Write Sex: Mysterious Conjunctions

A sudden blow: the great wings beating still above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed by the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill, he holds her helpless breast upon his breast. How can those terrified vague fingers push the feathered glory from her loosening thighs? And how can body, laid in that white rush, but feel the strange heart beating where it lies? From Leda and the Swan, by William Butler Yeats

Write Sexercise: Here are 12 images. Describe in 6 full, grammatical sentences what you see in each image. So you will generate 12 sets of 6 sentences. It’s hard work. Do it. Don’t try to tell a story. Don’t give us the before and after of the moment captured here. Don’t get fancy. Just record what you see. Do not start any sentence with “There is …” or “I see …” For instance: There is a blue curtain. No. Try: The curtain is blue. Or: Is that blue curtain a curtain or a tent? The sentences don’t have to follow on from one another. You are a scientist making observations, not a storyteller. You are talking to yourself, not to a reader. You are curious. You understand some of what you can see, but there’s a great deal you don’t understand. All you can do is describe what you see.

Write Sexercise 2: Watch Kim Brandstrup’s ballet. It’s in 2 parts. “The film offers two different accounts of the meeting between Leda and the swan.” Which account do you prefer and why?  Or do you like them both? For different reasons? Or do you like that they are offered together? How do they influence your experience of each? Of the ballet as a whole? Write not more than 5 sentences or so for discussion.

Write Sex: The Delicious Grace

The Delicious Grace of Moving One’s Hand is the collected sex writings of Timothy Leary, biographised as follows on the back cover of my Thunder’s Mouth Press 1998 (first) edition:

Timothy Leary (1920 -1997), an iconic figure of the psychedelic and sexual revolutions, earned a doctorate in psychology from Harvard University where he taught until 1963 when he became, with colleague Richard Alpert, the first Harvard faculty to be dismissed since Ralph Waldo Emerson …

 

Here is Leary’s My First Sexual Encounter

An endless number of memoirs, biographies and autobiographies have been written over the centuries. Authors have described their births in log cabins, in ship-holds, in royal bedrooms, in cow bars, mangers, etc. None of these, to my knowledge, have begun the life story at the moment when the adventure actually begins. I refer, of course, to that most important sexual encounter of one’s life: the circumstances leading up to that magic moment when Dad’s eager sperm exploded all over Mom’s awaiting egg.

I was conceived on a military reservation, West Point, New York, on the night of January 17, 1920. On the preceding day alcohol had become an illegal drug. Academy records reveal that there was a dance that Saturday night at the Officer’s Club. Now that booze was illegal, the ingestion of ethyl alcohol took on glamorous, naughty implications. The Roaring Twenties were about to begin.

My mother, Abigail, often recalled that, during her pregnancy, the smell of distilling moonshine and bathtub gin hung like a rowdy smog over Officer’s Row. My father, Timothy, known as Tote, was about to convert from social drinking to alcohol addiction. In training me for future life he often told me that Prohibition was bad but not as bad as no booze at all.

It was a very special night! Dress-blue uniforms, white gloves, long gowns, Antoine de Paris mannish shingle bobs. The flirtatious but virtuous Abigail, by all accounts, was the most beautiful woman on the post: jet-black hair, milky-soft white skin, curvy Gibson Girl figure.

Tote was behaving arrogantly, as usual. Always the sportsman, he stood at the bar: tall, slim, pouring an illegal recreational drug from a silver pocket flask into the glasses of Captain Omar Bradley, Captain Geoffrey Prentice, and Lieutenant General George Patton.

Abigail, abandoned at a linen-covered, candlelit table, talked to her friend General Douglas MacArthur, Superintendent of the Military Academy, who asked her to dance. The orchestra played “Just a Japanese Sandman”. Lt. Patton, a notorious womanizer, cut in.

Afterward, Tote approached Abigail’s table. Swaying a bit to the “Missouri Waltz, ” my father said, “Look at you sitting there as proper as the Virgin Mary. I’m going to take you for a little annunciation.”

Abigail, her elegant poise compromised only by the faintest flush, folded her fan, rose gracefully, waved gaily to her companions and walked to the cloak room.

Captain Timothy Leary drove his Packard unsteadily to the house on Officer’s Row, humming “Somebody Stole My Gal.” My mother retired to the bedroom, changed to her nightgown, knelt beside the bed, and prayed.

[Note: Abigail and Tote: Timothy Leary’s father was an army dentist, a drunk who beat him and left him at the age of twelve. His mother was a devout Catholic.]

Hail Mother, Full of Grace

Tote mixed a drink of distilled gin. Draining his glass, he ascended unsteadily to the bedroom, removed his Army Blue Jacket with the two silver bars, his black shoes, his black silk socks, his white BVDs. He lay down next to Abigail and initiated the prim fertilization ritual typical of his generation.

Roughly two weeks previous, a splendid, one-in-a-lifetime adventurous egg had been selected carefully from the supply of one million ova stored in my mother’s body and had slowly, sweetly, oozed down her soft, silky Fallopian Highway until it reached, on the night of January 17, 1920, the predetermined rendezvous.

