February 2008 Archives

Michael Sims will discuss steps towards becoming a freelance writer.

Update, 01 Mar: Stephanie Wytovich wrote up an excellent summary of the event.
Assigned Text:

Hamilton (68-97)

Choose a passage from any literary reading we have done. It can be a whole short poem, a few paragraphs in a story or a few lines of dialog or a speech in a play.

Note: If you get an A or a B on this exercise, you do not need to revise your close reading workbook. I will just drop the zero from my gradebook. (You'll have proved you can do it!)

Demonstrate your ability to read the text closely

  • not by pharaphrasing it line by line
  • not by posting wild ideas about what the text "could" mean
  • not by jotting down the thoughts that popped into your head as you read
  • not by writing about something else (a song or movie) on a similar theme
  • demonstrate (by quoting significant lines) how the passage you chose is part of a web of meanings embedded into the text (that is, if a poem mentions a bird, quote several other passages in the poem that refer to freedom, or power, or nervousness, or rudeness, or stupidity, or some other meaning that the word "bird" might have)
  • demonstrate (by making claims supported by textual evidence) that the passage you chose offers a consistent, coherent, plausible way of interpreting the whole text. (It's not possible to prove that yours is the only way or the best of all possible ways.)

Begin with a thesis.

Assigned Text:

Hamilton (32-65)

Assigned Text:

O'Connor, "The River"

Due Today:

WB1-8: Interview 1

Interview a recent SHU grad or senior who has entrepreneurial experience relevant to your career goals.

As we discussed in class Friday, you need not submit a formal interview written as a news story. You may instead simply write an informal essay about your interview.

Assigned Text:


A short academic article (TBA).

Update: (I'm going to delay this until we've seen the play... more later.)

Due Today:

Portfolio 1

If you have been keeping up with your blogging, this should only take you a few minutes to compile. If you've fallen behind, this assignment is a chance for you to catch up.

Generally, you should include all your entries, if only to demonstrate that you blogged each time I asked you to.  But some people blog more than they strictly have to, so I don't formally require everyone to include every blog entry they wrote. (You might, for instance, post an agenda item before the due date, but then post a longer, more thoughtful entry after the class discussion. I'd rather you put the more thoughtful essay in your portfolio.)

Assigned Text:

Close Reading


  • John Donne's "Song: Go and Catch a Falling Star"
  • Blythe, Hal and Charlie Sweet. "Eliot's 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.'" Explicator 62.2 (2004) 108-110. (The full text of this article is available through the SHU library website. Last time I gave you a link to the exact page, but this time I'm asking you to demonstrate you can find the article on your own. You can start by going to the Reeves Library Home Page and clicking the "Find Articles" button.)
Note how the close reading written by Blythe and Sweet does not re-tell the main idea of the poem, or offer anecdotes about what the poem means to them personally, or offer a list of what the poem "could" mean.

Blythe and Sweet make a specific argument -- an non-obvious claim about Eliot's poem (and they bring in Donne's work for comparison). 

In English, we defend our claims by quoting evidence (usually from the literary work we are studying) in order to SHOW the point we want to make. 

But some observations don't count as non-obvious claims. Let's imagine a story about a protagonist who uses ice cream flavors to sort out all her relationships.

  • Ice cream is mentioned a lot in this story.
  • There is foreshadowing in this story.
None of the above statements would qualify as a non-obvious claim that needs to be defended.

  • Lucinda's mild surprise at learning that her aunt ("the craziest, freeest woman" in Lucinda's life) eats only vanilla ice cream prepares the reader to understand Lucinda's total shock at learning "Aunt Vivian punched a time clock and paid her bills" just like all the other unimaginative and barely distinguishable members of her family.
Note that in the above sentence, I did not first spend a whole sentence setting up the idea I want to talk about, then quote a long passage from the work, and then spend a whole sentence explaining the quote.  Instead, I did all three tasks in a single sentence.

