All posts by Lisa Hase-Jackson

Terms of Endearment: Emotive Diction in Poetry

By Mel Sherrer

 

What makes a poem captivating? Creating concrete imagery using descriptive language can decidedly make a poem beautiful, but for poetry to be captivating it must do more than make the reader see through the eyes of the poet, it must also manipulate the reader to feel as the poet intends them to feel.  Essentially, the question is how can a poem be written to not only entertain, but to affect a reader? The answer lies in diction.

Word choice amplifies descriptive language by adding emotional connotation and context for the imagery presented in a poem.  For example, a writer can present the image of a rose to the reader in a poem, which is typically a pleasant image, evoking pleasant sensory experiences, like the sight or smell of roses. A writer can also make choices about the context built around an image using emotive diction. The poet could call it a putrid rose, a woeful rose, or a haunted rose, consequently altering the connotation of a widely recognized symbol.

One notable progression toward emotive diction in poetry happened during the Romantic period of literature, during which poets sought new ways to intrigue both scholars and laymen. Romantics rejected the use of lofty language in poetry, because it created too much distance between the poet and reader for the poems to be relatable and understandable. The solution was to attach human emotions to everyday images. An image or symbol may be singular to a specific place, society, or culture; however, emotions are universal. Crafting poems with careful word choice can bridge the gap between concrete images and emotional experiences.

So how does one go about making a poem both relatable and captivating? The construction of awe, or captivation, evolves from constructing relatable emotional circumstances. As a human race, we may not have concrete experiences in common, but it can be assumed that we have the range of human emotions in common, which is a fount of relatable content.

A great example lies in Wordsworth’s “I wandered lonely as a cloud” in which the image of a cloud is paired with the emotional context of loneliness. Imagery that includes clouds may typically represent symbols such as, sky, lightness, freedom, and tranquility, but with the addition of the adjective “lonely” a cloud becomes a vehicle for more complex emotional representations, in this way a poet can reinvent meaning for images and symbols which have become trite or cliché.

Emotive diction is a safe tactic for the poet to indulge in abstractions in ways that do not risk convoluting the meaning of a poem for the reader. Word choice, rather than imagery, might also be safe a method for poets to experiment with rhetoric, without inadvertently writing a piece that is lofty, or pretentious. Poets can play with phrases like, a miserable sunrise, or a gleeful dumpster, and rely on the emotional connotations of the words misery and glee to ensure the poem is still comprehensible on some level, to the reader.

Every word counts! The extra effort put towards connotation and context is the fundamental difference between a poem which is meant to be spectacle, as with a painting, and a poem which is meant to be experienced. A beautiful poem can transport a reader to a destination, but a captivating poem can make them celebrate, mourn, laugh, weep, or scream upon arrival.

 

Suggested writing exercise:

Try writing a poem that uses emotive diction to make a concrete image emotionally provocative.

 

Sources:

“I wandered lonely as a cloud.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. M. H. Abrams. Vol. 2. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. 186-187.

Staying Motivated to Write

By: Keagan Herring

Probably one of the hardest things as a writer is staying motivated to write. It’s not that you don’t want to write. Your mind is filled with all these creative and awesome ideas but sometimes the process of getting your thoughts down on paper exactly how you see them in your head takes time and serious effort. You sit there for 10 minutes… 15 minutes… suddenly it’s an hour later and you have one fragment of a sentence and anxiety that you just spent the last hour doing nothing. You put your pen down and think, “I’ll just go do some other things and it will clear my head to write.” But then clearing your head turns into a week and that fragment settles into the pile of papers on your desk, never to be seen or heard from again.

You promise yourself you’ll sit down and write something again soon… when you have an opportunity. But then opportunity never presents itself. Work gets in the way, children become a huge distraction, and obstacle after obstacle presents itself. It’s not that you are procrastinating; it’s just life that gets in the way. So, when do you find the time or motivation to do what you dream of doing?

