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Blog Bonus

October 13, 2017

Hey, do you read this thing? Yes? Want to start your Friday off with a donut? The first 12 people to get up here in the morning (until the first bell rings – no exceptions) get one. Lit majors only. Come see us in our office to redeem.

Offer has ended. Just one person managed to claim a donut. Expect more offers like this in the future (not necessarily donuts, and not necessarily on Friday).

Did you know you can follow this blog? Did you know you can get automated emailed updates when a new post goes up? You can!



Thursday, October 12

October 12, 2017

Professional Writing: Spelling quiz #1.

You turned in your LAVA press releases. I’ll be handing them back Tuesday and asking for a corrected version (with the original, with my comments, accompanying it) next Thursday.

I gave out Chapter 7 from The Only Grammar Book

On Tuesday, we will have our first “off-the-books” test, which will allow you to practice and rack up points to win semi-valuable prizes. It will also prepare us for the REAL test Thursday. What will be on both these tests?

  • The stuff from Chapters 5, 6 and 7, including proper pronoun use, who vs. whom, comma usage, hyphens, coordinate and non-coordinate adjectives, colons and semicolons, misplaced and dangling modifiers, parallelism in writing (including tense shifts), active vs. passive voice.
  • The spelling words (not all, but some)
  • Maybe a surprise or two

Critical Reading: Today we had what is likely the first half of our discussion of the Foucault reading. You also took a quiz on it to open. If you were absent, see me at your earliest convenience to give me your annotations and take the quiz. BEFORE Tuesday, if you are in school before then. Also, if you were absent, talk to a classmate and get the notes.

Siren: You began annotating the Shearer pieces. Those annotations are due Tuesday at the start of class. I am particularly interested in your correcting these errors:

  • Spelling (duh)
  • Dates
  • Numbers generally (> and < 10, no numbers at the start of sentences, etc.)
  • Titles (itals vs. quotation marks)

This is stuff that everyone HAS to get right, because we do it so often. So make sure you mark it if you see it!

Publishing: Another somewhat productive day.

Style: Notes were taken on Hamilton. You are to compose a Style of Hamilton poem/song. It should tell a story: yours, an already published story (ex: The Three Little Pigs), or an historical event.Hamilton pic

Hitchcock: Today was purely a work day for the midterm presentation. Most people have asked for a copy of their film (but if you find it yourself online, that’s great too). However, no one has yet asked for their corresponding section of the Truffaut interview, nor has anyone asked to see any of the Hitchcock books for potential references. That’s… worrisome, let’s say.  

Survey: Poetry: Today you turned in your anapestic/dactylic homework lines.

Then we reviewed those two triple meters, and tried to distinguish them from the two double meters (iambic/trochaic).

We did this handout and checked it in class. I have included it here with the answers. The front page has some scansion tips that might be useful. Here you go: Scansion tips 10-2-14

Finally, we reviewed the five ways you can mute, or de-emphasize, meter. You can find these on pp. 91-93 in your books, but here’s a recap:

  1. Bridging metrical feet. A word that bridges, or crosses over, two different feet will help mute meter (as opposed to one-syllable words, which tend to emphasize meter). Here’s an example:

A man went down the dusty road a ways

Eight syllables, four stresses. (This example happens to be iambic pentameter.) If we wanted to make the meter a little less obvious, we might say

A weary man went down the dusty road

It’s the same foot and meter, and means basically the same thing, but “weary” and “dusty” bridge two metrical feet, so the rhythm is a little more subtle.”

2. Substitution. You guys are already doing this and might not even have known it. Substituting a trochaic word into an iambic line can help break up the rhythm a little, and mute meter. For example:

Never the two will ever meet again

“Never” is trochaic; the rest of the line is iambic. So “never” breaks things up a bit.

3. Enjambment. We talked about this before. If you use punctuation to end a line, or even if you just end a line at the end of a “sentence” — for example:

I told my friend I wished that he were gone.

then the period (and the end of the thought) makes us stop. And that stop emphasizes meter.

But if we enjamb the line:

I told my friend I wished that

he were gone

and break it so that we force the reader to go straight into the next line, then the reader WON’T stop. And therefore, the meter will be de-emphasized.

4. Alternation. You’re allowed to alternate lines of different length, or even different foot patterns. If you alternate lines of iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter, for example, that’s a specific type of form called a ballad. That form has a very specific rhythm, which I’m sure you recognize.

