Author Archives: erirving

Moore, please!

Dinty W. Moore recently visited Widener’s campus as part of the Distinguished Writers Series. Throughout the week he met with students who have been reading his creative nonfiction books and essays in class and a shared a few selections from his new book, Dear Mister Essay Writer Guy, at a public reading on Wednesday. As a published author who has taught creative writing at multiple universities and has been writing for over 30 years, Moore had a lot of insightful advice for aspiring writers, which he generously shared:

1. What’s important about writers is what they say

Every writer has their own voice, “which is going to be different from any other voice,” said Moore. “That is something that can’t be taught. That we have to discover.” He also emphasized the importance of trial and error and repetition for a writer. “Your first draft is you wandering around the page trying to figure out what’s going on.” For him, the first few drafts are the hardest parts of the writing process. He writes the first draft of a book or essay solely to help him figure out what he is trying to say. Only during later drafts, when he understands what needs to be said, does he writes with the reader in mind.

2. You need curiosity to be a writer

To truly discover your own voice and figure out what it needs to say, you have to ask questions. “The trick,” he explained, “is not knowing what you want to say, but to be curious. Have questions. Discovery is starting with a question and working the answer out on the page.” Curiosity about a subject is a quality that all good writers have. One debate in the literary world is if creative writing is something that can be taught. Moore believes so. “There’s a lot about writing—including creative writing—that can and should be taught,” he said. “Students take math so they understand a little bit more about how mathematics works, and students take science classes to understand how science informs the world,” he said. “I think if you take a writing class, and you don’t end up being a writer, it still opens the mind and lets people see how a certain part of the world works and thinks…You can’t teach creativity, but you can encourage it.”

3. There’s no such thing as writer’s block

“Writer’s block is when you listen to the voices in your head that say you can’t do it,” Moore said. The solution? “Talk back to the voices. Say, ‘I hear you, but I’m going to ignore you and write this now.’”

That’s easier said than done. But in his book, Crafting the Personal Essay, Moore dedicates an entire chapter to the idea of writer’s block and how to push through it. You’ve got to “Expect the Negative Voices” and “Expect a Lousy First Draft” (literally the section headings of this chapter), and realize that “the true definition of writer’s block is when the writer gives up.” You’ve got to keep trying. Which brings us to our next writing tip:

4. Persistence

Moore has a busy life teaching, writing, traveling, and just living in general. In order to make time for his writing, he implements the “ass-in-chair” method; he gets up early in the morning, sits down, and makes himself write for two hours a day. It’s not easy, especially for college students, to make writing a part of our daily schedule. For some who juggle classes, work, and a social life, writing can get pushed to the background. Moore suggests that aspiring writers set goals for themselves. “Maybe watch 6 hours of football on the weekend instead of 10,” he joked. But he is right; schedule some time to sit down and focus on your writing. Make it a priority.

Another piece of advice Moore offered is to make a lot of mistakes. “Write a lot of failed poems or failed stories,” he said. “You learn the most from trial and error. It’s like trying to learn how to play tennis. You get out there and swat at the ball and make a total fool of yourself. If you do that for two or three days, you won’t become a wonderful tennis player, but you’ll start to get a little bit of control. Eventually you’ll hit something that goes straight over the net. If you practice long enough you may not become Serena Williams, but you’ll be able to play tennis, and as wonderful and mysterious as the art of literature is, writing is kind of the same.”

If you’re craving Moore, be sure to check out Dear Mister Essay Writer Guy: Advice and Confessions on Writing, Love, and Cannibals, Moore’s newest book of and on essay writing, available now.

Written by Jennifer Rohrbach

Why English and Creative Writing Majors Should Acquaint Themselves with Percy Shelley

Here’s the simple answer: Shelley wants to make you cool again.

Picture from poets.org

Picture from poets.org

Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote, among other profound and fantastic things, “A Defense of Poetry.” If you never read a single thing by Shelley after this, it would be your loss, but not the end of the world. Ignoring “A Defense of Poetry” as an English kid should make you question your identity.

Shelley believes that poets are like philosophers, and that they should hold power in society. “Poets, or those who imagine and express this indestructible order, are not only the authors of language and of music, of the dance and architecture and statuary and painting: they are the institutors of laws, and the founders of civil society.” Poets, according to Shelley, “essentially comprises and unites both” the legislators and prophets of the world. How do they do it? “In the infancy of society every author is necessarily a poet, because language itself is poetry; and to be a poet is to apprehend the true and the beautiful.”

Shelley said that people who read poetry “open themselves to receive the wisdom which is mingled with its delight.” When a poem is good, the reader feels like he or she has gained a token of wisdom, which in turn causes the reader to feel pleasure. (For other writing on the power of good poems, “The Limits of Indeterminacy: A Defense of Less Difficult Poems” by Charles Harper Webb is an excellent resource.) Granted, this is not the only way to read poetry; people read poetry for sound, for pleasure, etc. But when people gain something from the poem—when the kicker hits a reader at the end—that moment is so much more likely to be pleasurable for that reader. This is what makes poets so great: They can teach in the best way, for “Poetry is ever accompanied with pleasure.”