The Lord Is with Thee

At the moment of climax. Tote deposited over 400 million spermatozoa into my mother’s “reproductive tract.”

Opinions still vary in scientific circles about what then tran- spired. According to traditional biological scenarios, the 400 million sperm one of which was carrying half of me immediately engaged in some Olympic swimming race, jostling, bumping, and frantically twisting in Australian crawl or flagellating tail stroke to win the competition, to rape poor, docile-receptive Miss Egg. Reproduction allegedly occurred when the successful jock-sperm forcibly penetrated the ovum.

I passionately reject this theory of conception. I was not reproduced! I was created by an intelligent, teleological process of Nat- ural Election. Disreputable, goofy Lamarck turns out to be right at the level of RNA. Like you, I was precisely, intelligently re-created to play a role necessary for the evolution of our gene pool. The selection of the fertilizing sperm and the decision about the final chromosome division was made by the Egg.

It was She of me that had the final say.

timothy leary2

Blessed Art Thou Among Women

I found myself rocketed into Abigail’s re-creational laboratory, exactly where I was supposed to be, in a warm, pink, ocean-cave pulsing with perfumed signals and chemical instructions, enjoying the ineffable Bliss oft-described by the mystics.

Up ahead, I saw to my astonishment that Miss Egg, far from being a passive, dumb blob with round heels waiting to be knocked up by some first-to-arrive, breathless, sweaty, muscular sperm, was a luminescent sun, radiating amused intelligence, surrounded by magnetic fields bristling with phosphorescent radar scanners and laser-defenses.

With this particular Elegant, Educated, Experienced Egg, one did not rush in with macho zeal. Laid back, late blooming, I studied her many sensory apertures, trying to decipher the signals she emitted, trying to figure out What Does WoMan Want? My career depended on it. Naturally I performed some tricks to attract her attention. They must have worked because soft magnetic attraction floated me gently along the Grand Ovarian Canal, up the Boulevard of Broken Genes, feeling myself measured, treasured, and in some giggling way, sought and taught.

And Blessed is the Fruit of Thy Womb

I was eased into this soft, creamy home, my slim, serpent body sputtering with pleasure. The closer I was pulled to this solar-sphere, the more I dissolved in whirlpools of warm intelligence.

Goodbye. Hello!

Write Sexercise: Respond in any way you want to to this piece of sex writing.

Some suggestions: Write your own first sexual encounter or the first sexual encounter of one of your fictional characters. Or of one of your siblings? If you’re a twin … Baby, what an opportunity! Or imagine twins being conceived. How might an in vitro conception be experienced from the point of view Leary takes? Or other ways of conception? Identify your favourite part of the piece and articulate why you like it. What don’t you like? Explain that. If you write your own first sexual encounter, what conceit might you choose to structure it, as Leary has chosen the opening words of the Hail Mary? What is the effect of Leary’s conceit? What effect would you like your account of your first sexual encounter to have?

But write anything you like. Give yourself 50 minutes, no more no less.

Write Sex: Read Sex

Highveld has been trawling her library. Wednesday 2 December coming up, and we’re reading and writing sex. Oh, didn’t I say? We’ll be thinking too.

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Feminist Aesthetics, edited by Gisela Ecker. Rape: A History from 1860 to the Present, by Joanna Bourke. Women as Revolutionary Agents of Change: The Hite Reports: Sexuality, Love and Emotion, by Shere Hite. A Different Kind of Intimacy, by Karen Finley. Fashion and Fetishism, by David Kunzle. Feminism, Art, Theory, edited by Hilary Robinson. The Boy, by Germaine Greer. Woman as Design, by Stephen Bayley.

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Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women’s Love and Desire, by Lisa M Diamond. The Art of Everyday Ecstasy, by Margot Anand. Love Among the Haystacks and Other Stories, by DH Lawrence. Ladies’ Own Erotica, by the Kensington Ladies’ Erotica Society. Rennie Macandrew’s Encyclopedia of Sex and Love Technique. Autobiography of Red, by Anne Carson. The Ultimate Guide to Strap-On Sex: A Complete Resource for Men and Women, by Karlyn Lotney, AKA Fairy Butch. Trans: Transgender Life Stories from South Africa, by Ruth Morgan, Charl Marais and Joy Rosemary Wellbeloved. Adam’s Curse: A Future Without Men, by Bryan Sykes. Journal of a Wife by Anais Nin. The Journals of Anais Nin Volume Four. Anais Nin: A Biography, by Deidre Bair.

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The Sensuous Man, by “M”. Your Home and Health, by Ellen G White. Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism, by bell hooks. A Cat, a Man, and Two Women, by Junichiro Tanizaki. Queer Africa: New and Collected Fiction, edited by Karen Martin and Makhosazana Xaba. Love Itself, by Helene Cixous. In Our Own Hands: A Book of Self-Help Therapy, by Sheila Ernst and Lucy Goodison. Mainly for Wives, by Robert Chartham. Sexual/Textual Politics: Feminist Literary Theory, by Toril Moi.The Penguin Book of Lesbian Short Stories, edited by Margaret Reynolds.