5. Don’t rhyme. Rhyme enhances meter. Meter enhances rhyme. (Check Dr. Seuss if you don’t believe me.) If you want to de-emphasize one thing, it might be a good idea not to use the other.


So, that quiz. From Chapter 6:

  • Know the difference between syllabic poetry and metered poetry.
  • Know these terms: scansion, stanza, foot, meter, blank verse, enjambment, end-stopping, substitution, alternation (the five meter-muting techniques above, in other words)
  • Know the four major foot patterns (iambic, trochaic, anapestic, dactylic) and the three most common line lengths (pentameter, tetrameter, trimeter), as well as how to use them to scan lines of poetry.

That is all.

Middle School Literary Arts Enrichment:

Wednesday, October 11

October 11, 2017

Fiction Workshop: Today: Giffin and Crawford. Friday: Holten and McCollough.

Your Round 3 piece is due on the blog by 8 a.m. Friday.

Screenwriting Workshop: Today we workshopped Greer. Henry is for Friday.

Act One: Today we watched this A&E documentary about Tennessee Williams, one of the greatest-ever American playwrights, a tragic figure, and our “playwright of the month.” While you should always be cautious when conflating an author’s biography and his or her work, I think you’ll see that Williams’s one-acts do include some material that might be autobiographical:

I gave back the outlines (that I received Friday; I’ll give the others back this Friday). They were OK, but some of them clearly need more work/more thought.

I’m going to ask that you write the exposition of your play (if you want a comparison to something we’ve read, it takes about a page-and-a-half in the version of The Proposal that I gave you) and turn it in on Friday, Oct. 20. An easy way for you to earn points; an easy way for me to see that these are going in the right direction.

The exposition should begin like you are starting your play in SAF: Title, characters, setting, etc. And then straight on to Act 1, Scene 1, and the play itself.

Remember: the exposition should tell us where we are, what’s going on, who at least some of our main characters are, and — hopefully — why we should care about any of this.

BatCat: Keep an eye on your Submittable accounts – first, there are a few new submissions. Also note that I am being more aggressive with the “ALL READ” label – there are quite a few of them now, and not many have 10 reads. Prioritize, please.

If you come across a submission you like and you are the only reader, please feel free to add the “MORE READERS, PLEASE” label. Keep an eye out for these. I will update with the “ALL READ” label if it receives more positive reviews.

Hitchcock: Finished Notorious.

Gave back the Hitchcock responses from last week. The good news is that there were lots of sharp observations; it’s clear that people are not just watching, but are starting to see important things while they watch. That is very cool (and a major goal of this course).

What’s not so cool is that the grades didn’t always align with the quality of the work, because people had trouble following directions. I can’t stress enough how important directions are — not always for their own sake (does anyone really care if the font you use in a screenplay is 12 or 13 point?), but because directions are, and always will be, a way to eliminate people who can’t follow directions. Gatekeepers have to thin the herd somehow; one of the easiest and best ways is by making people follow directions. So do it — and ruin their day!

Survey: Fiction: Today you took notes on voice and persona. Then you got a new assignment. Here’s the sheet: Fiction 10.11.17 – Prompt 4, Voice &amp; Persona. This is due on Monday.

We also took a quiz on The Yellow Wallpaper today, and will discuss it on Monday.

Middle School Enrichment: 

Tuesday, Oct. 10

October 10, 2017

Professional Writing: I gave back the resumes. The good: there were few errors. The layouts were mostly attractive and easy to follow. And people did a reasonable job of taking credit for what they ought to take credit for.

The still-needs-work: Still too much fluff and filler on some of these. I still don’t think anyone has made a good enough case yet for why working on the press is so unique. And if your resume looks skimpy, think about bullet-pointing your responsibilities.

KEEP THESE!!! When I have you rewrite them — and I will be, soon — I’ll want these originals back.

We began talking about press releases, using these journalistic terms:

  • Headline (not title)
  • Subhed (or deck — if your piece needs it)
  • Dateline
  • Lead
  • Direct quotes
  • Inverted pyramid format

I showed you several examples, including this one from our school website. Here are some business-related press releases, and here’s a good primer on how to write a music-related press release.

