The second session starts with Ron drawing a diagonal line on the blackboard. What have I done?, he asks. I don’t get it. Whatever this is, I don’t get it. I really don’t get what he means. And I’m also quite reserved, I don’t know what to say, I’m shy. So when he asks each of us for an answer, I struggle. I don’t know, I say. You’ve just done something abstract which I really don’t get. My classmates’ answers are brilliant. It’s a diagonal line that cuts the board in a half. It’s an attempt to create a straight line. It’s the downhill of success. It is a minimalist representation of a snowy mountain. You creossed the board of 4 dimensionality. You’ve interrupted white space. You expressed your feelins. It means that something is not straight. They just jump on it, and they’re all right. At the end, Ron says to me: just try. And I say: you’ve modified, changed, added something. It does sound abstract enough. It was also easier than I expected. I was looking for the right answer, but I just had to say what I thought.
There is no right answer. This question is a matter of interpretation. He says he has taken it from the poem M. Degas Teaches Art and Science ad Durfee Intermediate School. Detroit, 1942 by Philip Levine. In the poem, everyone has a different answer. The protagonist realises they could give new answers and explain new theories about it forever. I looked back for help, but now / the trees bucked and quaked, and I / knew this could go on forever are the last three lines of the poem. Every single person in the poem, as it happened in class, has a different view. There is no right or wrong. The same happens when reading a poem, and even if someone is completely wrong, that’s good because being wrong is the point of education. Sometimes, when too focused on my writing, I forget the power of education and how valuable is the figure of the teacher, who has the responsibility for encouraging and correcting us at the same time. They encourage us to take risks, but they also correct us when we go off the trail. Or, if going off the trail is good and we do it in a good way, thay may even tell us to go even further. I guess teaching creative writing must be fascinating but terribly difficult. My mum used to say that she loved maths because the result of problems or operations was always precise. It has to be one specific result. She’s a teacher. She admires literature and creative writing teachers because she says it’s completely different. You can value and assess the commitment of a student, but what about the talent? Is there such thing as talent? Can talent without commitment be fructuous?
Anyway. The perception of pieces of writing is the same. Everyone could have a different answer and approach to your writing. It is not, says Ron, just a matter of “you need to deliver” because you need to get published and please your readers. No. This is not writing. You need to follow your own path. People will always have different things to say about you and your writing. In reference to the poems we read about Detroit: how do they modify and add to each other? They are different perspectives of the same city. How do they take us to that city, how do they illustrate our sense of Detroit? The dimensions of it? They are all part of an immense portrait of a city. But how do you conceive the picture of a place, how do you make it compelling to you? In the poems there are violence, emotions, tenderness and also elements of architecture. All elements that may really make a poem great. But how do you as a poet witness life in the city?
Witnessing may happen to close observation of details. The senses show things. Tastes, smells, sounds show things. We often think that poems should have a deep meaning. But what are poems, what do they mean, what makes a poem a poem? These are difficult questions. Ron encouraged us to think about concrete things rather than addressing our poems to big themes – in other words, dealing with big themes through small, meaningful and relevant details. The cliché taught in CW classes is show, don’t tell, but what Ron says is: show us what tells. In the poem A Sort of a Song by William Carlos Williams, he says no ideas but in things. Describing the detail to explore the inner, the self, the deepest meaning of a poem.
Before going straight to obstruction #3, Ron wanted us to do an exercise. He wanted us to draw a map. We had to track on the blank page 4 places and try to write down briefly what we remembered very specifically. Here is mine:
- A place of excitement, where you felt like a miracle happened. Florence, going to Uni under the Duomo. I felt like I could feel and love again after a bad time. Brunelleschi. St. Maria del Fiore. Cobblestone. Cold, puddles. Grey sky. I had my mps, I was listening to music.
- Place of change. Sarah Lawrence College, 1 Mead Way, Bronxville, NY. Office of Carolyn Ferrell, top tower. Andrews East. Snowy. Contrast between cold/warm. End of winter (March?). Bookshelves full of amazing books and ideas. Desk covered in sheets.
- Place of loss. Livorno, centre of Italy. Rosario Church, Via Marradi, windy. White walls, dark floor, quite cold. My grandfather had died, we were at the funeral. I cried my heart out.
- Place where someone broke your heart. Via di Collinaia 56, Livorno, Italy. What was happening? Beginning of Summer, 28/05/2016. I was wearing sneakers and a flowery patterned tshirt. Parking lot, leaning on a car.
This led us to obstruction #3. We had to choose a place and every obstruction was to be based on the map.
- Title should be an address and date, an indication of time and space.
- The first person (I) must be used.
- A person is named.
- Something is said or directly quoted.
- Critical moment, shift. The final stanza must begin with: yet, still, no, never.
This is my attempt.
Piazza Santa Maria del Fiore, December 2012
Brunelleschi had seen
wasted Americans puking their hearts out
On the steps of the church;
Young Italians pissing on its walls,
Thieves sneaking behind Japanese tourists
And horseshit all over the square.
I had seen mornings of rain
When I had no umbrella.
I was late for class
And my train had been to cold
For the whole journey.
I had seen sketchy men whispering
“bella”, hissing, glaring at me
as the wet laces of my shoes
would whip my legs wildly
and my heels got suck in the cobblestone.
All that, as the Dome and Brunelleschi
Would stare at me.
You can imagine the pressure.
Silent, eternal and still,
towering for centuries over
the above-mentioned wasted Americans,
pissing Italian brats,
and girls like me
who didn’t believe
And yet one day
I was late, no umbrella again
It was still raining
Shoelaces would whip,
men would whisper and hiss
Heels would get stuck again,
still I didn’t even notice
Because I was loved
He had told me.
And even if I was silent
Just as they were,
The Dome and Brunelleschi finally knew
I was feeling again.