Teach Them Young, By Maya Wesman

Teach Them Young, By Maya Wesman

Without any considerable effort, most of us could probably name plenty of books from our childhood that had a great impact on us. Whether we liked the characters, the pictures, or simply the association of something with the book, we all have those books we read over and over. A few of my favorites were The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. The thing I love about these kinds of books even today is that they are some of the most memorable pieces of literature I have ever read, and yes, I did call them literature.

Children’s’ books aren’t meant to be deep and thought provoking in the same way as something like Lord of the Flies, but they are still the kinds of books that I think I learned some of my most valuable lessons from. I learned about the concept of lying, responsibility, and honesty from these kinds of books at a very young age. These books teach children lessons through stories and characters they can relate to and sympathize with, allowing them to truly internalize the messages of the stories.

Why is it then that children’s books don’t often seem to touch on topics that they may really need to learn about, such as death in the family, divorce, or discrimination? These are all very real things that can affect families so why hide them from our children. Perhaps it is the idea that children need not worry themselves with those things, or more likely that they wouldn’t really understand it, but that doesn’t keep us from teaching children things like religion. We shouldn’t censor things and hide them from our children if the act of teaching them will only help prepare them for something before it might happen.

Take discrimination for an example. We all have some sort of relationship to discrimination. Whether it is due to our race, religion, traditions, sexuality, or any number of other characteristics, we all see it happen. A child is going to grow up in a world where discrimination is a fact of life. We know it isn’t right, and we are working to address it where we can, but we need to be realistic when it comes to teaching our children about it. The first step is to teach them when they are young, and a great way to do that is to have books about difficult topics written specifically for teaching a young audience.

Many of the books I read as a kid were great fun to read, but in all honesty didn’t really touch on difficult topics at all. If they were to do so I would have been exposed to certain things at a younger age, giving me more time to understand something before I actually encountered it in my life. Such things as losing a pet, having another child in the family, being adopted, and divorcing parents are all things that children can deal with, and many do. Why should we wait to talk to them after something happens? In some cases, reactive education may not be enough to help them cope with such a change in a healthy way. This is where we can use proactive education to its fullest potential.

With this being said, we have so many different communities in our society today that a few books from the same few people can’t begin to address all the problems faced by even one community. If we were to have a wide range of authors writing about an even wider range of topics and people I think we could really make an impact on the coming generations.

What are your favorite books for the very young that cover these issues? Share these titles with us. 

Meet the blogger:
MAYA WESMAN a senior at Hamline University majoring in Creative Writing with a focus in fiction. She loves writing fantasy and science fiction, and one day hopes to author children’s books. She believes that through stories we can explore what it really means to be humans in a complex world.

Creative Writing Touchdowns from a Sports Writer, By Rebecca Higgins

Creative Writing Touchdowns from a Sports Writer, By Rebecca Higgins

Okay, so you probably saw the headline and groaned about how much you hate sports or were completely on board with this train. Either way, I will give you all the tips and tricks from sports writing so you don’t have to figure it out on your own. Trust me, it’s a long process.  So here is everything you need to know:

1. Headlines/Titles.

Headlines in sports writing have two jobs: to get the reader interested and to clue them into what is happening. One headline I wrote was ‘Streak Starts From Scratch.’ This line states that something is starting and also clues the reader into the dynamics of what will be discussed, that the team started a winning streak. I am a big fan of alliteration or repeated sounds in headlines. (My most recent headline was ‘Combatting Controversy.’) Make your headline active–it immediately raises questions in your reader. What controversy? How are they combatting it? If you can do that you are already winning half the battle or game or match-you get it.

2.  Hooks

You need a strong opening line to pull your reader in. I like to start with strong, active lines that immediately identifies what team I am talking about. In creative writing your team will be your protagonist. A couple hooks I have written are: “Underestimating Hamline men’s hockey team is a mistake” and “The Pipers’ women’s gymnastics team does not believe in missed opportunities.” Again, readers love action. Applied to creative writing, would you rather read about a protagonist who goes out there and defeats their enemy in a game of basketball or someone who maybe kinda thinks about stopping the bad guy but gets sidetracked by a football game? I’d rather read the basketball battle…but that’s just me.