Your job for Thursday is to write a press release that could go to the hometown newspaper/TV station/radio station of one of these seven LAVA participants:

  1. Sam McDanel
  2. Ian McKinzie
  3. Alexa Bocek
  4. Sara Hamilton
  5. Victoria Wolfe
  6. Niki Koscinski
  7. Patrick Erb-White

You need to:

  1. Create a headline (“Local Teen To Debut Poem About Death At Reading”)
  2. Use a subhed if you want — that’s optional. (Young Poet Dedicates Writing To Her Late Cat)
  3. Give it a dateline — like this: (MIDLAND — Oct. 10, 2017)
  4. Write a lead that gets to the gist of things — the who, what, where, when and why — quickly.
  5. Use two direct quotes from the person in your press release.
  6. Explain what LAVA is and how someone can attend.
  7. Consider using a graf or two of boilerplate about the school at the end.
  8. Speaking of the school, say Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School on first reference, and Lincoln Park thereafter.
  9. Add your contact info — name, phone number and email address (you can make the latter two up) — at the end.

These need to be typewritten and ready to turn in by the start of class Thursday.

Also, spelling quiz Thursday on these 35 words: 35 Spelling Words – Professional Writing

Critical Reading: Another work day (in the long term, it will be easier this way, I think – don’t plan on having work days in the future, it’s never a given). Your Foucault annotations, which are due this Thursday, as previously scheduled, are worth twice as much as the Saussure annotations (so they are worth 20 this time instead of 10). Make sure they are done and done well.

Siren: Today we talked about the recent Jemele Hill/ESPN controversy. When does a reporter cross the line into advocacy?

For my money (and, apparently, ESPN’s), having a reporter encourage a boycott of the sport he or she is covering — and Hill clearly did — clearly crosses that line. Actually, the line is crossed when a reporter who is supposed to have any pretense of objectivity begins taking sides publicly on an issue they cover. This means not just Hill, but lots and lots of “reporters” who are essentially opinion journalists — who not only break stories, but comment on them, on social media, on TV, wherever.

In Hill’s case — and in the case of lots of journalists today — it’s as much the format of the news that leads to this line-crossing as it is the positions advocated. We allow — and the “we” is mostly media companies like ESPN, CNN, Fox, whomever — talking heads who have clearly staked out ideological positions to also report the news. This leads to ideologically driven news coverage, which inevitably leads to charges of bias. Which inevitably leads to the public’s lack of trust in journalism. Which is a thing.

We’ll be revisiting this topic throughout the year, because it ain’t going anywhere.

For Thursday: your 600-word profile of Jim Shearer is due by the start of class. Post it on the Siren blog:  The audio is here:

Publishing: Today we continued to make progress on our various endeavors.

Style: Today several of you read your Frost-style poems. We listened to three songs from Hamilton–What’d I Miss, Alexander Hamilton, and My Shot. For Thursday you should have notes on style.

Hitchcock: Began Notorious. Here’s the observations/response sheet: Hitchcock 10.10.17 – OR Notorious.

Survey: Poetry: Scansion! Scansion! Scansion! (Again.)

I gave back the scansion handouts and the extra credit from last time. Most people really aren’t doing that badly — or at least not as badly as they think. We did a quick review of iambic/trochaic feet and pentameter/tetrameter/trimeter. I’ll give those back Thursday.

We added the two triplet feet — anapestic and dactylic — to our repertoire. The anapest is a light, almost skipping foot (unstressed/unstressed/stressed). Here’s an example, from an Edgar Allan Poe poem some of you know:

For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams
   Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes
   Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;

Why did he choose the anapest? Because he wanted a lighter touch, apparently. While the theme of the poem is morbid, perhaps, Poe also wants to get across the beauty of his memories. It’s a poem more haunted than horrible, and the anapestic foot conveys this spectral feeling.

The dactylic foot, by contrast, is a heavy foot. It has that stress right at the beginning of the triplet — stress/unstressed/unstressed — and its placement means you feel like you’re being beaten down by the rhythm of the poem. Take these lines from the beginning of Alfred. Lord Tennyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade”:

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,

Does that dactylic foot convey the sense of horses galloping toward a military target? I think that was the intent, at least.

For homework Thursday, on the card provided:

Write two lines in anapestic foot (any meter) and two lines in dactylic foot (any meter) for practice.

Keep working on this stuff. It’s a challenge, and it’s going to get more challenging as we begin writing poems in specific foot and metrical patterns, but these skills show themselves in surprising ways as you write, whether you are writing formal poetry or not.

Friday, Oct. 6

October 6, 2017

Fiction Workshop: Today: Hill and Luke Aloi.

Gave out Giffin and Crawford for Wednesday.

Your R3 stories are due on the blog by 8 a.m. Friday.

Screenwriting Workshop: Today we finished up Round 1 with Grace. Two new screenplay were handed out, and we made a slight alteration to the schedule: we’ll be workshopping Greer on Wednesday, the 11th, and then Henry as scheduled on Friday the 13th.