Your agenda item can be any passage from Blythe and Sweet's article, but your reflection paper should:

  1. Quote the main claim or argument (the thesis) that Blythe and Sweet set out to prove.
  2. Quote at least one important piece of evidence the authors use to support their claim.
  3. Find an important paragraph in Blythe and Sweet's article, and analyze it.  Note that Blythe and Sweet don't summarize the works they discuss, or discuss whether they agree with the opinions presented in the poems.
    • What do Blythe and Sweet spend their time talking about? 
    • How do they work their own opinions into their article? 
    • How do they communicate the idea that their claim is worth arguing -- that it's not so obvious that everyone would automatically see it their way?

This isn't a homework assignment or anything, but if you are a creative writing major, you would do well to sign up for the short story of the day on American Literature.com.
The Short Story of the Day features works by Anton Chekhov, Jack London, Louisa May Alcott, H.H. Munro (SAKI), Guy de Maupassant, Charles Dickens, Edgar Allen Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, O. Henry, Ambrose Bierce, and many others. An archive of all the stories featured to date can be found here.
Note that many of these names aren't actually American authors, but this still sounds like a good way to expand your knowledge of literature. (If you'd like extra credit, feel free to read and blog about the story of the day, if the mood strikes you.)
Assigned Text:

Sonnet -- Donne

Assigned Text:

Sonnet -- Shakespeare

Assigned Text:

Shakespeare, MWW (Act 1)

BECAUSE I could not stop for Death,    
He kindly stopped for me;    
The carriage held but just ourselves    
And Immortality.    
We slowly drove, he knew no haste,              5
And I had put away   
My labor, and my leisure too,   
For his civility.   
We passed the school where children played   
At wrestling in a ring;                                   10
We passed the fields of gazing grain,   
We passed the setting sun.   
We paused before a house that seemed   
A swelling of the ground;   
The roof was scarcely visible,                       15
The cornice but a mound.   
Since then 't is centuries; but each   
Feels shorter than the day   
I first surmised the horses' heads   
Were toward eternity.                                   20
Assigned Text:


Monteiro, Katherine A. "Dickinson's 'Victory Comes Late'"   Explicator 44:2 (30-32).

The full text of this article is available through the EBSCOhost.  It is erroneously cataloged as if Emily Dickinson herself is the author of the article, so you won't be able to find it by searching for Monteiro's name. 

In the future, finding the article will be part of the homework assignment, but this time I'll give you the link.

Assigned Text:



VICTORY comes late,    
And is held low to freezing lips    
Too rapt with frost    
To take it.    
How sweet it would have tasted,            5
Just a drop!    
Was God so economical?    
His table's spread too high for us    
Unless we dine on tip-toe.    
Crumbs fit such little mouths,               10
Cherries suit robins;    
The eagle's golden breakfast    
Strangles them.    
God keeps his oath to sparrows,    
Who of little love                                  15
Know how to starve!
Due Today:

WB1-7: Meter

The section on meter in the Hamilton book (193-202) is a bit too encyclopedic for our purposes, so I am taking some extra time to create some exercises that teach the points I want to make. You should scan those pages so that you will know what resources the book offers, but you won't be expected to do those exercises.

WB 1-7 Meter.doc

Full Text (with annotation).

Due Today:

WB1-6: Prosody

Prosody is the general term for the sounds we encounter in poetry.

Poetry is meant to be read aloud. Every word counts, not just for what it means, but for the sounds the word makes when you say it aloud. This is one of many reasons why it is not enough to be able to re-state the idea of a poem in your own words; to understand a poem you need to engage directly with the poet's exact words.

WB 1-6 Prosody.doc
There's a peer review exercise in Turnitin.com, due before class today.
Assigned Text:

Foster (6,9, 11-14)

The first story in the collection.

1) Find an advertisement for a job that you feel your English classes have prepared you to take. The job ad can be for the job you want to get after you graduate, or a summer or part-time job you might apply for now.

2) Print out the advertisement and include it with your submission.

3) Write a half page reflection that addresses your strengths (what specific accomplishments make you a good candidate... not "I love children" but "I volunteered 40 hours in a summer literacy program for 150 middle school students")

4) Write a half page reflection on resources that are available to help you boost areas where you are weak (what volunteer activities can you join, or what classes can you take, in order to make you more competitive for the job? Bear in mind that if you do plan to take classes, everyone else who is competing for the same job will likely have taken similar classes, so think of what else you can do, as well)

5) Provide the names of 2 people on a career track that interests you, whom you might interview for upcoming assignments. (These can be teachers, if you wish.)

