Dred Scott Crankie Project

The following pictures document some of the research, design and performance process that GCAA students participated in as part of their Crankie project for The St. Louis Storytelling Festival with guest artist Adam Booth. 

Eli Mock Trial

Here Eli Bivins sits as Dred Scott in the re-enactment of the Dred Scott trial at The Old Courthouse in Saint Louis.

Students took a tour of the courthouse…

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which would later serve as inspiration for part of their Crankie…

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Students got a chance to experience the jury room in which the Dred Scott case was deliberated…

Posing in the Jury Room

(Here’s a view of the city of Saint Louis out a jury room window)

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Then we returned to GCAA and got painting… Here is image one of The Crankie, in which the Old Courthouse is personified, assuming its own personality:

Rotated View of Courthouse

Image two shows Dred Scott at work as a slave…

Dred Scott Rotated

Image three returns to an inside image of The Courthouse with handprints clamoring for freedom…

Old Courthouse Rotated

And image four presents an American flag with the face of freedom fighters and bloodied hands:

Flag Rotated

Painting was long, messy, and FUN!

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Jay Emma Clare Adam

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In the end, we pulled it off!

Kareemah Ana Jay

 

 

Poetry & Flash Fiction with Kim Lozano

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Today creative writers at GCAA talked poetry, creative nonfiction, and flash fiction with writer and creative writing teacher Kim Lozano.

Here are a couple things we discussed…

  • Honing our ability to see originally
  • Writing specifically
  • Avoiding vague words like “beautiful” and zeroing in on imagery
  • The idea that specificity & imagery apply to fiction, creative nonfiction — all types of writing
  • Embodying emotions in the form of objects: What can I do to show the reader that I’m angry?
  • Show, don’t tell is a creative writing cliché but it’s true –> learn the rules first and then break them
  • The power of our work is in our details
  • Think about gestures – for example, what a character does with their hands
  • Under-utilized element for a lot of poets is the title

Then we read…

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Power
By Corrine Hales

No one we knew had every stopped a train.
Hardly daring to breathe, I waited
Belly-down with my brother
In a dry ditch
Watching through the green thickness
Of grass and willows.
Stuffed with crumpled newspapers,
The shirt and pants looked real enough
Stretched out across the rails. I felt my heart
Beating against the cool ground
And the terrible long screetch of the train’s
Braking began. We had done it.

Then it was in front of us —
A hundred iron wheels tearing like time
Into red flannel and denim, shredding the child
We had made — until it finally stopped.

My brother jabbed at me,
Pointed down the tracks. A man
Had climbed out of the engine, was running
In our direction, waving his arms,
Screaming that he would kill us —
Whoever we were,
Then, very close to the spot
Where we hid, he stomped and cursed
At the rags and papers scattered
Over the gravel from our joke.

I tried to remember which of us
That red shirt had belonged to,
But morning seemed too long ago, and the man
Was falling, sobbing, to his knees.
I couldn’t stop watching.
My brother lay next to me,
His hands covering his ears,
His face pressed tight to the ground.

In this poem, the title Power hints at the physical power of a train, the power of little kids to pull a prank, and the kids realizing their power at the end of the poem. As this poem does, it’s wise at the end of your work to leave it a little unwrapped.

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Feared Drowned
By Sharon Olds

Suddenly nobody knows where you are,
your suit black as seaweed, your bearded
head slick as a seal’s.

Somebody watches the kids. I walk down the
edge of the water, clutching the towel
like a widow’s shawl around me.

None of the swimmers is just right.
Too short, too heavy, clean-shaven,
they rise out of the surf, the water
rushing down their shoulders.

Rocks stick out near shore like heads.
Kelp snakes in like a shed black suit
and I cannot find you.

My stomach begins to contract as if to
vomit salt water,

when up the sand toward me comes
a man who looks very much like you,
his beard matted like beach grass, his suit
dark as a wet shell against his body.

Coming closer, he turns out
to be you — or nearly.
Once you lose someone it is never exactly
the same person who comes back.

As this poem demonstrates, you’re choosing metaphors and similes, think about the world you’re in and the kinds of images that fit with your theme. In other words, choose descriptors that fit your emotional angle. Descriptions convey mood, tone, and message. Description shows how your character feels.