Shelley goes on to say that “Poetry, in a general sense, may be defined to be ‘the expression of the imagination.’” Poetry, then, “is connate with the origin of man.” The use of the word connate here is essential; it means that poetry is innate. It also means that poetry has grown out of man, from pieces into a whole form. Shelley describes the ways in which early language played with poetry in sounds and words. Grammar came next in the building of language, followed by form. “Every original language near to its source is in itself the chaos of a cyclic poem: the…distinctions of grammar are the words of a later age, and are merely the catalogue and the form of the creations of poetry.”

So according to Shelley, poets are the greatest teachers we have. They are the best resource to understanding life and love and everything right and wrong with the world. And unlike others of his time, Shelley is willing to open up his definition of poetry. “Yet it is by no means essential that a poet should accommodate his language to [this] traditional form…The practice is indeed convenient and popular, and to be preferred…but every great poet must inevitably innovate upon the example of his predecessors in the exact structure of his peculiar versification.” Listen, creative writing majors of all genres: “The distinction between poets and prose writers is a vulgar error.” Is not a prose writer also expected to choose the best possible word to be used in the best possible place? Some may debate on this, however, ultimately the writers of prose will certainly argue that they’ve written the best piece they could. “The parts of a composition may be poetical, without the composition as a while being a poem.”

Shelley expands on this idea further by saying that “A single sentence may be considered as a whole though it be found in a series of unassimilated portions; a single word even may be a spark of inextinguishable thought.” Some writing is so powerful that it may stand alone, though it is only a few words out of a larger text. In other instances, Ezra Pound’s “In A Station of The Metro” is a mere two lines, but the words stick. Haikus are seventeen syllables total—but we all classify that as poetry.

Why defend poetry? “A poem is the very image of life expressed in its eternal truth.” Poets are commentators on our world. Listen to them, for they exist to guide us down the path of moral good. Listen to them; let them pump magic through the veins of our imagination. Listen to poets who lift “the veil from the hidden beauty of the world.” Let them make “familiar objects be as if they were not familiar.” Listen to them as they play with sound and mind and soul.

Listen to us.

By Kelsey Styles

What’s on your October Reading List?!

Happy October everyone! With the semester in full swing and the FUSE conference just 5 weeks away, things are getting pretty hectic for us at the Blue Route, and we’re sure you’re feeling the stress too! But fall is in the air and despite all the craziness, it’s important to take time out of the day to relax, enjoy some sort of seaonsally-inspired coffee drink, and read something not for a class. Whether it’s a fun blog, that YA novel your best friend has been bugging you to read for months, or a ridiculous high-fashion magazine (my personal favorite), use this fall to check out media you don’t always take the time to read. What’s your go-to fall read this season? Comment and let us know!

Lots of Important Stuff…READ THIS!!!

And just like that, you’re back on campus like you never even left…happy new school year everyone! On behalf of the whole Blue Route staff, I’d like to wish all our contributors and followers a successful start to the new semester! A lot of exciting things are happening on our tiny campus in the new future including a new submission period for our next issue (see details here) and best of all, the 2015 FUSE Conference (check it out here)! The blog staff will be bringing you all the latest updates of conference preparation/journal publication, so do not hesitate at all to contact us with any questions. And please, take literally 3 minutes to like us on Facebook (The Blue Route), follow us on Tumblr (wublueroute), and keep up to date with us on Twitter (wutheblueroute). And while you’re at it, go follow all the undergraduate literary journals you can find on social media! There are so many amazing things being created and discussed by students in these publications…they all deserve to be supported.

Happy New Year!!!

Written by Emma Irving

Reflections on the Managing Seminar for College News Editors

English and Creative Writing students often have so many opportunities to show off their skills in various university clubs and organizations, including school newspapers! Here, Kelsey Styles reflects on a journalism conference she attended in July and gives us a peek at the interesting world of college journalism.

I never would have considered breaking news to be something I, a mere student, should be thinking about. However, two weeks ago at the Managing Seminar for College News Editors (MSCNE15) in Athens, Georgia, I realized that I could make an impact. Were something to happen on campus, students could be the first ones there—we could beat NBC and CNN if we’re fast enough!

Going into MSCNE, I wasn’t sure how to feel. My brain was stuck on the concept that attending would mean I’d have to do work (in the summer, no less). Even up through the orientation dinner, where event coordinator Cecil Bentley explained that sessions would run from almost 9 am to 9 pm each day and that we’d need to complete projects in our free time on top of that, I was concerned. What had I gotten myself into? But by the end of the next full day, I knew I was in the right place.