Accomplished writers work hard to make their end product look as if they tossed it off effortlessly. While everyone knows the joyful rush of productivity that happens when you feel "inspired," in reality, good writing -- like almost everything else of value -- requires hard work.

You might start by creating a character, based on someone you saw in a train station years ago, or totally out of your own imagination. What one incident in that person's life is worth writing about?

Or, you might start with a genre (fantasy, horror, romance) and try to look for an unusual combination of elements (I once suggested "The Godfather, but with mermaids," which actually makes sense if you've read Hans Christian Andersen's original "The Little Mermaid").

You might start with a line of dialog, or a bit of action.  But however you start, once you've begun to identify bits and pieces of the world where your story will take place, the next step is to plan.

Freshman English major Stephanie Wytovich writes:
I don't know if you are all aware, but Seton Hill has formed an English Club this year! Our goals are to promote literacy, provide community service, engage in literature and inform others about what English has to offer. But most importantly, we're looking for members :)
Due Today:

Ex 1-2: Short Story

About 800 words; 5 pages maximum.

There is also a peer-review exercise in Turnitin.com, due Feb 13.

For this assignment, you may choose to expand a dialog that you began as a workbook exercise, but note that I may have given you an "A" on the dialog exercise simply because you demonstrated the ability to punctuate it properly, and because somewhere in the scene you demonstrated the ability to show. If you do re-use an exercise that you have already submitted, you should look at every scene, every line, and every word.

Five pages is not a lot of space. I've posted some helpful tips, so you can make the most of your alloted space.

Usually I only want you to submit electronic copies of your work. This time I want you to bring three printouts to class, for a group activity.

Assigned Text:

Short Story Tips


For homework, blog your agenda item as you would for any reading assignment. Come to class prepared to workshop some scenarios for your short story that is due Monday.  You are welcome to use your blog to start developing your ideas for your story.
Assigned Text:

Hamilton (1-31)

Rather than just picking one quote at random, I'd like you to choose a set of related terms (for instance, epigram and aphorism; or the difference between a novel and a short story) and briefly demonstrate your ability to apply those concepts to one of the readings we have looked at so far this term.

I'm not asking you to do every exercise in the book, but if one of the exercises give you a good idea for a blog entry, you're welcome to use it.

When we write in order to vent, or work something out in our heads, we are writing for ourselves. All we have to do is mention someone's name, and all the emotions associated with that name come flooding into our consciousness.

There is great value in expressing your feelings through writing; however, the writing strategies that lead to good "venting" (you write whenever the mood strikes you, you churn out words and paragraphs, and then once the emotion passes, you stop) rarely lead to good fiction (or poetry, or personal essays).

It's hard to maintain a clear idea of how your words are going to affect your reader, when you are still caught up in the emotions of the moment you are trying to capture. I don't mean to say that you shouldn't write about what makes you passionate, but rather that the real power of emotive writing is not that it accurately expresses the author's feelings, but that it generates feelings in the reader. (Whether those words "capture" your own feelings is largely irrelevant.)

William Wordsworth defined poetry as "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings from emotions recollected in tranquility."  That definition usefully describes the delicate process of choosing specific incidents to "show" a truth that is important to our developing understanding of the story, without using announcements and labels to "tell" the reader the significance of those incidents.

When we encounter a work of fiction in which the protagonist seems to be pouring out his or her emotions in a great, unrehearsed gush, we see only the end result of hours (or months) of planning, and multiple (or scores) of revisions.

The author has worked hard to make it look like the writing is unplanned.

The writer will carefully conceal important details ("She loves him but can't admit it" or "The suspect the detective is pursuing is really the detective's own brother") that become clear only as the story progresses (maybe, for a short story, only becoming clear in the final line). 

There are, of course, forms of fiction that don't involve great gushes of emotions. For example, detective stories emphasize puzzles and character study, while adventure stories emphasize discovery and setting. 

You can write an inspiring story or a funny one. Don't feel that it's necessary to create an angsty emo teen who rebels against the world. The main thing to do is plan.

Due Today:

WB1-4: Dialog

Demonstrate your ability to write, and properly punctuate, a dialog between two or more characters.

