One of the defining oddities of most university English courses is that students are asked to read one kind of text and then to write another—for instance, to read poetry, and then write a critical essay, or to read fiction, and then write a critical essay, or to read drama . . . and then write a critical essay. While I will indeed ask you to do a good bit of critical writing in this course, I will also ask you to write texts like the ones you read—to briefly imitate their form or approach. And so I will ask you to write a Martin-like shift in perspective, a Sexton-like transformation, a Lethem-like plagiarism, and so on. Determining exactly what those forms are, and how to compose in them, will be a key part of the creative challenge of these assignments.
Here, in brief form, are the six exercises (Xs) I’ll ask you to attempt over the course of the semester.
- X1: Write a brief essay on a cover song that you feel imaginatively changes the meaning of the original.
- X2: As Martin does in Mary O’Reilly, rewrite the opening pages of a familiar poem, story, or novel from the perspective of a heretofore silent character in the text.
- X3: Retell a well-known text in a way that, as Sexton does, unsettles and shifts its meaning.
- X4: Add a text to our class anthology of the re-figurings of the poet William Blake. Write a brief commentary on how Blake is invoked by the text you’ve found.
- X5: Write a “plagiarism” in the style of Jonathan Lethem’s “The Ecstasy of Influence.”
- X6: As part of a panel on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, discuss a particular scene from a version of the play that extends or transforms its meaning.
I’ll post more thoughts on each of these tasks as we move through the semester, and we’ll also talk more about them all in class. Given the varied forms that these pieces might (and hopefully will) take, I find it hard to specify a particular length for them. For the most part, though, you should think of Xs as short exercises—usually running about 1,000 words. I will comment briefly on each of your Xs, largely to suggest ways in which they might be developed and revised. I will grade them with a √ or √-.