Responding to Writing in Workshop

All writing is treated as fiction.

No criticism, suggestion, or questions are directed toward the writer in response to first-draft writing.

Do not respond by recalling a memory or story. If the memory is a strong one, then write the story and share it with workshop writers.

Do not address the writer as you, as if the voice of the speaker, the storyteller, the narrator of the writing is the same person as the one workshop reader/writer; instead, say the narrator or name the characters. This is our practice even when the writing is written in the first person, I, even when the writer tells us it is true or autobiographical.

Do not refer to a character as a real person rather than an imagined character, for example a family member, such as the character my mother, is not the writer’s mother, ie. your mother. She is the mother character.

Do not recall all your thoughts and feelings. Limit your response to one or two aspects of the writing that stood out for you. Leave room for others to comment.

Writing that has newly come from the pen of a writer should be listened to with care. New writing is as fragile and raw as a newborn and should be treated as respectfully, as tenderly.

•    Do not make overt or subtle suggestions for change.
•    Do not tell one’s own story, ie. This reminds me when I…
•    Do not question
•    Do not express doubt or disbelief
•    Do not describe writing as derivative, overly familiar or clichéd
•    Do not express dislike or disinterest in narrator, voice or character
•    Do not respond with like unless you point to particular words, phrases, actions, etc.

What is helpful is to listen to the writer, then give back what you remember, what stays with you. Each writer is finding his or her way to voice. It cannot be coerced, and it cannot be given form or shape by anyone else.
                    --adapted from Pat Schneider, Writing Alone and with Others

Suggestions for responding:
  • I remember
  • What is strong
  • What is powerful
  • What is brave
  • What stays with me
  • What moves me
  • What surprises me
Point to specific elements by repeating:
Words
Phrases
Sounds
Sentences
Images
Metaphor

Respond as reader, not a critic:
I understand
I get
I see
I hear
I feel




 
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MATINAL, CORPORAL, LACHRYMAL: 1965

MATINAL, CORPORAL, LACHRYMAL : 1965


Women in scarves bowed in the gloom.

            Paint trickles red from the thorny crown

                        and pierced breast of the man on the cross.


The women's own breasts fall then rise

            with the circuit of wooden beads'

                        Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be––


orisons woven through a list of troubles

            felt in the back and the calloused knees––

                        a runaway daughter, a son despised,


a grandchild's leukemia,

            or the husband whose pay won't cover rent

                        drinking it away.


And world-without-end they bow their heads

            in sacred gloom, where rising stones

                        converge in arches groined above––


all that weight held aloft

            as if masons' aspired to lift the world

                        from those upon whom it sits heaviest––

                       
where walls are lined with paintings:

            arrow-bristled, flaming martyrs,

                        Jesus' hand gentle on the woman taken in adultery,

                       
the faithful, rising on rose-rimmed billows,

            angel-flanked souls freed of dark lives,

                        haloed in the ever-after.

                       
The women's voices thrum at "Let Us Pray".

            They strike their breasts at the altar boy's bell,

                        bent in the chill comfort of chant,

           
mouthing familiar phrases,

            nostrils stung by incense,

                        hands burnish down to skin-smoothed oak


the pew's varnished back

           where they lean for support in this two-legged life,

                        lacking money or love or patience or justice,

           
whatever they pray for morning and night.

            When the priest invokes transubstantiation

                        with "This is My Body", their bodies,


sore from childwork and housework,

            seek solace in the down-cast eyes above red glass candles,

                        of the Virgin, whose only son died

           
young–– for compassion, for intercession––

            she whose unflinching plaster and paint

                        witness daily with cool regard

           
re-enactment of what would turn

            any mother's eyes to glass,

                        any mother's heart to stone,

           
and seek to emulate her meek acceptance: God's will

                        to forfeit her only son

                                    on a stony hill


for an unruly and murderous race.

            They beseech her for relief

                        to compacted, calcified spines,

           
pray for the souls of dead parents, and of babies

            unbaptised in limbo, and to forgive

                        own their failures

           
to live like Jesus, the saints, and the martyrs.

            They try to frame their troubles in this life

                        as suffering paid out to amend their fallen state

           
and carve a path to heaven through ritual celebration

            of a god into man crucified.

                        After the priest proclaims,

           
"Go, you are dismissed." they respond

            without thought, "Thanks be to God"

                        and take hearts lightened by ritual

           
and submission to mystery

            back to the street, the office, the grocery store,

                        and home for which they are truly thankful

           
feeling somewhat guided if not at all sure

            that prayers that rose from their hearts' tongues

                        will clear stone arches and be heard.