  • On one level, I am checking to see whether you know the rules about paragraphing, where the punctuation marks go, and how to use dialog tags (such as "he said") effectively.
    • Include at least one speech that continues for more than one paragraph (so that you can demonstrate you know the proper way to punctuate such a speech).
    • There is no workbook page to download -- just submit a one-page scene that is mostly dialog.
  • On another level, I want to see whether you can SHOW using dialog effectively.
John hurried desperately into the room, his face white as a sheet, his chest heaving. "I.... I.... I think I saw something," he gasped, barely able to get the words out because he was breathing so hard.
The above example is wasteful.
John burst into the room "I... I think I saw something."
We don't need to be told John "hurried desperately" or that he was out of breath. We also don't need to be told "he gasped" (because "I... I" represents the gasping well enough), and we don't need "he said" either, since John is already the only character mentioned in the paragraph.

We could also revise it this way
John burst into the room. "I think I saw something," he gasped.
The dialog tag "he gasped" is sufficient to convey the way he speaks, so it would be redundant to record every stutter and stammer in his speech.  If, however, your character is ordinarily an eloquent speaker, you might wish to transcribe a stammer, in oder to SHOW that something is unusually meaningful to the character.

More guidelines about using quoted speech:
To redo this assignment:
  • Revise your original submission according to the suggestions I make (If I simply ask you to check the assignment instructions, chance are you missed something very important, such as turning in a few sentences instead of a whole page of prose dialog.  If you don't see what you missed, feel free to ask me.)
  • Write another page of dialog (a completely new situation).
  • Staple your new work on top of your old work; resubmit the original paper with my comments.

Assigned Text:

Glaspell, "Trifles"


Assigned Text:

Foster (19.20)

Assigned Text:

Foster (2, 3, 5)

The full text of this out-of-copyright story by F. Scott Fitzgerald is available online.

To do the RRRR (Read, React, Respond, Reflect) sequence:

  1. Read the assigned text. http://jerz.setonhill.edu/resources/texts/fitzgerald_fs_bbhh/index.html
  2. React by posting an agenda item (quote and brief comments) ON YOUR OWN BLOG, about 24 hours before class meets.

    On this page, type your chosen quotation and include a link to your blog entry. You can just paste the URL after your quote, or you can add a few lines explaining your response to your quote.

    Note -- pay attention to the URL that you post on this page.

    Your URL should look something like the following:

    The following link is not specific enough. Your reader will have to hunt for the specific page.

    A link like the following is only useful to you, because it points to your editing pages -- your readers will find it useless.
  3. Respond: Before class meets, post 2-4 comments on agenda items that your peers have posted to their own weblogs. (If you have been asked to look at 2 separate readings, then I am asking for 4-8 comments.)
  4. Reflect: Bring to class a half-page reflection paper, that names a student whose agenda item made you see the assigned reading in a different way. I will occasionally, but not always, collect the reflection papers. If you wish, you may do your half-page reflection at the same time you write your agenda item -- but that should mean doing them both early, rather than waiting to post your agenda item until the night before or the morning of the class discussion.
  5. Recommended: An optional 5th step. You are welcome to post your half-page reflections on your blog, with a link to the classmate's blog. 

This is listed as 1 "WR1 (Ex 1-1D)" in Turnitin.com.

The purpose of this exercise is for you to call attention to the most significant changes that you made when you revised Ex 1-1. Quote passages from the "before" and "after" versions, and explain why you made the changes that you made.

Both telling and showing are important ways of communicating; however, experienced writers recognize the power of showing.

  • Telling: Richard walked into a room full of zombies.
  • Telling: Richard noticed the unlocked door, peeked inside cautiously, and was horrified to discover a room full of zombies.
  • Telling: "Mr. President, I'd like you to meet the geniuses behind the Xavier Institute," said Richard. He threw open the door, revealing a room full of rampaging zombies.

The last one is actually fairly effective -- as long as it doesn't go on to say "Richards was surprised, since he didn't expect the zombies to be there."  Or "Richard was horrified by what happened next." 

No I was so thrilled that I beat the football captain in a chess game that I made a fool of myself. I'll never live that down.

