In Spring 2013, I taught English 2250 face to face for the first time in a very long while. While some of the elements I had in the online version of this course, I kept–a not-too-quick to the three-genre approach, emphasis on serious play in thinking about language–play that would cross genres–I also tried some different things. I focused on the word (wordplay, sound play, etymology, imitation, parody); on how writers create the voice-effect; on how writers create a sense of location or place, including the rhetorical topoi as common strategies to locate all sorts of writing as they articulate ideas; on how writers slow or speed writing, to create a sense of stillness or movement; and on (finally) a repertoire of shapes, or genres and hybrids. I felt this class was successful; it was idea-rich, and the writing the students produced was varied and theorized.

English 2250 Syllabus  

Instructor: Lisa Bickmore
Office: AD 238A
Phone: 957-4686
E-mail: Canvas only!
Office Hours: M 11 a.m.-1 p.m. (online only!); TR 11-11:30 a.m. W 9-10 a.m., 1-2 p.m.
Other times by appointment.

Introduction to the Course: English 2250, “Introduction to Imaginative Writing,” has usually been taught as a course that introduces you to the practices and genres of creative writing. Typically, that means you write some poetry, some fiction, and some of a third genre which used to be drama and now often is creative nonfiction. Genres have usually grounded a course like this, because imaginative writers have usually been practitioners of one (occasionally more) genre, the boundaries of which have been fairly stable.

In this class, we’re going to try to liberate the creative writing class from these strictures by encouraging all sorts of play: to explore what poet Joyelle McSweeney calls the “flexing and flexible fabric” that is language. To me, this means that you try to discover what language can do, without, at least at first, trying to meet the conventions of genre.

I hope this sounds as exciting to you as it does to me. During the first half of the semester, we’re going to examine

  • some SEEDS of writing: We will find out the ways wordplay and soundplay infect and inflect all writing (jokes, riddles, puns, rhymes, and rhythms are woven through everything we make out of language), and also practice imitation and parody. We’ll also look at the abcedarians and word etymologies as fecund sources for writers. Finally, we’ll look at the ways writers appropriate from other texts as a way of getting new texts going.
  • the VOICES that writers need to be able to invoke and create: We’ll take the opportunity to enter a dialogue with other texts. We’ll also consider the way that our own new texts can be inhabited by the spirits of other texts—other stories, poems, essays, television shows, advertisements, movies. We’ll consider dialogue, argument, and monologue.
  • the LOCI & TOPOI of imaginative writing: We’ll consider the ways that writers, in creating characters or telling stories, seek to represent the world as they see it. We’ll consider and practice developing both imaginative and “real” locations as a means of putting one’s imprint and definition on the contested terrain of the world.
  • the means of creating a sense of STILLNESS & MOVEMENT in imaginative writing: We’ll practice how to create a sense of pace, of speed, swiftness, of stillness or slowness.
  • and finally, we’ll develop a repertoire of SHAPES:We’ll consider a variety of forms and genres, including sentences and gestures. We’ll look at fictive/narrative genres, lyric/poetic genres, as well as hybrid genres, such as prose poems, flash fiction, lyric fiction, micro-fiction, graphic novels, and what they have to tell us about the stability and flux of genre—the more persistent, conventional aspects of written forms.
  • we’ll finish by looking at PUBLICATION & PERFORMANCE: We’ll consider a spectrum of types of publication, ranging from conventional literary magazines to online journals, zines and e-zines, alternative print publications like broadsides and postcards, and distros. We’ll also consider publication as a kind of performance, and performance as a kind of publication.


  • You’ll write new work every week. I will give you prompts and assignments, but within the frame of those prompts and assignments, you’ll have maximal freedom to write what you choose. You’ll do ongoing peer review for all writing in this class.
  • You’ll keep a notebook, separate from your assignments–see the set of notebook prompts for ideas.
  • I’ll confer with you twice during the semester, and look at your work in progress for more in depth feedback.
  • Near the end of the course you will prepare a portfolio of your revised work, first in draft form so that I can give you feedback, and then in final form. Your revised work in this portfolio has the greatest weight in your grade, so you should take the responses your peers and I give you seriously, using it to improve and reshape your work. This portfolio is the signature assignment for this course, along with a reflective essay.
  • You will write two papers for the class (see descriptions below).
  • Also at the end of the class, we will create some kind of publication, to which everyone will contribute work. Details to come later.

Books: You are not required to buy any books for this course. Virtually all of the readings will be online, which you will access through links keyed to each learning module. For the first paper, I will ask you to read one of a short list of books and respond to it. For the second paper, I will ask you to do some research outside the links I’ve given you module to module.