Stay aware of your due dates. See you next week.


Act One: You turned in your outlines. If you were absent, they are due at the start of class Wednesday.

FYI: You can’t write a midterm play without an outline: I won’t accept it. And if you don’t write a midterm play, you will fail this course.

We read the first of what will probably be four plays that we’ll cover by the 20th-century American playwright Tennessee Williams. He’s best-known for his longer works (The Glass Menagerie), but some of his one-acts are just as good.

Today’s play, Hello Bertha, features a very simple dramatic question, made more intense by the pressure of time. Will Bertha leave her room at Goldie’s? She’s been there for two weeks, sick and drunk, and she’s not making any money. Goldie needs the room for “other purposes,” and she can no longer afford to keep Bertha there. So whether Bertha leaves on her own or is forced out or just dies, the answer to the dramatic question seems to be “Yes.”

That part of the play is pretty basic. What makes it interesting is that Bertha (perhaps as a result of sickness, drunkness, or just her natural disposition), has fastened onto the idea of this guy Charlie, whom she used to “see” when she lived in Memphis, as her savior. She remembers fondly their time together (perhaps it was even a time before she became a prostitute), and clearly overrates its significance. While Goldie encourages her to write to Charlie and ask him for help (Bertha has apparently bragged about him before), Bertha can’t, in the end, bring herself to do this.

There are two ways we can view the ending, in which Bertha dictates a letter to Charlie that says, simply, “Hello from Bertha.” One way is that Bertha refuses to ask for the help she desperately needs because she wants to pretend Charlie will be touched by her simple card and declaration of love. (Spoiler alert: he won’t. He might not even remember her.)

The second way is that Bertha has finally realized that Charlie ISN’T going to help her, and she dictates the note to save face. Better to send a simple note — or no note at all — than to ask for help and be turned down, confirming how unimportant she really is.

Either way, it’s delusion that drives this play: Bertha’s inability to face the facts. Charlie isn’t going to help her; nobody is. Goldie didn’t steal her money; Bertha drank it up herself. Bertha is not an important person who can even get the mayor to help her out: she’s an aging prostitute who is likely to be homeless and dead soon.

This gap between reality and fantasy is a common feature in lots of different kinds of literature, from comedy (The Office, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) to drama (Florence Foster Jenkins) to tragedy (pick almost any Tennessee Williams one-act). It’s a device that works because delusions are inherently compelling, almost like extended dramatic irony: we know something the character can’t, or won’t, learn. We’re going to be talking more about it, and you’re going to be writing some of it, as well.

BatCat: Today we had a discussion about GW and then carried on with individual projects. A few of you forgot to put in grades today… you might want to do something about that.

Hitchcock: The final episode of Hitchcock Presents based on a short story by Roald Dahl: “Poison” (S4, Ep 1, 1958). We also watched the relevant Hitch20 episode, which contains some very useful advice about maintaining suspense by what you DON’T show:

Then I gave you a packet which contains all three of the Dahl short stories: “Lamb to the Slaughter,” “Dip in the Pool” and “Poison.”

Your assignment for Monday is to compare either:

  • The short story of “Poison” and the Hitchcock adaptation, or
  • The Hitchcock version of “Lamb” with this version created in 1979 for Roald Dahl’s own TV series, Tales of the Unexpected:

In both cases, consider:

  • Big structural differences, to characters, settings, plots, relationships, etc. Be sure to note the EFFECT of these changes, as well.
  • Perspective. How does getting the story from a different type of narrator change the way we perceive it, for better or worse? (Might apply more to “Posion.”)
  • Technique. Camera angles, shot lengths, types of shots, casting, etc. (Might apply more to “Lamb.”)

This needs to be typewritten, and long enough to make coherent points that reference more than just your personal opinion. They are due Tuesday (no school Monday, remember).

Survey: Fiction: Today Olivia Smith, the managing editor of Pulp, came in to talk to you about submitting to the literary journal.

The rest of class, we went over the rest of the story comparisons from Wednesday, then you got a new reading assignment. For Wednesday, please read The Yellow Wallpaper (pg. 302). There will be a quiz, of course.

Thursday, October 5

October 5, 2017

Professional Writing: You turned in your resumes — I’ll try to have them back to you Tuesday.

Spelling bee — congratulations to our champion, Miss Kashuba, and our runner-up, Mr. Erb-White. I’ll post the additional words we used when I’m not on my phone.

No assignment for Tuesday. Spelling quiz Thursday.