Writing Exercise Number One

Given the emotional angle you take, you can generate really different descriptions of the same place. Given that, try one of the three following writing prompts…

  1. Describe this classroom from the perspective of a person who has time-traveled here from ancient times. Do not mention time-travel.
  2. Describe this classroom from the perspective of someone whose favorite pet has just died. Do not mention the pet or death.
  3. Describe this classroom from the perspective of a snake. Do not mention the snake.

Here one of our responses to prompt #3:

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Nobody in here has a clue. When all these ridiculously behaved kids file out each and everyday, I give a good stretch like the sun spreading across the horizon. Then I have my fun. A quick slide down the cold metal bookshelf, gleefully unfurling myself in the black wire bins of wrinkled papers. “An artist cannot fail; it’s a success to be one.” If only Mrs. O’Donnell could watch me strut across those black letters when she shuts the door behind her at night —

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Review of Creative Nonfiction 

  • Not talking about reports, newspaper journalism
  • Nonfiction is true to the best of my ability — there’s room to play with things that are incidental– things that are major have to be true
  • The creative part of creative nonfiction is sensory details, imagery, figurative language, using the techniques of fiction: dialogue, plot, metaphor, simile
  • Examples of creative nonfiction: memoir, travel writing, humor pieces, blog posts

Intro to Flash Fiction

  • With the internet, it’s become super popular to write short pieces
  • Flash just means short — definitely under 2000 words; there’s not a set word limit, but often 750 words; depends on the editor or magazine

Flash Nonfiction Toolbox

  • Need “heat” from the first sentence
    some sort of urgency, word one, sentence one
  • Focus on one thing
    Don’t trim a long piece down, flash fiction is like a poem, it’s a distilled form
  • Offer a fresh perspective
    Everybody has a fresh perspective, but beginning writers tend to rely on their first thoughts or rely on language clichés
  • Energy hinges on a rapid-fire of information
    Use specific details/avoid the abstract/turn your emotions into objects – set a mood
  • Waste nothing. In other words: every image must carry weight
  • Show the most, tell a little bit, and never explain
    a cliché of creative writing, know all the rules, then break them
  • Weave in your own reflections
    This isn’t the same as ending with a formulaic conclusion or a “moral of the story”
  • Don’t just label the work with a title. Make your title do double duty.
  • Revise, revise, revise – very little creative writing comes out in one shot
    Writing that is easy to read is hard to write. 

In general, think of writing like a good magic show. There’s not real magic happening — there are tricks. In writing, you’re the magician, and you know the tricks. We learn the tricks that make people feel a certain way, and we tug on that (similes, metaphors, alliteration, the list goes on…)

The following flash fiction piece is written by Naomi Shihab Nye. She has an American mother, a Palestinian father, and is known for her poetry. She wrote this piece after 911. This is a piece about family, relationships, plants, confusion… She uses a lot of the tools in the flash fiction toolbox in this piece:

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Someone I Love

Someone I love so much cut down my primrose patch. It looked like an oval of overgrown weeds to him, in the front yard, beyond the stones of the flowerbeds, near the black mailbox on the post. He did not know that for weeks I had been carefully tending and watering it, as a few primroses floated their pink heads above the green mass, unfurled their delicate bonnets. With dozens of buds waiting to shine, we were on the brink, everything popping open, despite the headlines, all sweet flower beings from under the ground remembering what they were supposed to do.

He mowed it down with the old push lawn mower. I was out of town – he didn’t ask his father, who knew how precious it was to me – his father was in the back while this was happening and didn’t see – there wasn’t a second thought – why would we have such a tall patch in the yard – what does my mother do when she comes out here with the old shovel and the bucket and the mysterious sacks of rose food and mulch, poking around in the earth, trimming, the clippers in her pocket, beinding to the wild tangle of jasmine on the fence, the Dutchman’s-pipe, the happy oregano, the funny cacti crowded together in complicated profusion like a family, the miniature chiles – what does she do, why is this here?

He just cut it down. It wasn’t easy.

He must have pushed really hard to get it to go.