Student roles and responsibilities in this course

A student in English 2250

  • will read all assigned materials in order to participate knowledgeably and fully
  • will write regularly (three or four times a week) in a writer’s notebook
  • will confer twice during the semester with the instructor
  • will contact the instructor if s/he has questions about the course or about assignments
  • will read and respond to the work of peers with diligence, care, and thoughtfulness, and in a timely manner (within the specified time frame)
  • will use the response of instructor and peers to revise her/his work meaningfully.

Instructor roles and responsibilities in this course

You can expect that your instructor

  • will post high quality course materials that will stimulate you as a writer and help you to learn more about imaginative writing
  • will respond to your writing with useful and timely commentary
  • will respond to your communications, such as e-mails or phone messages, in a timely manner
  • will treat you and your writing thoughtfully and respectfully

“Responding to your writing with useful and timely commentary” means, usually, within a week.

“Responding to your communications in a timely manner” normally means within a day.

Treating your writing “thoughtfully and respectfully” does not mean that I will not offer criticisms of it.  It does mean, though, that I believe that every student’s writing deserves to be taken on its own terms.  If I suggest that something about your piece of writing doesn’t work well, you should understand that I mean that, from my perspective as an experienced reader and writer, I see it that way. Your writing is always yours to do with as you will.  I hope that you will take my comments as coming from a great deal of experience, as well as from my sincere desire to see you reach your own goals as a writer.

Writer’s Notebook: I will ask you to keep a writer’s notebook or journal, and I will ask you to submit it electronically twice during the semester, so that I can give you some feedback on the kinds of writing you’re doing there (as well as to make sure that you’re doing it).

Consultations: I will also ask you to consult with me twice during the semester about your writing—once early in the semester and once toward the end, when you’re doing the work of putting your portfolio together. These consultations can take several forms. You can schedule a time to chat; you and I can have a conversation on the phone; we can have an e-mail consultation; and, of course, you’re always welcome to schedule a face-to-face meeting with me, if you prefer and if that’s convenient for you.

Grading Breakdown:

13 drafts (on time)
13 peer reviews (on time)

200 pts

150 pts

Paper #1 100 pts
Paper #2 100 pts
Portfolio 200 pts
Participation in class publication 100 pts
Consultations (2) 50 pts
Journal checks (2) (at consultations) 100 pts
total 1000 pts

Paper #1: Read one of the books listed below. Summarize the book’s major ideas. What is the most valuable advice you found in this book for you as a writer?

Wild Mind, Natalie Goldberg
On Writing, Stephen King
Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg
Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott
The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life, Julia Cameron

You can easily find these books in libraries and bookstores, as they are popular guides to the writing life.

Your paper should be about two to three pages, should cite from the text and should be documented using MLA format.  You should also draw from your own experience in discussing your reading of the book you selected.

Paper #2:  Investigate one of the means of publication we discussed in the module on publication: a print literary journal, an online literary journal, a zine, book publishing, or a distro. In your research, you should find out

•           something about the scope of the means of publication you’ve investigated.
•           Who does it reach and not reach?
•           Who does it include and exclude in the publication process?
•           What advantages does the form of publication you’ve investigated have, and what disadvantages, compared to what you know about other means of publication?

You should carefully explain what you found in your research, which should be as thorough as you can make it.  You should cite liberally from the contents of the literary publication in order to give the reader a sense of the publication, and use MLA format to document your research and citations.  Your paper should be about three or four pages long.

English 2250 * Lisa Bickmore, Instructor * Spring 2013 *

week by week schedule of topics, readings, and assignments

Date/Week Topic Readings Write/Due:
Week 1:
Jan. 15
·Introduction to the class.
·Intro to essay #1: The Writing Life.
Jan. 17 ·Notebook-keeping.
·Writing & the world.
·Didion, “On Keeping a NotebookPreview the documentView in a new window
·Video: On Keeping a Notebook
·Walter Mosley

·View the video of William S. Burroughs talking about cut ups

·Look at list of 50 notebook promptsView in a new window

Cut-up or collage to introduce yourself. (See the Text Mixing Desk as a tool you might use.)


Week 2:
Jan. 22
·The letter.
·Mark Strand, “A Poet’s AlphabetPreview the documentView in a new window
·Terry Ehret, “Papyrus: A Temporary JourneyPreview the documentView in a new window

Ron Carlson’s “Solving for XPreview the documentView in a new window

Kristen Eliason, “Picture Dictionary” (excerpt)

Write your responses to five journal prompts; bring two copies to class for sharing and discussion.
Jan. 24 SEEDS
·The word-hoard.
·Barbara Hamby, “BabelPreview the documentView in a new window
·Robert Pinsky, “Ode to Meaning
·Etymonline (or dictionary)
Week 3:
Jan. 29
·Word- & soundplay.
·Anguish Languish(Read “Ladle Rat Rotten Hut”)
·Joyce, Finnegan’s Wake

·View “Wordplay & Soundplay” video

·See additional readings and resources on themodule readings pageView in a new window.

