What do drama, music, the visual arts, and dance have to do with writing dynamic poetry? Everything! Just ask Writers’ Program instructor Michelle Bitting, who has created a new class this fall to help you find inspiration for your own work. Michelle took some time out to share a little more about this new class with us.
WP: Your new class is called The Multitasking Muse: Inspiring Your Poetic Voice through Multiple Art Forms. In the class, students will use different art forms like drama, music, and visual arts to inspire one’s poetry. It doesn’t sound like a typical writing course. Can you tell us a little more about it? What gave you the idea to offer this class?
MB: The idea for this class is a very strong and natural outgrowth of all my experience, my life, thus far in the arts and even as a chef, an art I consider similar to writing. All that sense play and measurement, timing, marinating, heat, etc. Writing is all about image, sound, movement, drama, cadence, costume, and the beautiful bare void of the stage lit by one mighty bulb. How much and how little, as Chekhov would suggest, must be added to make a riveting work of art. All of the mysterious scraps and trappings (language) and how we choose, how we are moved to arrange them on the page. You can think of each poem as a little theatrical or dance or painterly “event.” This is why when examining a poem we often refer to its “staging”–how that is working or not and how to improve it. So, I am constantly thinking about writing in terms of music, movement, the visual, etc. and I wanted to dig in and explore this phenomenon in terms of what I know, what I’ve physically experienced, and what we can discover together as a class.
WP: You were formerly a dancer and a performance artist. Is your creative process as a poet very different from your creative process in these other art forms?
MB: With any art form, it’s all about the hunting and gathering–snippets of ideas, flashes of ephemera recorded, stored–and then a ton of play: trial and error, false starts, perseverance, but mostly just the willingness to immerse oneself in the medium and keep playing with and manipulating ideas whether that involves word, movement, musical phrases or a series of brushstrokes. The more one is willing to keep going back to the blank page, stage, canvas or blank air, the more one is comfortable with the void and the exciting but daunting prospect of filling it.
WP: I’m sure some students may be wondering… is there any movement or dance involved in the class? (Writing is hard enough!)
MB: No, really, this is about the fancy footwork that happens in the mind and on the page and looking at how that happens and ways to create more of it. That said, I have worked with young dancers translating words into movements and vice versa. I also firmly believe the poem needs to dance and the more it dances, the more alive it is as a work of art. There is a lot of research concerning physical movement and how it absolutely encourages bigger leaps of imagination and better overall brain functioning. If we need to get up and move around a bit, we will. Nothing strenuous or embarrassing, I promise!
WP: What kind of student is perfect for this class?
MB: This is a class about inspiration, about getting “a writing groove on,” getting fired up by the art, life, and creative conversations going on around us. I think any writer at any level could be turned on by that. I mean, that’s what I’m always hoping for as a poet–some spark, some insight. And I think it will be really fun to explore different art forms and see how they stir words up for us and how the principles of various genres translate to what works on the page, line by line. Every class, we will discuss poems we’ve written during the week so it’s also great for people who want to come away with some solid new work.
WP: What do you want students to gain the most from your class?
MB: I want them to be excited about poetry and feel inspired to go deeper into their writing and maybe try coming at it from some new fresh way. Maybe one or two will even pick up an instrument or other art practice if they don’t have that in their lives already.
WP: Is there anything else you’d like students to know?
MB: Poetry has all the arts wrapped up in it in profoundly powerful, inexpressible ways. Let’s find the words together to talk about that phenomenon, taking some of the excitement and inspiration into ourselves and the poetry we write together. This should be a blast!
Mae Respicio is the Program Representative for Creative Writing (Onsite).