This week, ASFA-CW’s Ashley M. Jones is one of sixteen Bash Fellows taking part in The Conversation, a three-state (MS, AL, LA) tour of readings and workshops dedicated to examining and expanding notions of Diasporic Blackness for young writers in the American South and beyond. All week, she’ll be engaging her ASFA-CW students from afar, filing field reports, exhorting them to engage some of the concepts she’s considering during the fellowship, and we thought it would be fun to let the outside world in on that exchange. Here’s Ashley’s missive from the second day of the journey. Ever and always the writing teacher, she offers up a few evocative writing prompts (some of her own devising and some from her fellow Bash Fellows) for her students back at the ASFA-CW ranch.
Tuesday, Oct 17 | Oxford, MS
If you’re ever stuck trying to write this week, or ever, I’m going to share the exercises we’ve created for our workshops at Ole Miss, the University of Alabama, and at the literary space in New Orleans:
Marwa Helal and Charleen McClure
Yesterday, Marwa and Charleen did a workshop on language and how poetry can create language for feelings or instances we can’t name in English. For example, the Inuit word Iktsuarpok means “the feeling of waiting for someone and being so anxious you keep looking out the window” (a loose translation). How can we describe this using image and/or scene in a poem?
The exercise is as follows: find a word that’s untranslatable in English. Identify an image, scene and/or memory that you think exemplifies that word and write a poem or short piece of prose that traps the reader in that moment/feeling.
Jonah Mixon-Webster & Ashley Jones
Today, Jonah and I will conduct a workshop on repetition — working from the idea that poetry stems, usually, from obsession, and that it becomes a way to translate that obsession, we want to work through that process step by step and give strategies for navigating that translation.
First, identify something you’ve been obsessing over — could be a silly thing, like pancakes, or it could be something a little more serious, like the prison industrial complex.
Then, list 4-6 words or phrases (or symbols — in the literary sense, so words that stand in for something else, i.e. a bird represents freedom).
In our workshop, Jonah and I will then read two of our own poems that use repetition in interesting ways. The reading of these poems should make way for a discussion on particular poetic forms and literary devices that create repetition. My poems, for example, use the sestina form (which y’all may already know) and homeoteleuton (repeating end words–the opposite of anaphora). These forms do certain things with repetition. With the sestina, I wanted to wrap my reader in the feeling of being mothered (and mothered very well), in the sounds and scents of Sunday dinner cooking, so I thought the sestina would create that sort of word-blanket since the words repeat in a certain pattern. The poem using homeoteleuton attempts to imagine a world in which Black people are the majority, or, at least, not the violently oppressed minority. To achieve this, I used simple statements (to create a feeling that Blackness is factual/normal/unshakable) and I repeated the word “black” all throughout the piece.
Now, looking back at your list, try to write a poem or short piece of prose in which repetition is the driving force behind what you’re trying to say.
More tomorrow —