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I Made a Throwback Typewriter Table from Recycled Pallets

I always wanted a typewriter table, but I never could find the right kind. So I made one. Out of pallet wood and 2x4s. Design is from The Pallet Book: DIY Projects for the Home, Garden, and Homestead by Chris Peterson. It’s not quite finished, but it’s all assembled and some sanding done.

I love the rough “pioneer” look and feel of this project, and the sturdiness of the design.

Can’t wait to type letters to family and friends, and poems, on the new/old wood table, using my Olivetti Lettera 32 manual typewriter.

I made this DIY table made out of recycled pallets and 2x4s.

Teaching Poetry as Music: An Audio Assignment

Note: This assignment is designed to have students engage with poems as sound. By recording poems being read aloud students can be immersed in the auditory nature of poems’ rhythm, word sounds, and other musical qualities, such as rest and acceleration. The relationship between sound and meaning are also explored. Model poems I have used for this assignment are available online, have good musical values and interesting subject matter. Poems I’ve used have included:

“My Papa’s Waltz” – Theodore Roethke
“if there are any heavens” – e.e. cummings
“Poem #340, I Felt a Funeral in my Brain” – Emily Dickinson
“The Journey” – Mary Oliver (From New & Selected Poems)

Note to Students

All these poems have beautiful music which reward reading. Poems have to be read aloud to fully appreciate the music poets craft out of the English language. So we want to hear your voices!

Instructions

Choose one of the model poems to work on.

First, read the poem to yourself a couple of times. Then, practice reading it aloud several times, paying attention to words and phrases you want to emphasize in each line – that is, which words and phrases seem to need more weight or emphasis? How fast or slow do the lines feel? Do they seem to speed up or slow down? What will you do at the end of a line if it enjambed – read right across? What if it is end-stopped? Will you pause?

When you have decided how you want to read the poem, make an audio recording of the poem. Add some introductory information, for example, “This is a recording of me reading [poem] [by]”. Post it to the assignment.

Finish your assignment by responding to the following reflective prompts. Please include the prompts above your answers:

  • Did the poem seem to be any different when reading to yourself and reading it aloud? In what ways?
  • Did reading the poem aloud help with understanding it? If so, why do you think so? If not, why do you think not?
  • What did reading the poem aloud cause you to notice about the poem in terms of its use of words, syntax, lines, stanzas, and line endings?
  • Are there places the poem seems to want to speed up or slow down? Are there words that should be said more slowly?
  • What feelings and thoughts did this poem create in you, as a reader and an audience?

Thanks for your insights! Remember: Apply your new terminology.

We will play your audio files and discuss your answers to the reflective prompts.

For several decades I have conducted writing workshops of all kinds, and for 14 years I have taught writing on the faculty of Indiana University Southeast. Now I have decided to give back for these opportunities by making my lessons available online. I hope you enjoy this lesson, and the other lessons here on my writing Web site, michael-jackman.com. You may download and use any lesson here free of charge, provided you give credit as: © Copyright Michael Jackman. All Rights Reserved.

Although the lessons are free of charge, please help support all my work in writing and maintaining this site through a small contribution using the PayPal link on the top right of this post. Thank you for your support! – Michael

Generative Exercise on Margaret Atwood’s “You Fit into Me”

Model Poem

The model poem we’re using as an illustration of what a poem does, and how to respond to a poem, is “you fit into me,” (1971) by Margaret Atwood. The poem is very short, consisting only of four lines in two stanzas, or two couplets:

you fit into me
like a hook into an eye

a fish hook
an open eye 

Directions

  1. Read “you fit into me” aloud to get a feel for the poem’s rhythm and timing. Think about what it means and what the images make you feel. What scenes come to your mind when reading this poem?
  2. Answer the following prompts. Include the prompts above each response so I am sure which questions you are answering. 
  • What images or scenes came to your mind when you read this poem?
  • What do you think the speaker of the poem is saying about the relationship between the speaker and the “you” the speaker is addressing? How do you interpret the words “hook” and “eye” in stanza 1 and stanza 2? Are either of these words used as puns? Specifically use the terms imagery, simile, stanza and turn in your answers.
  • After you write the above prompts (so you are not influenced), read the short critical discussion of “you fit into me” (below) and answer: Do you agree with what the critic Jes Simmons writes about this poem? Why or why not? Explain your reasons. Give a complete answer.
  • Write a brief four-line, free verse (no rhyme) poem made up of 2 stanzas of 2 lines each, in which you define a relationship by using a simple image in stanza 1, and redefine it surprisingly in stanza 2, as our model poem does. This will not only potentially generate a pithy poem, but have you think about the idea of the turn, and about using imagery. It might be harder than it seems to write a short poem this way! Good luck.