DRAFT 1: Write an abcedarian OR a piece that makes substantial and playful use of five etymologies OR a piece that does significant wordplay/soundplay. Bring 2 copies to class.
Jan. 31 SEEDS
·Imitation & parody.
·“Heart of a ChampionView in a new window

·Watch at least ten minutes of this episode of Lassie

·(see this page for Harryette Mullen’s parody of Shakespeare)

Week 4:
Feb. 5
Grimm’s Hansel & Gretel

Louise Glück, “Gretel in Darkness

Robert Coover, “The Gingerbread House” (note: some mild adult content, so be advised.)

Looney Tunes, “Bewitched Bunny

Garrison Keillor, “My Stepmother, MyselfPreview the documentView in a new window

Anne Sexton, “Hansel and Gretel”


DRAFT 2: Write a parody or an imitation of about a page/250 words. Bring 2 copies to class, along with a copy of (or link to) the original.
Feb. 7 ·Guest Speaker:
Jennifer Tonge.
Writing from myth.
·Readings (from the speaker)

·Jennifer Tonge, bio.

·Excerpts from Preview the documentView in a new windowHermaionPreview the documentView in a new window.

·Three additional poemsPreview the documentView in a new window.

·Myths & stories about Hermes.


DRAFT: Paper 1. Submit online.
Week 5:
Feb. 12
·Ghosts & hauntings.
·Matthew Zapruder, “Come on all you ghostsPreview the documentView in a new window
·Video (palimpsests)

·The Archimedes Palimpsest

·An excellent set of hypertext links to palimpsests

On Ghost-writing (Scott Westerfield)

DRAFT 3: Write a piece that appropriates a character from another writer’s work, OR makes use of a myth or ancient story, OR borrows some aspect of another writer’s language use.


PEER REVIEWS of Paper 1 draft DUE.

Feb. 14 VOICES
·from True West (Sam Shepard)(language)

·Cheryl Strayed, fromWildPreview the documentView in a new window
·Robin Hemley, “The Liberation of RomePreview the documentView in a new window
·Charles Portis, fromTrue GritPreview the documentView in a new window

Week 6:
Feb. 19
·McSweeney’s Monologues (various authors)

·Two monologuesPreview the documentView in a new window(John Ashbery & Spalding Gray excerpt from Monster in a Box)
·Spalding Gray documentary: And Everything Is Going Fine. (We’ll view a bit in class–but it’s streaming on Netflix if that’s an option and you’re interested.)

 DRAFT 4: Write a dialogue or an argument or a monologue. OR Write a letter addressed to an absent other. OR Write a ghost story, in which the ghost is some kind of writerly influence (subtle or overt).


FINAL DRAFT Paper 1 due.

Feb. 21 LOCI & TOPOI
·From rhetoric.
·Bring a piece of writing that you admire (not your own). Select one, or at most two, pages for us to discuss.

·Review Classical Rhetorical Topoi

·On the Genius Loci

Week 7:
Feb. 26
·Imagined & realized places.
·Colm Toibin, “What is Real Is Imagined

·Philip Levine, “In Memory of Larry Levis

·Philip Levine, “Our Valley

·Larry Levis, “Anastasia & Sandman

·Larry Levis, “Eden and My Generation” (Google Books version–missing one page. I’ll try to scan a complete copy by Monday afternoon.)

·Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Chapter 1 of One Hundred Years of Solitude


DRAFT 5: Making use of the classical rhetorical topoi, write a physical setting. Other things can go on in the piece, but the setting must be immediate and definite.
Feb. 28 LOCI & TOPOI
 We’ll work with the material we’ve already read today.  
Week 8:
Mar. 5
NOTE: We’ll use these readings over the next several classes.


·Annie Dillard, “MiragesPreview the documentView in a new window.”

·Chase Twichell, “Monastery Nights.”

·Mark Strand, “The Seven Last Words” and “Delirium Waltz.”

·Barry Lopez, “An Intimate Geography

·Don Delillo, “Pafko at the WallPreview the documentView in a new window” (this is long–it is wonderful, but don’t feel you need to read it all in a day.)

·Eudora Welty, “A Still Moment

·Yusef Komunyakaa, “Blues Chant Hoodoo Revival


DRAFT 6: Write a meditation OR a piece in which stillness is the operative mood/mode.
Mar. 7 NO CLASS. I will be out of town at a conference. Since you have two drafts for next week, you can focus on those two drafts, and on the reading posted for March 5.    
Week 9:
Mar. 12


·Changing speed.
·Conferences/Journal Check.