 

Timothy Brennan

 

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Kate Hymes
I like this even better seeing it in written. There may be one or two places where the constraints of web settings may have distor... Read More
Friday, 11 March 2016 18:53
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Mardi Gras Indians

Mardi Gras day at the break of dawn
warriors pour onto the street in beautiful form.
This is their day so they must hurry.
Cares are forgotten; there is no worry.

Spy boys run with flags waving high
do their duty with lots of pride,
chanting loudly Indian ditties
as they wind their way through the city.

Chieftains dressed so fine and neat
with large feather crowns from head to feet.
Satin, silk and beads to suit their style,
one glance of them is worth your while.

Braves line the street dressed so pretty.
Mardi Gras lasts only a day – what a pity!
Primitive beauty at a  fleeting glance,
watch as they prepare for the Indian dance.

Tambourines beating savagely all the while,
they sing and dance in war like style.
Bowing, kneeling and leaping in the air,
Chock-a-ma-fi-na sung everywhere.

Little boys eyes open wide
when Mardi Gras Indians walk by.
Holding tight to their mother’s hands,
every one loves the Mardi Gras Indian bands.

--Lucy Francois Hymes

Mardi Gras 2016 is February 9. Mardi Gras Indians have a long history in New Orleans and have been a part of Mardi Gras celebrations for generations. My mother, Lucy Francois Hymes, experienced Mardi Indian culture as a child coming of age in New Orleans. A high-light of Mardi Gras for the Hymes family was walking or driving through back-a-town in search of Indians and King Zulu. This was back in the day when neither group was permitted to parade on any downtown streets. This poem captures my mother's memories of Mardi Gras Indians.
Recent Comments
Tim Brennan
Thanks for reminding me of this poem, Kate. I experience the looking up and excitement, especially that of a child, waiting to sig... Read More
Saturday, 06 February 2016 16:02
Melissa Fischer
It's wonderful to read a poem by Lucy after hearing so many stories of her as a child and young woman. Thank you for posting this!... Read More
Sunday, 13 March 2016 00:11
Barbara Edelman
Thanks for sharing your mom's writing; you're so lucky to have some of your mother's writing. See you on Wednesday.
Saturday, 06 February 2016 20:25
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Four, Five, Six, Seven

I am four.
Morning stars are singing
as my mother whips me.
My cowboy belt strikes
across the air, churning
dust motes through the light.
For a surprise, God alights
to stand with me; neither
of us cries.  In my house
courage is admired.

I am five.
Exiled to my grandparents
because my mother’s crazy,
or I’m bad.  Who cares.
I’ve learned to read, and the world
flops open, a loose-limbed book
of wonder.  Giotto in Life
paints a black devil lurking while
the hand of God pierces the sky.
Anguished angels at the Crucifixion
show me how to grieve.

I am six.
Riding through the dark night to
front seat murmurs from my mother
and her lover.  I crank the window down
shout hymns at the winter air.
When my snot runs too fast for singing,
I pull back in, shut out the wind.
Huffed breath mists the glass so my
trigger finger can draw hearts:
KSA plus G for God.

I am seven.
In the convent school I’ve told
Sister Claire my family’s
Holy Catholic, not Roman,
and Sister has explained to the
whole third grade that all my family
will burn in hell for ever.
And ever. After an eternity of terror
and regret I hear the sigh
of God, who knows better.
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wVw 2015 Anthology

wVwAnthology2015FrontCover2"These works expose the dark undersides of life with vibrant, strong imagery, a range of memorable personae and voices, and compelling visions. There is the speaker in Tim Brennan’s “The Urge,” who mediates on the costs of war and revolution for the young, and in her creative nonfiction work, filled with raw, precise detail (that gives us a time and place), Colleen Geraghty creates a child narrator, hyperaware and sensitive, who views the “slime,” “the losing time,” the waste, violence, and abuse of women in her Irish childhood. And yet the works affirm the possibility of hope and do so eloquently.  Perhaps Kate Hymes’s injunction in her poem, “Believe, “ best embodies the subtle strengths of this anthology:  “Hold within you the knowing/ Wounds are possibilities/ Made manifest at the edge-tip/ Of scratchy pens and sharpened tongues.” 
--Jan Zlotnik Schmidt, Distinguished Professor of English, SUNY New Paltz

Writers:
Bythema Bagley
Claudia Battaglia
Tim Brennan
Gloria Caviglia
Susan Chute
Meg Dunne
Barbara Edelman
Kim Ellis
Jeanne-Marie Fleming
Allison Friedman
Colleen Geraghty
Kate Hymes
Barbara Martin
Linda Melick
Barry Menuez
RoseMarie Navarra
Jennifer "Jen" Roy

Purchase copies at Amazon.com, or directly from wVw for $8.00 (email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).
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