First, before you think about when to make time, you should assess how important writing is to you. What is it that you do to relax or de-stress after a long day at work, or a busy day with your kids? Perhaps you treat yourself to a glass of wine and your favorite tv show. Or maybe you grab dinner from your favorite restaurant. Or you may even treat yourself to a massage. Whatever it is that you do, you do it because you feel you deserve a break. Sometimes these activities that you treat yourself with take an hour or more. So why not spend just 15 minutes jotting down some of those awesome ideas you have constantly rolling around in your head. Putting ideas to paper, if even just notes, can sometimes lead to enormously great ideas. There is nothing worse than thinking about jotting down a great idea, not getting around to it, and then losing it from your mind completely.

One of the best ways to stay motivated is to find yourself a group of like-minded writers who get together maybe once a week and do short prompt writing. If you don’t know of anyone who is currently doing that, then set a group up yourself and invite a few people whom you think would benefit from this activity. But instead of meeting in person, because let’s face it, who has time for that, plan to do it on Zoom or some other platform you are comfortable with. Set up a time that works best for you. If your friends or associates are as interested in this as you are, they will show for the meeting. Pick one or two-word prompts and do 15 minutes of writing for that prompt. Some groups who meet do several prompts which can make the meeting run 30 minutes to an hour. It is your group so it is entirely up to you. Some groups share what they’ve written, some don’t. Again, that is up to you. The main purpose of this exercise is to get your creative juices flowing. The prompt may have nothing to do with anything you are considering for your poems, short stories, novels, etc… But sometimes these prompts can lead to unexpected outcomes. For instance, you may have a prompt of the words “beautiful” and “hag” in which you write a comical but sad short piece about an old lady with a dry sense of humor. Then suddenly, it hits you! She would make a great secondary character in that story you started six months ago! Or perhaps none of your prompt writing leads to anything significant… until one day, it becomes your collection of short stories for your first published collection. Without prompt writing, you would have had nothing to pull from to even consider publishing.

Another great way to stay motivated is to not try to sit down with the mindset of writing a novel. Start yourself with reasonable goals and work up to the harder ones. Most accomplished, published book-writers suggest writing anywhere from 1000 to 2000 words a day. For some of us, that is a very daunting goal. Just like anything you try to perfect, you must build up to it. For example, if you were asked to run a five-mile race but had never exercised a day in your life, you wouldn’t run right out and try to run five miles. The smarter thing to do is to test your limit the first time you try, go as far as you feel comfortable and leave it at that. Then, on day two, you go to that comfort level and just a little further; day three, a little further. Trying to run five miles when you haven’t ever run before will leave you breathless, exhausted, and disappointed when you come nowhere close to your goal. This leads to disheartened views about your capabilities and eventually you will quit trying. Writing is very much like running a race. Sometimes you have deadlines or people expecting things from you. That is why it is important for you to start off comfortably and work your way towards those exciting goals. Sitting down and writing 100 words seems both hard and easy… but as you start writing, you suddenly realize that 100 words becomes 156 before you know it. “Okay, that wasn’t so bad. Tomorrow, I will try 200 words.” And 200 turns into 317. Suddenly, it doesn’t seem so scary and before you know it, you’re writing that 1000-2000 words a day! It truly is all about conditioning your brain in much the same way you would condition your body for a race.

A final idea, though none of these are all the ideas currently out there, is to keep a memo pad with you to jot down ideas or blurbs that suddenly pop into your head. Perhaps you were standing in line at the grocery store and the mother in front of you has two teenaged boys with her who are highly disrespectful to her, the cashier, and dressed like little hoodlums, which prompts you to ponder how a mother could let her children act or dress like that. But then it becomes a heart-wrenching story about a woman who is actually the aunt (their mother recently killed in a drive-by shooting) and though not having the financial capability nor the experience to take on two teenaged boys, does so because otherwise, her nephews would end up in foster care, or possibly in jail at some point. Suddenly, you are imagining this whole story line that could be the next Lifetime movie! But you didn’t have a memo pad with you, or an index card, or something of the sort, to jot down this exciting idea. By the way, for those of you who prefer to digitalize everything, there are all kinds of apps you can install to quickly record your ground-breaking ideas versus writing them down.