  DRAFT 7: Write a piece in which swiftness, urgency, or speed is the operative mood/mode
·Form & genre.
·Intro to Essay #2, “Publication.”
  DRAFT 8: translate a slow piece into a speedy one OR translate a speedy piece into a meditative one.
(Mar. 18-22)
No classes!    
Week 10:
Mar. 26
·Gestures & Rhythms.
  DRAFT 9: Write the sentences indicated inthis exercise. Do at least fifteen of them, but I encourage you to do them all.



Mar. 28 SHAPES
·Boxes, genres & chance.
·Translation DRAFT Paper 2 due at midnight. Submit online. I’ll assign peer reviews.
Week 11:
April 2
·Fictive narrations.

Ron Hansen, “WickednessPreview the documentView in a new window

Margaret Atwood, “Happy EndingsPreview the documentView in a new window

Denis Johnson, “EmergencyPreview the documentView in a new window

Rick Moody, “DemonologyPreview the documentView in a new window

DRAFT 10: write a story. NOTE: one of your pieces (from the series of draft assignments 10-13) should be a graphic text of some sort, OR you may translate a text-based piece into a graphic text.



April 4 SHAPES

Lorrie Moore, “People Like ThatPreview the documentView in a new window

Tim O’Brien, “The Things They CarriedPreview the documentView in a new window

Viktor Pelevin, “The Life and Adventures of Shed Number XIIPreview the documentView in a new window


Week 12:
April 9
·Song & Poetry.
·Dean Young, “Everyday Escapees
·Eavan Boland, “The Long Evenings of their Leavetakings
·Lucie Brock-Broido, “Gouldian Kit
·Adam Kirsch, “Revolutionaries, 1929
·Lorine Niedecker, “Darwin
·Cathy Song, “The Man Moves Earth
·Michael Hofmann, “Venice Beach


April 11 SHAPES
·Lyric & narrative (song & story).
·A. Van Jordan, “One Week
·Melcion Mateu, “Abyss
·Anne Carson, “Three Poems
·Reginald Dwayne Betts, “Elegy With a City In It
·Jill Osier, “The Horses Are Fighting
·Kimberly Johnson, “Book of Hours
·Jeanne Marie Beaumont, “A Munsters’ Breakfast
·Bruce Beasley, “As In A Dim Scriptorium
·David Hernandez, “Doorknob
DRAFT 11: Write a poem. (possibly a graphic piece?)


FINAL DRAFT Paper 2 due sometime on the weekend (before Monday morning).

Week 13:
April 16
·The essay.
·Conferences/DRAFT portfoliosView in a new window/Journal check.
·Steve Fellner, “Bowling
·Nicole Walker, “On Why Tiny Things Are Good
·Robin Hemley, “A Tale of Two Berries
·Brian Doyle, “The Greatest Nature EssayEver
·David Rakoff,excerpt from Half Empty (language, but also: brilliant.)
April 18 SHAPES
·Flash forms.
·Robin Hemley, “Study Questions for the Essay At HandPreview the documentView in a new window
·Steve Fellner, “On FragmentationPreview the documentView in a new window
·A few notes on the lyric essay
More notes on the lyric essay (from the Seneca Review)
·Anne Carson, “Every Exit is an Entrance (A Praise of Sleep)
DRAFT 12: write an essay. (possibly a graphic piece?)
Week 14:
April 23
·Graphic & electronic texts.
·hyperbole and a half, “The God of Cake
·Interview with Lynda Barry (with embedded graphic texts) << read this one for sure!
·Lynda Barry’s “The Near-Sighted Monkey” (tumblr)(various things– worth seeing how Barry sees her work fitting into the history and tradition of illustrated texts)
·Profile of Lynda Barry
·Marjane Satrapi,Introduction to Persepolis
·Art Spiegelman, Excerpt from Maus
·Alison Bechdel,discussion of Are You My Mother? (with pages of the graphic text)
·Neil Gaiman, excerpt from The Annotated Sandman
 Bring your *designed pages* for the magazine PRINTED (no exceptions!) for our peer review gallery! You’ll get feedback, and you’ll revise for the final magazine.
April 25 PUBLICATION & PERFORMANCE   DRAFT 13: Write a story, poem, or essay composed of fragments or short, stand-alone sub-pieces. (possibly a graphic piece?)
Week 15:
April 30
Final portfolio due May 6 at 9 a.m. The end is nigh!

Final exam period: May 7, 11:20-1:20. It will not be an exam, but a performance/reading. Not optional, but definitely fun.