Despite one or two bores, most seminars were entertaining, informative, and eye-opening.  One session, “Journalism of Ideas” by Dan Reimold, was an hour and a half of generating stories worth reading. What I loved about his session was that he didn’t just stick to traditional storytelling. He discussed ideas that could create a buzz, like short interviews with students that could be posted to social media, picture galleries of the weirdest graffiti on campus, and professors reading reviews (like the ever-famous “celebrities read tweets about themselves” video series).

Of course, the conference wasn’t just about fun with social media. The advising professors spent a lot of time discussing the proper execution of a breaking news piece and students got to explain some of their proudest investigative pieces. Throughout the week, we were expected to write a feature piece on the city of Athens using several multimedia tools. My group’s site, found here, has a full-length story along with a map, infographic, picture gallery, and video. We were told to play to our weaknesses, so I learned how to make an infographic, and made both on that website!

On Thursday, we had a breaking news exercise where we had the chance to, as one speaker put it, “get it first; get it right”. This was especially cool because it was my first experience covering an event in real-time. I had a chance to play photographer while others conducted full interviews and wrote pieces. My phone was constantly buzzing as members on the scene relayed information back to the office, while the students there fed us questions to ask.

In another room, MSCNE15 advisors continued refreshing our sites to see who had the most up-to-date information and who was first to complete their articles. At the end, a mock press conference was held, and then a press release was finally sent out. After the exercise, we were all called in for “the beat down,” as one staff member called it. The professors ripped our sites to shreds, telling us how many things we’d messed up or gotten wrong. Though the actual breaking news exercise was exhilarating, the end was sobering; as the professors explained, we only get one chance in the real world.

At the CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia!

At the CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia!

Though the breaking news exercise was perhaps the most informative of the entire week (the hands-on aspect of the experience was so valuable), I also feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to visit the CNN World Headquarters. The conference we had with Paul Crum, the CNN Vice President of U.S. news operations, as well as various other official CNN reporters, was truly gratifying. The conference was one of those experiences that almost didn’t seem real—am I actually in a room with the best of the best in this business? – until the head of internships came out and began answering questions about how to apply. I know I have a lot to improve upon, and I may never be accepted to work for CNN, but the opportunity to be in that room and have the head of CNN’s internship program offer insider information about how to get involved there made me feel like I was worthy—like I could actually do this for a living one day.

I absolutely loved attending MSCNE15, more than I can explain here. Not only was it informative and exciting (which are two things every good conference should be), but it was almost a relief. My absolute delight with everything – even the boring two-hour seminars I sometimes had to struggle through – was an affirming sign that I’m in the right place and doing exactly what I love to do in life.

By Kelsey Styles

College Orientation for Humanities Majors

And so it’s the middle of June. The mortarboard caps have been thrown in the air, sensational senior week beach trips have been carried out…now it’s time for college orientation season to begin! We all remember that awkward day of bonding games, peppy tour guides, and motivational speeches, but how much does that day really prepare you for what’s ahead, especially as a Humanities major? What advice or tips would you give to incoming Humanities students as their college experience truly begins with orientation day? Comment and let us know…and then go tell that to any recent graduates in your life about how to deal with what’s coming next!

A Different Kind of Summer Student

Confession: Last summer, I made Faulkner my own summer reading. Or at least I tried…it was a struggle. The problem wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy the complex characters and sinuous narrative of Absalom, Absalom! because I absolutely did. The problem was that it was summer.

From the time we enter high school and start receiving summer reading lists, we’re expected to be the same scholars in the summer that we are during the school year. It’s an institution that makes sense for high school students, especially those in AP classes where there’s already too much material to get through in the year before the exam, but in college, the situation is quite a bit different. Instead of taking 5 AP tests all in different subjects, as an undergraduate, your major is your absolute focus, the area your brain spends in thought for a whole year. When you’ve spent your semester reading Wallace Stevens, James Joyce, and William Shakespeare all at the same time, when you reach for intense scholarship in your field during the semester, it’s okay to allow yourself to be a different kind of scholar in the summer. There are so many other ways to be just as interesting a scholar without forcing yourself through a novel just because you think it’s something you should be reading.

IMG_0354

The author at the Hemingway House in Key West, FL, during Summer 2014.

Instead, read something for fun! Reread a childhood favorite, open Fifty Shades of Grey sans embarrassment, or relax poolside and flip through gossip magazines. Or, travel somewhere of historical/literary/personal significance and watch throughout the year how much that experience comes back to deepen your understanding of a particular subject. Write in a diary, stay up late and talk about existential issues with your friends, sit and people-watch for an afternoon; though it may not seem so, doing these things makes for a scholar with an interesting and broad perspective of humanity.

