An update from our fifth Writing Workshop with Conner Bassett
A summary of the workshop held on Saturday May 15, plus some of the output published below
"The turn is the most important literary effect since Homer wrote his epics... It is the dramatic and climactic center, the place where the intellectual or emotional release first becomes clear and possible." -T.S. Eliot
"If there is no turn, no transformative moment, then the poem is a journal entry, at best a laundry list of reflections and anecdotes, or what I think of as a 'litany of relapses'–the barren passage of time unthwarted, moving predictably toward a predictable end." -Gregory Pardlo
For this week's Writing Workshop, Conner turned our attention towards the multitudinous uses of the "poetic turn." Building off an earlier talk on "veering," the class began with a group analysis of the poem"Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy's Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota" by James Wright. We then defined "the turn," in its purest form, as the point when "a text breaks its deepest and most characteristic habit." Next, we turned to one of the shortest stories ever written, "The Dinosaur," by Augusto Monterroso, noting how the story's independent clause, "the dinosaur was still there," constituted a turn from the dependent clause, "When he awoke." Thus, we learned that turns can even occur within a single sentence. We then turned to one of Kobayashi Issa's haikus in order to denote how turns can constitute hypocrisy and contradiction. Following our discussion of Issa was a reference to Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon, which, in its ending, represented a turn into magical realism away from its prior logic of realism. Our penultimate literary reference was that of Lydia Davis' short story, "Mown Lawn." We turned to this story as a depiction of multiple turns within a single space—in fact it was a story made up almost entirely of turns! Finally, as a warm up to our final prompt, we spent a minute trying to write out the last two lines in John Ashberry's poem, "This Room."
To watch a video of the instruction in full, click here.
The Challenge: Write a story or a poem that uses a "turn." For example, this can be a turn like the constant shifting in Lydia Davis' "Mown Lawn," Issa's haiku that had an ironic, imagistic shift, or like the turn in Ashberry's poem, "This Room," wherein he turns to address the reader.
The Participants: Georgia, Jackson, Lucy, Sophia, Svitra, Liam, Aditi, Emma, Zhilin, Simran, Noa, Julia, Sasha, Sinan, Harine, Isolde, Josh, Sena, Alice, Samantha, Emi
Isolde Knowles, 9
The bird sat on the branch pruning its feathers. They were brilliant blue like the ocean. A butterfly carefully landed in a flower as its delicate wings beat it down. The beat of a woodpecker could be heard in the distance. A cow moved in a not too distant farmhouse. The bird cocked it’s head hungrily at a trail of ants working their way through the forest, every couple of ants carrying a leaf. A twig cracked under a heavy boot sounding not nearly as sinister as the truth behind it. Swoosh! The bullet struck the tree directly under it. The bird was off its perch and flying into the distance a split second later. The ring of the shotgun seemed to echo out.
“Harry," the hunter's wife called from inside the cabin. “You’ve already caught us a quail, now leave the poor birds alone."
“Calm down. I can’t seem to catch anything anyways,” the gruff man replied.
“There there; you should come inside and get your rest. Do any of your clothes need to be stitched up? I'm going to town to buy some new thread either way.”
Aditi Nair, 13
She watched her drink bubble. The green clear, plastic container Amazed the little girl.
It was so perfect,
The loose cap and label triggered A sense of betrayal.
Stay, please! She mumbled.
Her arms felt as if they were Weighing down her mind, Her thoughts,
The dented, star-shaped bottle
Wiggled between her fingers.
Shaking back and forth,
The frothy liquid doubled in volume.
If she had opened the bottle a little more,
A wheezing, high-pitched noise peeked out.
She wondered and wondered
If the bubbles ever thought of Escaping their capsule.
After admiring the bottle once again,
She flew out of the rubble.
They Will Meet
Sena Pollock, 14
Once upon a time there was a dog and he was named Friend and once upon a time there was a human and she was named Sue and once upon a time there was a rock who didn’t have a name. They will all meet sometime and none of them know that a girl with a stick went home.
Life at the Hibiscus Boarding School
Svitra Rajkumar, 13
I hastily stuffed my new books into my bag for the first day of 7th grade while texting my best friend Leah. My dad said that doing more than one complicated activity at once usually ends with the activities done poorly, which is probably why my bag was a hot mess and included my mom’s Frizz and Other Struggles magazine. I set that aside for the future and started to reorganize my bag when I saw my alarm clock. If I didn’t get down quick I would be late for school. “AMY TAN! Come down here this instant!” My mom hollered. I quickly rushed down the stairs lugging my (finally!) packed bag behind me. As soon as I got downstairs I sat down, sipped some green tea, and took a bite out of an energy bar, bracing myself for my mom’s usual lecture. Instead, she just said, "Good morning" wearily.
Huh. That’s strange. Maybe she was looking at photos of my dad, who had died two years ago. She still hadn’t gotten over the huge loss. I decided it was best to not say anything. She took my bag to search for anything unneeded. She rummaged through and found the bubble gum and watermelon lip gloss Leah lent me. Why didn't I have my own? Well how could I own lip gloss with my mom acting like this? As she was babbling about chemicals completely ruining your lips, I drifted off into deep thought about school.
