Let's Help Each Other Out!

This is a place for creative writing teachers to share idea to be come better teachers.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Boy Scout Code

Reading my students poems used to give me stomach pains. I would have explained to them what abstractions were. I'd have made them take abstractions, say like "evil," and then write the abstraction concrete, such as "selling tickets to a rape." (Ugh!)

Then I'd get their poems, and even though I told them I'd take five points off for each abstract word beyond one, there would be four or five in a short poem--honor, truth, faith, trustworthy, loyal friendly--sorta like the Boyscout code.

There's that famous Nabakov line: Caress the detail, the divine detail.
I'd tell 'em the heavy use of abstractions was a sign of lazy writing. I'd have them visualize.

But they just wouldn't quit. I still got stomach aches.  So I made them write narrative poems, put in scene and character, and plot, and that got rid of most of it. I suppose the narrartive poem ain't cool these days, but I gave up worrying about cool back in high school.  The narrative poem is good practice--a lead in--to the short story, but I get GOOD ONES, good poems.

Maybe you're more tolerant toward abstraction. It seems a large part of the rhyme in hip-hop poetry. How do you justify them, or how do you chase them away? Tell us.



  1. This advice, to replace abstract descriptors with concrete images, has been the single most helpful bit of feedback I have ever had in response to my poetry. Revising my poetry has always been difficult, as though I am destroying some personal meaning by making it more accessible, but the results of employing this advice have been very gratifying.