3.  Offense and Defense/Balance

You have to have a balance between covering defense and offense. If you simply write/report about touchdown after touchdown, the story is going to be boring. But if you add in defense, the story has another layer and is more interesting. So how does this apply to writing? Well if your protagonist is always successful it is going to make for a pretty boring story. But if you add in antagonists or conflicts that challenge your protagonist and force them to make a decision, then your story will have an engaging plot. Just imagine Harry Potter, without a Voldemort. By talking about Voldemort and the Death Eater, J.K. Rowling adds layers of risk and intrigue that keeps us reading. Plus quidditch would be pretty boring if Harry did not have to fight off Draco while trying to catch the snitch.

4.  Urgency

Sports stories are written with urgency to show how each team is battling for a win. Your writing has to show this urgency between your protagonist and their conflict. If there is no urgency or pull in your writing, readers will put it down. We want to suck readers in and have them cheering and yelling like their favorite football team just won the Superbowl.

While sports may not be your thing, sports writing offers great examples of effect techniques. So pick up a newspaper or open up a tab in your browser and look at a sports section. Just look at the mechanics-trust me, it’s a quicker read than Burroway and you will come out with a lot of great tricks.

Meet the blogger:

REBECCA HIGGINS is a senior in Hamline University’s B.F.A. in Creative Writing program. Her work can be found in Canvas, The Fulcrum, The Oracle and American High School Poets. Rebecca has worked with Red Bird Chapbooks, Redleaf Press, Sparkhouse Family, and now, Runestone. She can often be found cuddling with her cat, Remmy, while watching ‘Parks and Recreation.’


Poetry & Rap: Proof That Poetry Is Alive and Thriving, by J.R. Selmi

Poetry & Rap: Proof That Poetry Is Alive and Thriving, by J.R. Selmi

Some say poetry is a dying art form. After centuries upon centuries of being a part of the human experience, predating literacy and the printing press, poetry has somehow lost its real world relevance. This is the form whose musical characteristics made ancient poets superstars level with the contemporary artists of today (think Jay-Z or Kendrick Lamar). After all that, Y2K did nothing but put poetry in the grave. As a poet, I would beg to disagree.

Roughly forty years ago, hip-hop was born in the Bronx, precisely at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue. Here, DJ Kool Herc was known to throw notorious block parties where his DJ’ing gave way to MC’ing, a synonym for rap, and from then on it quickly evolved into the greatest genre of music to circle the globe. But is rap really a brand new phenomenon or is it much closer to poetry than we give it credit?

Akala, the artistic director of The Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company, demonstrates the poetics of rap in a TEDx Talk by asking the audience to guess which poetic lines are rap lyrics and which are lines of Shakespeare.

Let’s play his game. You guess: Hip-Hop or Shakespeare?

  1. “To destroy the beauty from which one came.”
  2. “Maybe it’s hatred I spew, maybe it’s food for the spirit.”
  3. “Men would rather use their broken weapons then their bare hands.”
  4. “I was not born under a rhyming planet.”
  5. “The most benevolent king communicates through your dreams.”
  6. “Socrates, philosophies and hypotheses can’t define.”

(Now, check your answers below.)

They could’ve all very well been Shakespeare, couldn’t they? Rap uses the same tools as poetry, from alliteration and allusions to rhyme and metaphor, and just as Shakespeare loved his iambic pentameter, so does much of rap. Not only that, both poetry and rap speak of the specific time and place of the poet or rapper, inevitably bringing cultural, political, and historical dimensions to their work. The way we might study a poet and their work, we could study rappers. A Tribe Called Quest’s sixth and final album, We got it from Here…Thank You For Your service is one of the best examples from 2016, and full of poetic technique.

Simon Armitage, the Professor of Poetry at Oxford University, also believes it’s worth taking a closer look at rap and thinks we should open the definition of poetry to be more inclusive. He said:

“I do want to broaden the things that we investigate. We are a hypochondriac lot, we are always thinking that our form is in peril on or the point of expiring and yet you look … at what’s happening in the world of rap – which I am not saying this is necessarily poetry per se – but it is certainly dealing in poetry technique.These are the forthcoming generations and for me that’s about connecting with the present and not thinking of poetry as a museum.”

The winner of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature, Bob Dylan, is a clear sign that the definition of literature is expanding—will the genre follow?

As academia takes notice, rap is beginning to get the poetic respect its due. Adam Bradley and Andrew DuBois, English professors and editors, have acknowledged the literary power of rap in The Anthology of Rap, in which they hand-selected lyrics from the late 1970’s, when it all started, to the present time to create a collection for study, from Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five to Kanye.