So if you’re someone who wants to read Faulkner for fun this summer, by all means, have at it. But for those looking for a way to take a break and be a different sort of scholar for a few months, now is your time.

Written by Emma Irving

A Crash Course in The American Poet Laureate Position

Most English, Creative Writing, and other students of the Humanities don’t find the possibility of a government job too appealing. Though art and politics are not mutually exclusive disciplines, “creative freedom” isn’t a term often thrown around in our bureaucracy.

Now allow me to introduce to you the finest government position ever conceived for creative minds: The Poet Laureate.

The idea of a national Poet Laureate extends back to Italy in the early 14th century, but the American office has only been around since the 1940s. Great minds including William Carlos Williams and Robert Frost have held this position, of which the sole work is to “raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry” (More information can be found by clicking here). The Poet Laureate receives a $35,000 stipend for the honor and maximum free time to work on his/her own projects while in the position. There are some formal duties to attend to, such as opening and closing the Library of Congress’ annual poetry series, but other than that, the Poet Laureate has total freedom in choosing the best way to get Americans to listen to and care about poetry.

America’s current Poet Laureate is Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award Winner Charles Wright. Distinguished as he is, I had never heard of Wright before conducting research on this topic, though I love what I’ve found from him so far. The relationship between nature and aging comes up quite a bit in Wright’s poetry, but always in unique ways. After Reading Tu Fu, I Go Outside to the Dwarf Orchard is a darkly poignant example of Wright’s ability to synthesize the two topics with lines like “How deeper than elsewhere the dusk is in your own yard” expressing the relative loneliness of aging. On the other hand, Wright is also deeply affected by the topic of faith, and lines such as “One knows/There is no end to the other world/no matter where it is” from Last Supper express the comfort that such faith can bring.

The American Poet Laureate has the great potential to change the way America as a whole thinks about the art form of poetry. Whether poetry is your thing or you find it too difficult to truly enjoy, any student of the written word should pay close attention to what the current Poet Laureate is up to. The advancement of art in this country is something we should all be concerned about, and nobody has more power to do that than the Poet Laureate.

by Emma Irving

Collaboration at its Finest: A Review of Goddard College’s Literary Journal “Duende”:

Producing a literary journal is a task that requires not only great time and effort, but also a group of people dedicated to collaborating to create the best collection of poetry, prose, and other works possible. This idea of collaboration is one that the students in the Writing program at Goddard College latched onto to produce their first edition of the literary journal “Duende,” out last month, and the results are amazing.

Duende is a product of collaboration on a national level. Unlike most undergraduate literary journals, which are run by students from one campus, this journal’s staff are located all across the United States, from Oregon to Pennsylvania and everywhere in between. The staff only meets face to face once each semester; I can only imagine how tricky communicating about a complex piece of poetry is without that in-person dynamic!

A quote by Federico Garcia Lorca appears at the bottom of the artfully designed home page, explaining that duende “is a force…of a style that’s truly alive: meaning, it’s of the veins: meaning, it’s of the most ancient culture of immediate creation”. This simple philosophy of collecting and sharing works of art teeming with raw soul and passion made me eager to explore their first issue to see exactly the kinds of works desired by Duende’s editors.

Within the visual art category, I was most enthralled by Deanna Lee’s collection of hand-drawn pieces rooted in the exploration of the line. Lee shows that groupings of abstract lines can both evoke contrasting characteristics (weightlessness vs. heaviness, for example) while all maintaining a sense of life and action. I love the sense of movement in Lee’s work, and every time I look back at these three drawings, I feel as if they’ve moved somehow, shifted as my perspective on them shifts.

Switching to the prose section of the journal, another interesting aspect of Duende’s collaborative spirit is unveiled. Categories like “prose poem” and “hybrid prose”  are attached to these varying works. I love Duende’s philosophy that regardless of genre, good writing is good writing and needs to be shared. My favorite work in this prose section is Justin Torres’ flash-fiction piece. Beautiful diction juxtaposed against edgy, sometimes jolting scenes, Torres’ concise story needs to be read more than once in order to pick up on all the social and moral issues presented.

Duende tells that they are “especially interested in collaborations between two or more writers, or between writers and visual artists”, and my favorite piece in the poetry section involved both visual and written art. The prose-poem This is How We Dream and its accompanying artwork present an interesting pair of works to be compared and contrasted. Pairing pieces of art together is a tricky thing to do in order to emphasize the best parts of each work, but I find the contrasting colors of the visual art and the theme of dream versus reality in the poem to work incredibly well together.

Coming together for the sake of promoting written and visual art is the goal of most every literary journal produced by undergraduates, but Duende does it exceptionally well. Uniting students nationwide through Goddard College’s Writing program, combining genres of work to create bold new styles, and encouraging artists of various mediums to work together, Duende is a truly innovative journal that I cannot wait to hear more from.