Critical Writing: “Atwood’s ‘You Fit into Me,'” by Jes Simmons

from The Explicator vol. 51, 1993.

Women’s ways of knowing are essential to understanding Margaret Atwood‘s meaning and intention in “[You Fit Into Me].”[1] Having taught the poem in numerous literature classes, I have found that female readers interpret the poem quite differently from male readers. For most women, this is a poem of assumption, counterassumption, and renegotiated assumption that ties gender to experience. Most men, however, are oblivious to the poem’s complexity, for their experiences and cultural background work to preclude them from fully comprehending it.

For most women, the interpretation of the first two lines is positive and appealing: the “fit” is tight and secure. This simile for lovemaking is effective, for women understand the “hook” and “eye” as being clothing fasteners that they employ every day, such as the hook and eye of bras that close in the back or the delicate fasteners around the neck of some dresses and blouses. Rarely using this type of fastener, few male readers make this assumption. Instead, they think first of a fishhook and a human eye. They miss the poem’s full meaning and often find the last lines redundant.

The crucial elements of surprise and shock in the second stanza, which so devastatingly startle women readers, are lost on most male readers. For women, the lines contradict the initial, positive image of sexuality by specifying the type of hook and eye. Atwood knows that these lines are necessary for women readers because they must discard their first assumption and replace it with a counterassumption of violence that elicits a response of pain, revulsion, and horror. The poem’s phallic fishhook and vagina-shaped eye show how painful-and violent-sexual penetration can be. The “fit” is now unbearable.

After comprehending the pain of sexual oppression in the poem, the female reader next must renegotiate this counterassumption, for “[You Fit Into Me]” is not necessarily an anti-sex or anti-male poem. Despite the pain involved, the act (or fit) is accepted: the eye is open. This word is crucial, for the “me” in the poem is aware of what will happen or has happened; she hasn’t shut her eyes to it. And if the “eye” is a pun, then this “I” is open and accepts the “you” in the poem.

The best response to “[You Fit Into Me]” is through a woman’s way of knowing, for the poem is grounded in women’s everyday experiences, in the clothing they wear, in their sexual encounters, and in their awareness of how abusive power and control can be in society. For men to appreciate the full intensity and complexity of the poem, they must renegotiate their own ways of knowing; they must read and see through women’s eyes; they must fit into them.

NOTE

1. Margaret Atwood, “[You Fit into Me],” Power Politics (Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 1971).

For several decades I have conducted writing workshops of all kinds, and for 14 years I have taught writing on the faculty of Indiana University Southeast. Now I have decided to give back for these opportunities by making my lessons available online. I hope you enjoy this lesson, and the other lessons here on my writing Web site, michael-jackman.com. You may download and use any lesson here free of charge, provided you give credit as: © Copyright Michael Jackman. All Rights Reserved.

Although the lessons are free of charge, please help support all my work in writing and maintaining this site through a small contribution using the PayPal link on the top right of this post. Thank you for your support! – Michael

Poetry: Six Essential Principles

Here are six essential principles for writing lyric poetry. They are based on my many years of writing and studying “ars poetica,” the art of poetry. Keep these principles in mind when drafting and revising.

1. Poetry is Music

A poem isn’t just words in a certain order. A poem is also made up of sounds the words make, arranged to create effects. Poets train their ears to be aware of sound. Therefore, a poem is a musical performance.

A poem can be enjoyed as much for the sound of it as for the sense. In fact, the experience and meaning of poetry is tied up with the music of the language.

Think how sound in English includes so many things we have musical terms for, because vocal production works like a musical instrument. For example, tone, attack, accent pitch, melodic line, and silence between sounds (in music known as rests). Consciously or unconsciously, poets consider:

  • all the different blends of vowel and consonant sounds that have lighter, sweeter/darker, heavier tones because they are produced in different parts of the mouth
  • attacks using open or closed lips and the position of tongue that make slurs, legatos, staccatos, glissandi;
  • English is an accentual language. It places strong and weak accents in different places, such as Ken-TUCK-y, FAS-cin-A-ting that create rhythms
  • Longer and shorter lines and sentences create melodic phrases.
  • Pauses due to punctuation and the spaces between words function like musical rests (line breaks, periods, commas, semicolons, colons, dashes, exclamation points, question marks, and the natural boundaries between clauses).