The next time E-40 comes on over your speakers, just remember while Shakespeare invented over 1700 English words, hip-hop’s influence the English language is on the rise.

Poetry is all around us, if you’re listening.

Answers:

  1. Jay-Z “Can I Live”
  2. Eminem “Renegade”
  3. Shakespeare “Othello”
  4. Shakespeare “Much Ado About Nothing”
  5. RZA of Wu-Tang Clan “Impossible”
  6. Inspectah Deck of Wu-Tang Clan “Triumph”

Meet the blogger:
J.R. SELMI is a poet in her final year at Hamline University. She was raised in an all-women, tri-generational household and added a fourth with her daughter, which, to say the least, gives her a unique perspective.

Plotter vs. Pantser: What Kind of Writer Are You?, By Jessica Mausolf

Plotter vs. Pantser: What Kind of Writer Are You?, By Jessica Mausolf

Beginning a project is an extremely daunting task. Staring at that blank screen—or blank page if you’re old school like me—can be nerve wracking, exciting, and maybe even frustrating. Some of the time you come to the page with just an idea, a thought of what you would like to have happen. Other times the idea is so fleshed out that it’s just dying to escape onto the page. Depending on who you are, one of these is usually more likely than the other. Me, I stare at the page going, “Okay, idea, where should I start?” for hours on end before anything actually shows up.

I’m what some people call a “pantser,” someone who has no set plan of where I want my story to go. I’m flying by the seat of my pants, hence the name. Others are what we would call a “plotter,” someone who creates the outline, does the research, and makes a plan before sitting down to write anything.

Now there are pros and cons to each of these kinds of writing, and though I’m specifically talking about writing fiction, these things could be applied to any writing.

Plotter Pro: You have a plan.

You have somewhere to start. You know where you’re going, how you’re going to get there, and all those little things in-between. You probably created some kind of outline or timeline and plotted out the various side-arcs your character is going to travel down while continuing on their main quest. Maybe you even took the time to create the history of each of your characters and the world they live in and researched to death what type of clothing people wore in the 1400’s. That’s great. In fact, that’s awesome and I wish I could do that, except …

Plotter Con: You have a plan.

How many of us want our plans to go exactly as planned? Yeah, me too. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say, “This isn’t going to plan … oh well.” No. We start screaming, “Abort, abort! Mission critical failure. What do we do now?” We had set plot arcs, set scenes and dialogue and a beautiful ending and everything must go according to plan. While having a plan is great, it can also be hindering. If everything is planned out in advance, what use is writing creatively? Yes, what you’re writing is creative, but if you don’t allow yourself to stray from the plan, you may entirely miss the part of the story where your character hitches a ride on a Pegasus and goes off on some trippy ride through outer space. Which is why …

Pantser Pro: You don’t have a set plan.

Being unconstrained by an outline can feel liberating, which is probably why I don’t create them. I plan absolutely nothing. My latest story is about someone who is on a team that’s fighting to keep something from taking over the world. What are they fighting? I haven’t decided yet. Why is this “something” trying to take over the world? Probably for power. Or money. That’s usually how it goes, right? And the thing is, I don’t have to decide yet. I can let the characters develop on the page and figure it out as I go. On the other hand, though …

Pantser Con: You have absolutely no idea what’s going on with your story.

My story has no direction. I write it as it comes and hope that everything makes sense in the end. In this case, my “villains” probably won’t be very original, and cookie cutter villains are not particularly exciting. I also have no plot points (people will fight, maybe, some time, I think), nor do I have any content outside of the fact that people are trying to take over the world and my main character needs to stop it, which is so cliché it hurts a little.

Now obviously these are the two extremes. There are, of course, those people in the middle who do just the right amount of plotting and pants-ing that they have direction, but there’s room for change. Some might call them “plantsers.” I call them smart, but I’m also not saying that either of the extremes are right or wrong. You do what works for you. I’ve tried plotting and discovered that it is not my cup of hot chocolate. Disastrous things ensued.

In any case, which are you? Do you plot to the ends of the earth? Throw everything to the wind and say, “Take me away?” Or are you somewhere in the middle? Do you wish you were something else? Maybe take the time to try a different way. You might find that you like it better, or, in my case, never do it again. And if that happens, well, at least you can say you tried.