If none of these ideas work for you, then perhaps you are not a writer after all… I’m just kidding. Who am I to tell you what you are not? It is up to you to find that sweet spot that works for you. Reach out to the people who know you best, the professors, writers, and friends who write, and ask what they find to be motivating for them. There are so many opportunities for success. And by success, I don’t necessarily mean being published or making millions… Your success is measured by what you want to do with your writing and how you go about achieving it.

Stay motivated and you will do great things!

December Issue Available Now

2020 Julia Peterkin Literary Awards

Poetry

Winner:

Humankind Needs Larger Birds  by Justin Jannise

Finalists:

Even the Trees Went Under  by Anne Leigh Parrish
440,249 Aconitum maximum Wolfsbane 06-16-20 0814 PDT   by Caroline Goodwin
[dissection]  by Nora Cox

Flash Fiction

Winner:

The Holy Waters   by Krista Beucler
Finalists:
Hemingway’s Typewriter   by Dutch Simmons
Homeless  by Robert Shelton

Regular Features

Fiction:

Will’s Power  by Sam Gridley

Nonfiction:

Maximum Compound Inmate Mothers  by Stephanie Dickinson
The Cadet  by Valerie Smith

Poetry:

the ghost of all things  by David van den Berg
Revenant  by Kevin Griffin
Like Apples  by Susana Lang

Book Reviews

Fiction:

Known by Heart: Collected Stories by Ellen Prentiss Campbell
Review by Jody Hobbs Hesler
Even as we Breathe by Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle
Review by Andrew Clark

Nonfiction:

My Body is a Book of Rules by Elissa Washuta
Review by Amber Wood

Poetry:

Not Human Enough for the Census by Erik Fuhrer
Review by Isabelle Kenyon

Genre Writing in the Classroom

By: Christine Schott

When I was an undergraduate, my fiction workshop professor banned genre writing in our class: no fantasy, no sci-fi, no romance, no detective stories.  Years later, when I started teaching my own creative writing classes, and I was faced with the same decision as my former professor: do I force my undergraduates to write only literary realism, or do I open the floodgates to whatever they want to bring in?

Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of explanations for why genre writing is often banned in fiction workshops, and they are legitimate concerns expressed by people who care very much about their art.  Most of these concerns, discussed below, have to do with the legitimate desire to teach the principles of good writing and avoid the habits of bad writing: the problem with these objections is that they tend to assume you can’t have good writing that’s also genre.  In fact, I have come to the conclusion that banning genre writing is directly counterproductive to my aims as a teacher and as a writer.

The reason my own professor gave for banning genre writing was that she herself was not a reader of genre fiction, and so she couldn’t give us feedback that was consistent with the genre’s conventions.  That was a fair point: she couldn’t give us good feedback about world-building conventions in a sci-fi piece because she didn’t read sci-fi.  But one of the most powerful aspects of the writing workshop is that the professor is not the only voice in the room.  That means the students can be equally valuable in critique as their teachers, particularly because each comes in with their own area of interest and, indeed, expertise.  I have never had a student come to class with a piece in a genre so obscure not a single other student in the room is familiar with it.  When I don’t know much about stories based on video games, I can almost guarantee that at least a couple other students know more than enough to steer our discussion.  And those other students, then, are the intended audience for the story; the fact that I’m not part of that audience doesn’t mean the genre is without value.

The other main reason I’ve heard for banning genre writing is that it is poor in quality, as though subject matter determines how well one can write.  A good example of this bias is  Janet Burroway’s description of fantasy in her chapter “Form, Plot, and Structure” in Writing Fiction.  I love everything else about Burroway’s textbook, but when I teach that chapter, I make my students read Ursula Le Guin’s defense of genre writing alongside it (https://bookviewcafe.com/blog/2012/06/18/le-guin-s-hypothesis/).  Her argument breaking down the literary fiction/genre divide is a simple one: “Literature is the extant body of written art. All novels belong to it. […] Literature consists of many genres, including mystery, science fiction, fantasy, naturalism, [and] realism.”  That is, genres do exist, but literary realism is one of them.