Critical Reading: Today was a work day! We were missing too many people to make pushing forward make sense. It seems as though most people made the most of their time, so thank you for that. Remember that your Foucault needs to be read for next Thursday (with annotations).

Siren: Group interview with Jim Shearer. The audio is here:

Turn it into a 600-word profile by the start of class next Thursday. And do me the favor of posting it on the Siren blog:

Publishing: You continued working in small groups on the initiatives started on Tuesday. Some hopeful/interesting-looking things seem to be happening. Keep it up. 


Hitchcock: Today we started by going over the midterm: Hitchcock 10.5.17 – Midterm Guidelines (I apologize for all of the lines, I don’t know what’s going on with that). You should know your assigned film. Do a little bit of research and stop by sometime soon to get your respective DVD (if you need it at all – many of these are readily available online). You will have some time – but not an excessive amount – to work on this in class over the coming weeks. It is expected that much of the work will be done on your own time, so plan accordingly.

The second half of class, we talked about the history of the production code. You should have put this in your notebook. It is not the last time that we’ll need to talk about these issues.

Survey: Poetry: Scansion! Scansion! Scansion! (OK, enough.)

We reviewed your homework. Then you write four lines of iambic pentameter and four lines of trochaic tetrameter for practice.

Some folks already have it down and others are still battling. That’s OK: it always goes that way. Just keep working and listening; remember the tips (articles, conjunctions and prepositions rarely get a stress; two-syllable words ending in -ing are always trochaic, and so are words like ever, never, etc.); and practice. I believe in ya!

Wednesday, October 4

October 4, 2017

Fiction Workshop: Today: Denny & Duncan. Gave out a new packet: Holten and McCollough, for Friday.

We have reconfigured the schedule a little. Here’s the update:

Friday, Oct. 6: Holten + McCollough comments/annotations due. We will plan to workshop Hill, Luke Aloi (held over from today) and Holten.

Monday, Oct. 9: No school (Columbus Day)

Wednesday, Oct. 11: McCollough, Crawford and Giffin. End of Round Two.

Friday, Oct 13: Round 3 stories due on the blog by 8 a.m. Reading quiz (on the story I’ll be giving you this Friday). We’ll finish up anyone we miss and probably there will be time to work on the first Round 3 packet.

Screenwriting Workshop: Today we workshopped Brooke. Friday: Grace. And that is the end of Round 1. Please stay aware of your Round 2 due dates!

Act One: Today you turned in your cards about the monologue plays we read from the second packet. We didn’t get to the cards today, but we did read four more monologue plays (Vaughn/Johnson/O’Neill/McCollough) and discussed ways we could add complications to extend them.

That leads us to Friday’s assignment: I want you to develop a one-page, typewritten outline for a one-act play that includes the following:

  • The title
  • Characters and character descriptions
  • The setting or settings

All of the above should be in SAF. Then,

  • Exposition. How are we going to meet these characters, and know who they are and the situation they’re in? Will it be verbal or physical? Or both? What is it that makes this day different, and what is the dramatic question of this play?
  • Complication. (There should be at least three.) What are the obstacles that must be overcome to have the dramatic question answered? Do they overlap? Are they sufficiently “complicated” — that is, with enough of a stake — to sustain interest?
  • Resolution. How will the dramatic question be answered? Have the most important loose ends have been tied up? How will we know the play is over?

Because I want you to succeed (and because I want to reward the people who do what they ought, and read the blog daily), I’ve drawn up a sample outline that might be helpful. Download it here: The Proposal – Sample Outline

BatCat: Got some good stuff done today. Thank you!

Hitchcock: Finished Rebecca. Read a Truffaut interview with Hitchcock about the film. Of particular interest, I think, is the idea of house-as-character — something a few of you have seen before. Remember?


You got another handout. Please read the first half of it: the “Haunted House” section, the intro page about Hitchcock and producer David O. Selznick


(a Pittsburgh native and Hollywood heavyweight who also produced the slightly more famous Gone With the Wind), and the first letter in the final section. This is setting us up to talk about the production code tomorrow.

Survey: Fiction: Today you broke into smaller groups and were assigned an additional story to analyze and then compare to A&P. We didn’t finish! If your group didn’t get to “present” today, it will happen on Friday.

On that note, we’re having Fiction on Friday! So bring your books. We’ll be finishing up this discussion, you’ll be handing in your first big assignment (scene rewrites), and then Olivia, our Pulp head editor, will be coming in to talk to you about submitting to the journal.