Ah, too bad Rori and Heidi moved away.
That meant two new girls were coming to Hibiscus All Girls boarding school! My bubble quickly burst when I realized it was already 8:50 and I had to walk to school. I would probably miss the orientation and by the time I got my schedule I would have missed at least half of homeroom. I dropped my energy bar, grabbed my bag, and raced out the door yelling, “It’s time for school, bye, love ya!” I weaved through busy crowds of people at the local market near school.
Wow even after two years it’s hard to get used to Taipei, Taiwan... all these busy people everywhere. My mom and I moved to Taipei (her hometown) when I was 10. We used to live in Hilo, Hawaii with my dad in a large villa. Hawaii was amazing; we had sun, surfing, and the beach! Most of all we had relaxation. In Taiwan it’s all busy, busy go go! Oh well. Here we live with my grandmother who's really rich so she can pay the bills while my mom goes to job interviews. There’s the school! I ran inside and thankfully the other girls had just started getting to class.
I started scanning the group of giggling girls walking towards the break room. Suddenly, I spotted a wavy golden head. I had never seen anyone like her, except maybe in Hawaii a few times. I tried to move closer, but then she turned her head. Oh! She looked Chinese except for her hair! Maybe she dyed it or something. Her hair was still bouncing slightly so I stared at it instead of meeting her eyes. Her voice was deeper than I thought it would be. “Who are you?” asked the Wavy Haired girl. In my head I thought, what did I do to make you mad? As I opened my mouth to speak, a familiar voice saved me.
“Oh, that’s just Amy.” said Leah. I tried to give Leah a thankful look but she wouldn’t even look at me. Her eyes were focused on the wavy haired girl. “I’m Leah! You must be the new girl, Mikaela!” Leah smiled proudly knowing something that no one else did. “Welcome to Hibiscus!” The new girl smiled warmly and replied, “My name isn’t Mikaela, it’s Raelyn. Mikaela’s my twin sister.” Leah’s smile faltered but she exclaimed, bubblily,” I know we’ll be BFFs, Raelyn!” They both giggled and walked away from the scene leaving me alone surrounded by gossiping girls. Just then the bell rang. Everyone started running to the common room to get their schedules and other necessities. I ran with the crowd, hating Leah and Raelyn.
A timid looking girl tapped me on the shoulder making me do a double take. “Raelyn?!” I said, practically shouting. Some nerve she had coming back here after giggling off with my best friend. Then I realized this girl was wearing a long sleeved shirt and a butter yellow cap matching her butter yellow jeans. Her hair was a brownish caramel color but still bouncy, which means I was right about Raelyn using hair dye. “I’m Mikaela.” she muttered. “Oh right, now I remember, um.. I’m Amy!” I said extremely peppily making it sound fake. Well, I blew it. Now both the new girls hate me and I have no friends. “Um, could you help me find my way around here?” Mikaela asked. “Come with me, I’m sorry about earlier... Raelyn and I just got off to a bad start.” I said. “Here, you’ll get your schedule and everything else, just wait in line.” I told her and she nodded back. After a few minutes of talking to Mikaela it felt like we’d known each other forever! I looked on my phone and quickly got Mikaela’s number. “Sorry about Raelyn, she can be fierce sometimes,” she said. I was about to roll my eyes, but quickly stopped myself. What if this girl was every bit as fierce as Raelyn? Maybe her scary side pops out unexpectedly.
I decided not to say anything for now. Mikaela continued, “Though, she’s really sweet when you get to know her!” Honestly, I completely trusted Mikaela, but on this I went with my gut and my gut didn't want to get to know her. “It’s our turn, Amy!” Mikaela whispered. We came up to the desk and the purple haired college student asked us some questions and finally gave us our schedules, room keys, room information, and rulebooks. Mikaela said, “I have a room to myself.” She looked at me and said, “Sorry.” Wait...then who would I share with? I looked at my paper which said in bold letters "Amy Tan and Raelyn Xing.” Oh Nooooo! Then I saw Raelyn, hair bouncing, coming towards me with Leah struggling to keep up. I tried to run but she was already too close. How could Mikaela be so nice but Raelyn so mean? She said, “Bye, Lea Lea!” Leah was positively beaming. “Bye, Rae Rae!” She squealed like a pig wearing a miniskirt.
Raelyn waved to Mikaela, “Hey Mikaela! Did you make any friends yet? You should really hang out with me and Leah, she’s super nice.” she said immediately. Mikaela blushed but still said very quietly, “Ummm...Amy is my friend.” Raelyn’s face fell but she didn’t say anything, thankfully. On the way to our rooms I realized I forgot my gym clothes at home! When I told Raelyn this she said, “No big deal, just call your mom and tell her to bring them.” “She’s at a job interview!” I replied miserably. “Then just call your dad.” she said “He’s dead.” I said softly. Her mouth formed a circle and she said, “I’m sorry, I know how it feels, my mom died.” She tried to blink away the tears in her eyes.