If we accept Le Guin’s premise, we don’t have to dispense with the distinction between good and bad writing, but we have to acknowledge that they are not the exclusive purview of one genre or another.  Because in the end, isn’t good writing recognizable as good writing in any genre?  Doesn’t a good speculative fiction author show instead of tell, use significant detail, create internal conflict, and avoid clichés?  Maybe we’re describing a colony on Mars instead of a neighborhood in Charleston, but good description is good description regardless of the subject.

I think we can teach genre writing the same way we teach any kind of writing: we get our students to read books similar to what they’re working on that are well-written and innovative.  When we want students to write good literary realist fiction, we don’t give them O. Henry anymore: we give them the best of Raymond Carver or Dennis Johnson.  When we want students to write good fantasy, we don’t give them Christopher Paolini or Stephenie Meyer; we give them the best of Diana Wynne Jones or Susanna Clarke.  It may mean we have to spend some time reading a book or two in a genre we don’t usually read, but the result is our students having models to emulate.

Fiction teachers object that there is a lot of terrible writing in genre and that their students only absorb and reproduce the tropes of their chosen genre—because, let’s face it: our students come to us having read a lot more Stephenie Meyer than Diana Wynne Jones.  I don’t deny it.  I only deny the implication that if we make them write literary realism, they will somehow magically become capable of avoiding tropes and clichés.  Isn’t the disenchanted middle-class husband a cliché at this point too?  And yet we’re still writing literary realist novels about him.  I for one would rather read a clichéd story about a dragon than one about a disenchanted middle-class husband.

It’s true that my students writing their first fantasy novel or their first detective story will produce terrible stuff, full of bad writing and tropes I’ve seen a hundred times before.  But they would do the exact same thing if I made them write literary realism, only they wouldn’t have any fun doing it.  They’re beginning writers: they haven’t yet gained the skills or the range of experience that professionals have.  And if I make them write stories about disenchanted middle-class husbands, the risk is that they will lose interest in writing and never gain either one.

My goal as a teacher is not to produce the next Nobel laureate: my goal is to produce writers who have fallen in love with telling stories and who want to improve their skills—not because I tell them that’s what they should aspire to but because they want to become the best storytellers they can.  And if that means my students bring in-progress zombie novels to class, well, I’m going to try to help them write the most dazzlingly lyrical, most profoundly meaningful zombie novel that can possibly be written.

Christine Schott teaches literature and creative writing at Erskine College.  Her work has appeared in Dappled Things and Casino and is forthcoming in the Gettysburg Review.  She holds a PhD in medieval literature from the University of Virginia and an MFA in creative writing from Converse College.

2020 Julia Peterkin Literary Awards for Flash Fiction and Poetry

The editors of South 85 Journal would like to congratulate the winners of 2020 Julia Peterkin Literary Awards.

The 2020 Award for Flash Fiction prize goes to Krista Beucler for her story “The Holy Waters of the Ganges.”

Beucler received a degree in creative writing from the University of Mary Washington, where she served as the Editor-in-Chief for Issue 7.2 of the Rappahannock Review. Krista’s creative work has been published in From Whispers To Roars and is forthcoming from Under the Sun magazine.

This year’s Flash Fiction finalists are “Homeless” by Robert Shelton and “Hemingway’s Typewriter” by Dutch Simmons.

The 2020 Julia Peterkin Award for Poetry goes to Justin Jannise for his poem “Humankind Needs Larger Birds.”

Jannise is the author of How to Be Better by Being Worse, which won the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize and is forthcoming from BOA Editions, Ltd., in April 2021. His poems have appeared in Best New Poets, Best of the Net, Copper Nickel, Yale Review, and New Ohio Review. Recently a recipient of the Inprint Verlaine Prize in Poetry and the Editor-in-Chief of Gulf Coast, Justin lives in Houston, where he is pursuing his Ph.D.

Poetry finalists for 2020 are “Even the Trees Went Under” by Anne Leigh Parrish, “440,249 Aconitum maximum Wolfsbane 06-16-20 0814 PDT” by Caroline Goodwin, and “[dissection]” by Nora Cox.

Look for these winning stories and poems in the December issue of South 85 Journal.

Our next general submission period is open January 15 to April 15, 2021. Check our submission guidelines for details.