When I stood outside in my nightie the next dreamy-sweet morning at dawn after returning home on the midnight plane, watering my bluebonnets snapdragons butterfly bush lantana, wanting to feel tied to the earth again, as I always do when I get home, rooted in soil and stone and old caliche and bamboo and trees, a hundred years of memory in their trunks and bushes we didn’t plant, and the healthy esperanza never losing her hope, and the banana palms poking out their fine and gracious greenery, when I suddenly saw what was gone, what wasn’t there, not there, impossible, I was so shocked I let the hose run all over my bare feet. The cold stun of fury filled me, sorrow rising and pouring into questions: who could do this, why, why, how could anyone? I thought of the time my daddy cmae home to find every head cut off his giant sunflowers fight after they had opened their faces to the sky, and only the empty stalks remaining, heads slashed to the ground, his disbelieving sorrow as he went to his room and lay down on the bed and closed his eyes, and I thought, I will not mention this, I am too sad to mention it, this is the pain of people everywhere, this is the pain this year deserves.

But at breakfast I went a little strange like the lady down the street who shows up at people’s doors with a snarling dog and a hammer in her pocket, I went wild and furious and he swore they just looked like weeds to him, why hadn’t I warned him, why did I only tell Dad?

I pointed them out to you weeks ago, I said.

He said, I don’t remember flower things like that.

And it was the season of blooming and understanding. It was the season of pulling weeds in other corners, hiding from headlines, wondering what it would do if the whole house had been erased or just the books and paintings or what about the whole reckless garden or (then it gets unthinkable but we make ourselves think it now and then to stay human) the child’s arms or legs, what would I do? If I did not love him, who would I become?

Another flash fiction piece worth reading is Confessions by Amy Tan from…

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Writing Exercise Number Two: Flash Fiction

Generating Ideas…

  • Recall a house in which you once lived
  • Recall an incident that filled you with dread
  • Recall something dangerous you did as a child
  • Recall something that happened at a holiday get-together
  • Recall an important or magical person from your childhood
  • Recall an incident that happened at school

Choose one of your ideas and write as many specific details as you can recall. 

  • Ask yourself what impact the incident had on your life. Why do you remember this? Was it a moment you grew or changed? Did you learn something important about yourself or the world? Was it something that wounded you deeply?

The Art of Feedback

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Part of what we’re learning in Creative Writing is how to provide helpful feedback to our peers. Just like there’s an art to writing, there’s an art to critiquing writing. Here are some tips for providing helpful feedback during poetry read alouds:

Start by paying close attention! This means…

  • Putting your phone DOWN
  • Possibly closing your eyes to focus more sharply on the sounds of words

ZOOM IN

When praising someone’s work, focus on a specific

  • Word
  • Line
  • Turn
  • Phrase or
  • Image

that caught your attention. Explain why it caught your attention.

ZOOM IN

When praising someone’s work, focus on

  • the beginning
  • the ending

These parts of a poem carry special weight.

ZOOM IN

When praising someone’s work, focus on figurative language:

  • similes
  • metaphors
  • personification
  • imagery
  • alliteration

How did the poet’s use of figurative language make an idea or a feeling or a plot point more vivid for you?

PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR FEELINGS

When praising someone’s work, focus on…

  • parts of the poem that evoked strong feelings in you

In your feedback, try to explain to the poet what you felt and how you connected his/her words to your own life

PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR MIND’S EYE

When praising someone’s work, focus on…

  • parts of the poem that created a strong mental image

Remember, good writing makes us see something vivid. This is a theme throughout the entire semester.

Tell the poet what you saw in your mind’s eye as they performed their poem.

IF YOU DON’T HAVE MUCH TO SAY…

  • Ask the poet to reread a section of his/her poem, or the poem in its entirety

Poetry is meant to be read in layers – sometimes you need to hear something a second or a third time before you can comment on it.

IF YOU DON’T HAVE MUCH TO SAY…

  • Ask the poet to elaborate on his/her choices.

For example…

  • Why did you choose this topic?
  • Why did you choose this format?
  • What was your thinking behind this word, line, image, phrase, etc.?

WORDS TO AVOID:

  • Cool
  • Awesome
  • Good
  • Incredible
  • Lit

UNLESS…

  • You back it up with something more specific and objective!