Being sensitive to the melodic and musical nature of language will help your poetry become more interesting.

2. Poetry is based on Image

When writing fiction and other narratives such as creative nonfiction, you learn to “show and not tell” or at least “show as well as tell.” The emphasis is on showing or describing. That is, using vivid language to evoke the senses and create an impression of a real place. 

Just as with narratives, description (called “imagery” in poetry) that is vivid and evokes the senses is key.

Images, and not statements, carry the experiences, emotions, and ideas to the reader (poems based on “wit,” meaning wordplay and punning, being perhaps an exception).

Newer, less experienced poets often feel the purpose of poetry is to fill the page with lofty sounding statements. This concept is an error. Time after time, it has been shown that “lofty” or “important” statements often sound trite and make the poet seem pretentious. It robs the reader of discovery, trying to tell the reader what is important.

In contrast, poetry is a vehicle (poet William Carlos Williams called it “a small machine made out of words”) that carries experiences and emotions as well as ideas to readers. While ideas can be mentioned, the need to be “earned” by images. Also, images contain ideas that are open-ended. Statements tend to be closed. Therefore, statements shut down a poem to readers, while imagery opens up a poem to readers

3. Word Choice Matters

In a vocabulary-rich language like English, there are many options. In a flexibly-structured syntactic language like English there are many places within a sentence in which to place words, phrases, and clauses. The words you use and where you put them matter.

I like to think of words like cherries placed for the reader to taste. It gives the idea of an image where a word = a sweet, delicious fruit. Though this is misleading because sometimes you want words to taste “bitter” or “acidic.”

At any rate, experienced poets soon discover that in a short form like poetry, every word counts. And a deletion, addition, or substitution of just one word can have profound effects on a poem. 

Make attention to vocabulary and the study of vocabulary part of your life of poetry. 

4. Poems “Turn

The “Turn” (called the “volta” in Italian) is an important part of poetry. Think of it as a change of direction in the poem’s tone, subject, language, or direction. There can be more than one “turn” in a poem, but often a poem “turns” towards the closure. Discovering the “turn” is part of what makes a poem surprising and interesting. Another way to put this concept of the turn is that poems need to “go somewhere” in terms of emotion, experience, and meaning. That is, the mood, meaning, building of tension create some kind of what might be referred to as “arc,” “direction,” or “flow.”

5. Lines Matter!

Poems are made up of lines. Lines do not have to equal one sentence. The idea of line NOT sentence is important. Sentences can stop in the middle of lines, and they can span multiple lines. Putting language into lines, and modifying the lines in revision changes the way we experience something. On the page it is visual, on the page and on the “stage” it is a part of performance.

Line endings are important places of emphasis, and so it’s important what word you place there. Your line endings should do some “poetic work.”

6. Use Modern Language

Writing contemporary poetry, we should not deliberately sound archaic or “poetical.” Strive to make your lines and syntax sound natural, not tortured. And this will be true in formal poetry as well. That is, unless you are deliberately playing past against the present in terms of language effects. 

(updated 12 January 2020)

For several decades I have conducted writing workshops of all kinds, and for 14 years I have taught writing on the faculty of Indiana University Southeast. Now I have decided to give back for these opportunities by making my lessons available online. I hope you enjoy this lesson, and the other lessons here on my writing Web site, michael-jackman.com. You may download and use any lesson here free of charge, provided you give credit as: © Copyright Michael Jackman. All Rights Reserved.

Although the lessons are free of charge, please help support all my work in writing and maintaining this site through a small contribution using the PayPal link on the top right of this post. Thank you for your support! – Michael

How to Succeed in an Online Course

Dear Students and Teachers:

With many of us transitioning to teaching and taking courses online, we are learning that we need new ways to approach these courses. This tip sheet is one I present my students at the beginning of the semester, based on issues that come up in my courses. Though some tips specifically refer to Canvas, which is the course management system used currently at IU Southeast, they are easily adaptable to your own online course management system. I hope you find them useful. Please share in the comments section any tips you have for surviving online courses!

An online course has the culture of a class but experiences it and delivers it through a Web browser. It superficially resembles, but it is not, the culture of social media. 