This is straight telling -- we know that the protagonist makes a fool of himself, but we don't feel embarrassed for him, because we don't see any of this foolish behavior ourselves.  
Maybe My heart was pounding and my adrenaline was pumping. When I finally beat that big bully of a football captain in a chess game, I jumped around like an idiot, taunting him and laughing at him in front of the whole school. Arrogance and geekiness are not a combination that leads to social success.

While the author has added details, those details merely assist the telling -- they don't actually show anything important. We still don't get the chance to see the behavior and judge for ourselves whether it is foolish.
Yes "Your bulging muscles are useless against my superior intellect!" I laughed, as the vanquished football captain and the whole cafeteria stared. "I have captured your queen, and in three moves, I shall utterly destroy your king's little white plastic ass! Bwaaa ha ha hah!"

The completely over-the-top content of the quoted speech communicates the protagonist's emotional state as well as his arrogance; the author does not have to come out and tell us that this behavior is idiotic, because there are enough details that we can come to that conclusion ourselves.

See also: Show, Don't (Just) Tell
Due Today:

Ex 1-1C: Revision

This is listed as item 1a, "Revision 1" on Turnitin.com. Revise Ex 1-1a, based on feedback you have received from peers, from me, and from the lessons you find in workbooks 1 through 3.

Key Concept:

Close Reading

A close reading is a careful, thorough, sustained examination of the words that make up a text. You "read closely" in order to focus your attention on the actual words contained in the text.

A close reading uses short quotations (a few words or only one word) inside sentences that make an argument about the work itself (rather than an argument about your reactions, incidents in the author's life, or whether things today are different from or similar to the society depicted in the literary work).

Note: Close reading is always re-reading.

In a close reading, a text is not so much a mirror to reflect your own opinions and personal reactions; nor is it a window, to look through in order to learn about the subject of the text or the author's motivations or goals; rather, you look at the glass itself -- you look at the language, grammar, punctuation, structure, with the understanding that the author chose each word, each line break, each allusion, in order to achieve a certain effect.

Rather than imagining or arguing about what the author intended, a close reading examines what the text itself has accomplished.

Assigned Text:

Foster (Intro, 1)

Also, a short work of fiction (TBA).

Update, Jan 30: I'm going to save the work of fiction for later... so you can ignore the reference to fiction.

Assigned Text:


Here is the file for Workbook 1-2.  WB 1-2.doc

As with WB1-1, you may type out your answers or write them by hand. Bring the page to class.

If you are asked to redo the assignment, follow the same instructions as above, but use one of these poems:

  • http://rpo.library.utoronto.ca/poem/2618.html
  • http://rpo.library.utoronto.ca/poem/2620.html

Introduction to online journals (weblogs).

I will walk you through the steps during class.

  1. Intro to the SHU blogosphere
  2. Setting up your personal blog
  3. Creating an entry
  4. Completing the RRRR sequence for each assigned reading

If you would like a review, here are detailed instructions (including a link to an audio/video version).

Recent activity on the blogs of all members of this course. This page will update regularly, though it will often lag a few hours behind. To force an update, post a comment anywhere on the NMJ website.
50 Recent Peer Entries

Recent Comments

mark emmanuel madelo on Sonnet -- Shakespeare: can u give me some picture in each sonnets? sonnet
Kaitlin Monier on Portfolio 3: http://blogs.setonhill.edu/KaitlinMonier/2008/05/l
Kayley Dardano on Portfolio 3: This you will want to read
Deana Kubat on Portfolio 3: Bye Bye First Year....Hello Second Year http://bl
Dennis G. Jerz on Ex 2-3: Researched Essay: Yes, that's right -- submit the final draft to Tur
Lauren Miller on Portfolio 3: "You say goodbye And I say hello... Hello, hello I
Juliana Cox on Portfolio 3: It's done! http://blogs.setonhill.edu/JulianaCox/
Ally Hall on Portfolio 3: My farewell portfolio... http://blogs.setonhill.e
A Freshman One Resea on Ex 2-3: Researched Essay: I believe at the beginning of the semester you sai
Jeanine O'Neal on Portfolio 3: The Final Episode of the "Blog Entry" Trilogy http
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