A Poem A Day

Check out the following poem Clare Whyte performed in class last week:

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Untitled

Look me in the eyes when you eat my flesh

I straddle the line between here and there,
born on and dying in the folds of the thresh

My pulse has been weak for centuries

I’m held together with sagging skin
and fraying thread

My heart has been beating since before your gods were
a thought in your father’s head.

When I look at my thighs I see death

Waxing and waning as you drew first breath

I was a child before your ancient woods were planted

Blood seeping wounds and shadow spells chanted

I lived a thousand lives before you ever glimpsed my
face between the trees

Tear down the idols of your father
and sink to your knees

I have no youth,
no worth in my bones

carry the weight of my body,
heavy with stones

I am older than the gods of your people

My body is now your church
and my mouth your new steeple

I am the absence of light
and the sun that blinds

I am the joy
the blood of birth
and the grave that reminds

I am your mother,
your father,
and savior too

The ground you walk on and your body’s very tissue

There are buttons to fasten
and shoes to lace

Whisper my name into the empty space

I was born without a face

I am no one

I am no one

I am no one

A Poem A Day

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Check out the following poem Samar performed in class on Wednesday:

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Samar Slaughter

A woman’s body is not a place
for politics or discussion, so
please understands my rules & regulations along with my follow ups and repercussions, see
I don’t understand why,
My bodies even in discussion,
And to be quite frank I find it in fact disgusting That you even think my bodies a place you have the right to be touching.
And I’m sick of those,
“Dress how you wanna be addressed”
Ass people but it’s funny how,
They don’t even address the main issue
Of a woman’s body being used,
As a blown in tissue reused & recycled,
Thrown in the trash used in music videos,
Just for another piece of ass,
Running up check just to see who’s in line next “don’t forget ladies to show off those chest!” Playing my body like a game of chess,
Well lemme tell you player,
You’ve made the wrong move,
And please excuse me,
Because I dont mean to come off rude,
Like those black girls,
Y’all claim to have bad attitudes, but
I’m sick of the statistics, the stereotypes,
And the rules, cause last time I checked
Men don’t rape outfits they rape you,
My outfit should not define the way,
I should be approached nor respected,
And as of late that has been a problem,
Therefore I’m here to address it,
And no I’m not a joke,
My body is not here to be poked & picked, Used & laughed at,
No sir I refuse to be used,
As one of your video vixen lab rats,
And once again please excuse me
But this is the season for clapbacks,
So please hands off & keep ya eyes to yaself. Keep ya hollers & catcalling because HERE,
They are not welcome,
So please keep in mind,
This psa is not here to upset, throw shots,
Or bash but to inform you,
That THIS girl is not just another piece of ass.

A Poem A Day

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We ended our poetry unit yesterday with poetry performances of a final poem. We’ll share one poem a day for the upcoming week or two…

Untitled
Anonymous

I’m the devil’s advocate for all things perfect.
There’s such a persistent, unflattering sound when I opened the cap.
Knowing the punctuation of what’s to happen next, I suffer my forceful thought into my physical physique.
It all could have ended so soon, but I soon ended the attempt.
No attention was needed for all that I left.
But when I saw my blood, my brain triggered.
My blood is their blood, viciously needing to be seen.
I sucked the life out of them mentally.
I’m so impatient to see the future.
I was done.
For now.

ABCEDARIUS

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“When creative writers use the alphabet to provide the structure for a piece of writing, it’s called an abcedarius.

— Heather Sellers, The Practice of Creative Writing

ABCEDARIUS
Dajsha Brown

As we dance around swing our arms up and down
Bow our heads
Cry out prayers and shout
Dance a little more till we get it all out
Everyone’s beginning to feel free
For
God
Has lifted a weight off of thee
It’s an amazing feeling
Just to be in the house of the Lord
Kindled spirits
Lord thank yous and Hallelujahs
May God bless you
Never would’ve made it we sing
Our pain has gone away
Questions here all been answered
Rejoice in our hearts is what we need
Sheds of tears are now of joy
Today is the day the Lord has made
Using our hands to clap out the service
Very happy
Welcoming smiles from the old ladies
Xylophone the kids play
Yes Lord the preacher preached today
Zips up jacket! It’s time to go.