Tip 1: Web Browsers and their Pesky Issues

  • If you have an ad blocker installed in your browser or have disabled pop-ups, turn off ad blocker for Canvas Web pages and re-enable pop-up windows to make sure you have all the functions of Canvas working correctly.
  • If you find something you need still doesn’t work, try logging in on another browser. What works in Chrome may not work in Firefox or Safari, etc. etc. etc. 

Tip 2: Finding Out When Assignments Are Due

  • There are several ways to find out what is due in your Canvas course. You can click on the Calendar, you can view the Course Stream, you can click on the Syllabus and see a list of assignments on the right and by scrolling to the end of the syllabus, and you can click on “Assignments.” I recommend simply looking at our schedule which will be displayed on the home page and which I organized for you. 

Tip 3: OMG, I lost all my work when the internet went down.

  • Why, oh why, do we never remember this happens? I hate doing work over again. I’m entirely too trusting of the Internet, and then when the internet goes belly up, I’m sunk! So here’s what I’ve learned to do:
    • Choice A: Write your discussion forum reflections and responses and your peer reviews using another program. NOT in your Web browser. Save your work, then copy and paste it into the appropriate box. This way, you’ll never lose your work. NOTE: If your battery runs out or if you lose electric power in a storm – this tip will not help!
    • Choice B: Be foolhardy and trust the Internet will have 100% up time. Type right in your browser. But every minute or so, click “select all” (ctl-A) and copy your work to the computer clipboard. That way it will be saved and when online goes offline you won’t lose everything. 
    • Choice C: Do none of this. We will hear you scream from the adjacent county. 

Tip 4: If You’re Already Impatient With These Tips, This Tip Is Especially for You

  • During the last couple of years I’ve noticed that many students are too impatient when they are online, and that many students do not read the complete directions. Therefore, they fail assignments due to incompleteness or doing the wrong thing. Partly, this is due to skimming rather than paying attention to the words and to the screen. This is what you need to do:
    • Turn off distractions while doing coursework. A good way to avoid applying social media and Internet habits inappropriately and self-destructively to an online class is to Close all other screens during your class time. Study and write some place where it is quiet and you are not tempted to divide your attention between college-time screens and social-time screens. Research shows that there is no such thing as multitasking. Divided attention, research has discovered, also divides intelligence and accomplishment.
    • Take time to revise and proof-read before you submit. 
    • Read instructions as well as your work aloud to catch errors and other problems (and to simply hear how your English sounds and flows). If you are in a public place you can whisper.
    • Make sure you scroll down to read all the instructions. Sometimes only part of the instructions will be visible on the screen and it may not look like there is more. Always scroll down. Don’t assume you’ve read it all.
    • Do not skim instructions. Force yourself to pay attention to what the assignment is asking you to do. For example, if the assignment states that using new terms correctly is an important part of the assignment, and you skim over this instruction, you will fail the assignment. If the assignment requires that you cite specific examples, then details that give evidence for your points, and not vague, generic references or summaries, are needed in order to pass. 
    • Recognize that you need to read and study course materials more than once. Especially in an online setting, you will not retain what you have only read or skimmed once from a screen.
    • If you have enough screen “real estate,” open study guides and other material in another window to use as a reference while completing assignments. You can print your study materials and keep them in a notebook to refer to. Remember, it’s required that you make connections between the lessons and your other assignments and writing.

Tip: you can right click your mouse over a link to open that link or menu item or document in another tab or another window of your browser. That way you can open something you need for the course without having to close the page you are on.

  • Don’t confuse online cultures.  An online course has the culture of a class but experiences it and delivers it through a Web browser. It superficially resembles, but it is not, the culture of social media. In that culture, text messages are short, people post short status updates, and usually are satisfied by saying the first thing that comes to their minds, often without revision. Accurate grammar, spelling and punctuation are often unimportant. Our culture is not that culture even though it looks like it on the screen.  Our culture is online academia. Don’t make the mistake of confusing an online class with social media.

If you have tips about how to survive and succeed in an online course, please share with the class.

For several decades I have conducted writing workshops of all kinds, and for 14 years I have taught writing on the faculty of Indiana University Southeast. Now I have decided to give back for these opportunities by making my lessons available online. I hope you enjoy this lesson, and the other lessons here on my writing Web site, michael-jackman.com. You may download and use any lesson here free of charge, provided you give credit as: © Copyright Michael Jackman. All Rights Reserved.

Although the lessons are free of charge, please help support all my work in writing and maintaining this site through a small contribution using the PayPal link on the top right of this post. Thank you for your support! – Michael

Resources for Creative Writers

My list of essential creative writing resources, from my local territory of Indiucky to beyond, periodically updated.

