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An update from our sixteenth Writing Workshop with Conner Bassett

A summary of the workshop held on Saturday October 9, plus some of the output published below

The purpose of art is not to make sense, but to excite the senses. 

In an attempt to "liberate ourselves from the demands of semantic coherence," this week we focused on "nonsense," allowing ourselves to engage with a more automatic, silly, and playful type of thinking. We began with a poem written by a first grader Conner once taught that went "a poem is/ made by/ a snowman." Incredible, strange, scintillating. We then took a look at a few of Marcel Duchamp's strange sculptural artworks—the urinal, the bike wheel on a stool—as examples of nonsense. Another example of visual art, and one of our most common points of reference, were a series of paintings by Magritte, all of which made us feel as though we didn't need to understand them, we merely needed to experience them. Next, we moved into literary examples, beginning with "Your Car is Thar" (ungrammatical) by Charles Bernstein and two poems by Edward Lear—"There was an Old Man on the Border" & "There was an Old Man with a Beard," both of which were grammatically correct, but literally nonsensical. Then, we looked at two examples of nonsense by Russian poets: one untitled poem by Vladimir Khlebnikov, whose playful nonsense was similar to Bernstein's "Your Car is Thar," and "An Encounter" by Daniil Kharms, whose dry, matter of fact nonsense made us all laugh. To finish the workshop, we listened to Benedict Cumberbatch's reading of "The Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll, perhaps the most famous example of nonsense in literature.

The Challenge: Two Prompts: Prompt one: In five minutes, write the worst possible poem you can think of. Prompt two: Simply, write a nonsense poem or story. If you get stuck, just start rhyming nonsense like in Lewis Carrol's "The Jabberwocky".

The Participants: Audrey, Clara, Simran, Josh, Emma, Lina, Nova, Penny, Ethan, Shilla, Ellie, Olivia, Svitra, Sinan

Svitra Rajkumar, 13
(Fremont, CA)


Svitra Rajkumar, 13

Terra flipped through the pages of her English textbook, reading bits and pieces, but her mind was elsewhere. She was busy thinking about the meeting she would have to host later in the evening. Her little sister’s friend was having a birthday party tomorrow and she had agreed to do face painting for the kids, but now she wishes she didn’t.

She leaned back on the couch and yawned. Her other friends were going to the Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory in San Francisco tomorrow, and she couldn’t come because of some stupid party for seven year olds. Maybe there was a way she could sneak into their car and go without her parents knowing. Her Mom had recently been diving deeper into her old hobby, pottery, so she would be busy. When she was pregnant with Terra, she was obsessed with pottery and sculpting, which is why she named her daughter Terracotta.

I can’t believe I was named after a type of clay

Terra shut her English book and decided to get something to eat away her pain. Maybe she was being a tiny bit dramatic. She opened up the fridge and grabbed some instant noodles that she decided would be her dinner. As usual her Mom was still at the nearby art studio working on a new plate set so she would be home late. This gave Terra a large amount of time to plan for tomorrow. She began to heat up some water and had an idea.

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