Meet the blogger:
JESSICA MAUSOLF is currently a senior at Hamline University completing her degree in creative writing. While she enjoys writing, reading is her real passion, her library at home attesting to that.

DEAD MAN’S FLOAT by Jim Harrison, Reviewed by Alex McCormick

Dead Man’s Float

Jim Harrison

Copper Canyon Press

2016

ISBN 978-I-55659-445-8

107 pages

Reviewed by ALEX McCORMICK 

Despite its grim title, Dead Man’s Float opens with a whimsically meta poem titled “Where Is Jim Harrison?” Jim Harrison himself tells us that “He fell off the cliff of a seven-inch zafu./ He couldn’t get up because of his surgery./ He believes in the Resurrection mostly/ because he was never taught how not to.//” Zafu is the Japanese word for a round cushion known for its use in meditation, which makes the idea of comparing its seven-inch edge to a cliff hyperbolic and hilarious. Its juxtaposition with a small amount of exposition about Harrison’s history with religion creates a humorous comparison and also introduces the theme of contemplating faith. You can expect to find this sharp combination of personal criticism, dark humor, and philosophical contemplation throughout the book.

Indeed much of the book can be seen as Harrison painting a beautifully honest self-portrait of his life: his favorite places to travel in France, his affinity for birds of all types, and the horrors of wondering whether he’ll ever be able to do something as simple as trout fish after suffering spine damage. For Harrison, birds are more than just beautiful creatures. They are a symbol of a life free of the complications of the spinal rupture which limit his mobility. As Harrison puts it in the poem “Hospital,” “Without birds I’m dead. They are my drug that lifts me up to flight” (3). Yet despite this vivid and colorfully described escapism through the birds, Harrison admits the dark realization that “Lark or dog I crave the impossible./ I’m just human. All too human” (1). Thus, the illustration of Harrison’s empowering experience battling depression and physical limitations of his injury begins.

Another prominent theme in this book is death. Due to his ailments and his age, Harrison seems desensitized to the inevitability of death for all living things. This has allowed him to be unafraid to make cuttingly truthful judgments about the topic of his own death as is exemplified in the opening words of “Junk Pile. “God throws us out the back door/ onto a huge junk pile in another/ galaxy. There are billions of bodies. /It’s 1,000 degrees below/ zero but compacted souls don’t need heat” (40). It also allows Harrison to describe the deaths of many people he loved without being overly sentimental, as is demonstrated in the following lines from “A Ballad of Love and Death about Elsa. “I wondered/ how long Elsa could see, and what./ I found a patch of blood-crisp grass/ where her head must have rested/ surrounded by shards of windshield” (19).

This same removed nature may however be problematic for some readers. Harrison’s tendency to briefly summarize a person’s character and focus instead on his emotional-experience of that person’s death comes off as insensitive at times. Further, poems like “A Ballad of Love and Death about Elsa” risk harmful appropriation of a character’s story. While the poem is an undeniably beautiful description of the speaker’s emotional experience, Ella as a character is not detailed until the end of the poem, and the details provided are “She was a fine gardener with a sweet,/ warm voice” (19). Given that Elsa is someone the speaker allegedly loved, it seems belittling to have one of two ways the speaker describes Elsa’s character to be “fine” as a gardener. In this context the word “fine” could mean ‘spectacular,’ or just mean ‘fine’ – as in not above or below average skill at gardening. Regardless of the ambiguity, readers are given only two things to remember Elsa: as a gardener and a woman with a nice voice. The former is a hobby, and the latter is an aesthetic description of her beauty. Harrison’s dismissal of character descriptions beyond surface details may contribute to the nihilist theme that none of us matter and were all going to die, but moments like this in the book ooze male gaze, and harmfully condense a person’s story. By using a phrase like “She was a” in remembrance of someone, then using your authority as an author to ascribe undisputed significance to their life and death, you are essentially telling that story for them. If a person is dead or fictional, and cannot dispute the story you’ve told for them, you are also essentially claiming their story for yourself and undermining their achievements.    

Meet the blogger:
ALEX McCORMICK is a poet, songwriter, and musician from Minneapolis, MN. His poetry is experimental in form, incorporating found texts that are later annotated, transcribed speeches and fake documents like resumes and letters. All are primarily tools used to create political satire and philosophical discussions. Alex’s other passion is playing and writing music, and currently performs with Minneapolis based indie rock band Sass, as well as several others. He is a senior at Hamline University, with a major in Creative Writing and a minor in English.

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