Regional Opportunities (Indiucky and nearby)

Our region is fortunate to offer many opportunities for writers. They include open mic readings, readings by guest authors, book signings, writers workshops, and programs of study. Many opportunities are free or low cost. 

A little further out are these fine opportunities:

Internet Opportunities

  • Here are sources for publication, conferences, workshops, residencies, jobs, and other opportunities:
    • Creative Writers Opportunities is back! I published a number of pieces thanks to this glorious, comprehensive list of calls for publication, prizes, conferences, and more. But when Yahoo recently got rid of its groups feature, I thought it was gone. Now curator Alison Joseph, poet and faculty at Carbondale’s MFA Program, has brought it back as a blog. Hurrah!
    • Submittable is a portal that many publications use for the submission process. It also contains a list of opportunities through its “Discover” link. Account required, but signing up is free. 
    • Cathy’s Comps and Calls
    • Poets and Writers is a print and digital magazine highly valuable for writers. I recommend subscribing. It also maintains a searchable list of opportunities. 
    • The Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP), is probably the most important organization for writers. It features a MASSIVE writing conference every year in a different city, offers services for members, and also publishes as list of opportunities. 
    • Creative Writing Indiucky is a Facebook page I maintain with creative writing news and events of local and regional interest. 
    • Winningwriters.com is a lovely Web site I recently discovered that’s full of advice and opportunities.

(updated 25 January 2020)

Using Retro Wax Paper over Plastic Bags Makes a Home More Eco-Friendly

Here at the homestead we’re always wondering how to cut down on waste. We have a compost pile, and our egg-laying chickens eat a lot of leftovers. But lately my mind has been on plastic waste. Especially with news articles coming out about plastic in the human digestive system, beads of plastic in the ocean food chain, giant rafts of plastic floating on the seas. Plastic may not degrade for hundreds of years. Most plastic isn’t biodegradable, just breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces and potentially mucking up the food-chain from small animals all the way up to humans. I wondered, was there anything at all I could do to reduce its environmental impact?

My imagination served up an answer: a memory of the “old days,” ordering a lunchtime turkey sandwich at the deli near my office in mid-town Manhattan. How those bountiful sandwiches would be expertly and rapidly packaged in folded, delightfully crisp wax paper! So I “remembered” the solution, and I recommend it to you: biodegradable, eco-friendly wax paper and butcher paper.

And maybe in the grand scheme of things aesthetics isn’t that important, but still, I find the texture of wax paper more pleasing than glossy, floppy zip lock bags.

Now, instead of buying various locking sandwich bags, when I make our nine-year old’s lunch in the morning, I pack his sandwich in wax paper. When I buy ground beef or chicken thighs, I repackage smaller meal-portions in butcher paper instead of plastic freezer bags. 

Turns out it’s economical as well as practical, an important consideration for those of us on a budget. Environmental solutions can be costly, but store-brand wax paper can be purchased for as little as two cents per square foot, comparable in price to bargain-brand sandwich bags. Butcher paper is also comparably priced to freezer bags. Some freezer tape, which is masking tape for low temperatures, makes packages easy to seal and to label. Or you can skip the tape altogether and just fold the seams under.

No more seals that break or fall open. And especially for childen’s little hands and senior’s fingers that might have gotten arthritic, no more struggling to grip tiny margins or pull open tight seals.

Here’s how to fold like a pro, according to Tipnut.com (and the 1961 instructions “How To Prepare Foods For Freezing“; from good old Sears, Roebuck & Co.).

How to fold waxed paper like a pro.
It’s easy to fold wax paper like a pro of yesteryear.

Tips: Store wrapped items seam side down to protect seal. You can double wrap meat if the freezer paper you’re using isn’t the best quality. 

The coated paper has additional benefits. No more seals that break or fall open. And especially for childen’s little hands and senior’s fingers that might have gotten arthritic, no more struggling to grip tiny margins or pull open tight seals. And maybe in the grand scheme of things aesthetics isn’t that important, but still, I find the texture of wax paper more pleasing than glossy, floppy zip lock bags.

Finally, for the homesteader, there’s an added bonus: wax paper burns. Next time you need help starting a fire because the tinder in your fire pit or burn box is a little damp, light some wadded-up non-toxic, biodegradable, eco-friendly wax paper. 

Wax paper makes a good eco-friendly fire starter.
Wax paper makes a good, eco-friendly fire starter.