the speculative and the setting of a post-apocalyptic California in her latest novel, Something New Under the Sun, out this week from Hogarth. In the novel, only the wealthy have access to temperature-controlled interiors and real water. “Things that we’ve always needed, like land, a place to live, resources, become privatized and turned into possessions, when they weren’t to start with,” says Kleeman. Write a story with a speculative setting in which a necessary resource is privatized. Ask yourself “what if” when considering this altered version of reality.
In C. K. Williams’s poem “Marina,” published in the New Yorker in 2005, the speaker is reading essays by Marina Tsvetaeva as a bug makes its way across the table. As the poem progresses, lines from Tsvetaeva’s essays are interlaced with descriptions of the bug dragging its transparent wings behind it, and the bug becomes a metaphor for her difficult life. “‘The soul is our capacity for pain.’ // When I breathe across it, / the bug squats, quakes, finally flies. / And couldn’t she have flown again, / again have been flown?” Write a poem involving lines from a writer you admire. Try, as Williams does, to elucidate or challenge the featured lines.
“I had been thinking about this story for probably seven years before I drafted it,” says Sterling HolyWhiteMountain in an interview for Guernica’s Back Draft series about writing his short story “Featherweight,” which was recently published in the New Yorker. HolyWhiteMountain offers a glimpse into the first draft of the story’s opening paragraph and the final draft, and discusses his revision process for his story revolving around the breakup of a relationship. Write an essay that uses revision as a theme. Perhaps you might revise a family story you’ve been told, or consider different points of view of a memorable event. What will you leave out, and what will you add?
In an interview for the Creative Independent, Jackie Ess discusses how an Instagram account with nature photos started by her partner inspired the titular character of her debut novel, Darryl (Clash Books, 2021). “I started a Twitter account for Darryl,” she says. “I would do these little monologues as Darryl, and I think you see that the chapters are a little bit like Twitter threads.” This week, write a story with a protagonist inspired by a social media presence. Whether it be an influencer or somebody’s dad, how will their virtual mask fold into the conflict of the story?
“I will tell you all. I will conceal nothing,” writes Muriel Rukeyser in her poem “Effort at Speech Between Two People,” in which two disembodied voices confess, speak, and exchange information about their lives. In the poem, the voices are both individual and collective, and the use of caesuras serve as a visual cue for silence in a conversation. Write a poem in which two people speak without relying on the use of traditional dialogue tags. How can you focus on the sounds of the language and the potential for slippage between voices to add texture to the poem? For more inspiration, watch Carl Phillips read Rukeyser’s poem in the Poets & Writers Theater.
In an interview in the September/October 2013 issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, Jordan Pavlin, who was recently promoted to editor in chief at Knopf, speaks about how “there are often two essential people in the life of a passionate reader: a great local librarian and a brilliant, inspiring high school English teacher.” Did you have an English teacher who inspired you to become the writer you are today? Write an essay discussing the influence a teacher or mentor had on the books you read and the early stages of your writing.
The first chapter of Jennifer Egan’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel, A Visit From the Goon Squad (Knopf, 2010), titled “Found Objects,” first published in 2007 in the New Yorker, explores the perspective of a woman reckoning with a dangerous habit of stealing from others while at a session with her therapist. The conversation between Sasha and her therapist creates moments to weave in and out of the present and past. Throughout the chapter, Sasha lies to her therapist, to others, and to herself, as she struggles to figure out the reason for her addiction. Inspired by Egan, write a story set during a therapy session. What is the protagonist contending with, and how does the setting allow for the story to weave in and out of the present?
“A language is a map of our failures,” writes Adrienne Rich in “The Burning of Paper Instead of Children,” a poem that begins by reflecting on an incident involving children burning a book in a backyard. In the five-section poem, several forms and topics are discussed as the scope of the situation is widened to a global scale, then focused onto the intimacies of sexual relations, resulting in a capacious exploration of language and its failures. Write a poem that reflects upon your relationship to your first language and expands upon how communication can fail us.