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Little Birds: Erotica, by Anais Nin. Growing Up in New Guinea, by Margaret Mead. Story of O, by Pauline Reage. Sex in America, edited by Henry Anatole Grunwald. Bed Manners: How to Bring Sunshine Into Your Nights, by Dr Ralph Hopton and Anne Balliol.The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi and Arrowroot, by Junichiro Tanizaki. The Mammoth Book of Erotic Online Diaries: The Ultimate Collection of Sex Blogs, edited by Maxim Jakubowski. Lesbian Peoples: Materials for a Dictionary, by Monique Wittig and Sande Zeig. Eroticism, by Georges Bataille. Life and Death: Unapologetic Writings on the Continuing War Against Women, by Andrea Dworkin. Women on Top, by Nancy Friday. Art and Obscenity, by Kerstin Mey. The Sexual Fix, by Stephen Heath. How to Write a Dirty Story, by Susie Bright. On Flirtation: Psychoanalytic Essays on the Uncommitted Life, by Adam Phillips. The Delicious Grace of Moving One’s Hand: The Collected Sex Writings, by Timothy Leary. An Archive of Feelings: Trauma, Sexuality and Lesbian Public Cultures. Sperm Counts: Overcome by Man’s Most Precious Fluid, by Lisa Jean Moore. Goblin Market, by Christina Rossetti.

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Best New Erotica 5, edited by Maxim Jakubowski. The Soul of Sex: Cultivating Life as an Act of Love, by Thomas Moore. Ideal Marriage: Its Physiology and Technique, by TH Van De Velde MD. Different Loving: The World of Sexual Dominance and Submission, by Gloria G Brame, William D Brame, and Jon Jacobs. The Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships and Other Adventures, by Dossie Easton and Janet W Hardy. Maps to Ecstasy, by Gabrielle Roth. The Seven Deadly Sins, edited by Alison Fell.

Online Studio: Write Sex

To observe and represent the sexual presents us with a challenge to beef up our artistic courage and hone our individual aesthetics. We must each find our way through layers and layers of powerful overdeterminations to write what our unique work demands. Our thinking and practice in Highveld’s Write Sex studios will bring both expressive freedom and expressive precision to any of your writing.

2-week online studio: Write Sex Lite
1-day studio: Write Sex Intensive

2 December to 16 December 2015

beautiful shouting man

Every weekday in Write Sex Lite you’ll receive by email a reading and a prompt for writing sex. You will be encouraged but not obliged to submit your writing and/or your thoughts for discussion to a closed email group. You can drop in and out over the fortnight, or give yourself to every exercise. I will respond to all contributions and moderate group discussions.

Among our considerations will be: the mechanics of making love, point of view, pornography, sex advice columns, hilarity, biology, transgressions, longing, private sex writing, romance, erotic spirituality, and sex in the visual media and arts.

Those of us in or near Johannesburg will seclude ourselves for Write Sex Intensive on 16 December at Welgelegen Manor, an easy hour’s drive from the city and a world away from the world.

Fee for Write Sex Lite 2-week online studio: ZAR600 USD45 GBP30
2 December to 16 December 2015

Fee for Write Sex Intensive 1-day studio at Welgelegen Manor: ZAR600
16 December 2015, 10am to 4pm

Reduced fee for both: R1,000

For bookings and payment details contact: highveldreadingandwriting@gmail.com

Entry requirements: No skaam, no judgements.

 

Writers Who Are and Aren’t Themselves

Winner-winner Stephanus Muller’s Nagmusiek, published by Fourthwall Books, is winging its way to Greylingstad, home of Highveld Reading and Writing Studios. Nagmusiek won the 2015 kykNet-Rapport prize for nonfiction and the Jan Rabie-Rapport prize for fiction. And I won Nagmusiek in Fourthwall’s Facebook competition.

Stephanus Muller
Bookslive
says:

Nagmusiek … sal lank onthou word as daardie-boek-wat-vir-fiksie-én-niefiksie-benoem-was … . Thys Human, beoordelaar van die Jan Rabie-Rapportprys, noem Nagmusiek … “’n uitdagende, grensoorskrydende teks …”. Herman Wasserman, beoordelaar van die niefiksieprys, sê weer in sy nabetragting … : “Nagmusiek is ‘n tegniese kragtoer en ‘n hoogs geslaagde eksperimentele waagstuk …”.

Fourthwall says:

Nagmusiek is … both a scholarly study of the Afrikaans composer Arnold van Wyk and a work of fiction in which the author/biographer – who is and is not Stephanus Muller – highjacks his own literary undertaking. … Muller sets out to explore Van Wyk’s work and in the process creates an epic and genre-defying work of his own. … a groundbreaking work of experimental fiction.

And Princeton University’s Rare Books and Special Collections says:

Is it a novel or a biography or an artists’ book hybrid? The three-volume set is from the wonderful South African publisher Fourthwall Books.

I am curious about Van Wyk. Here is an extract from a letter he wrote while at the Royal Academy, London, around 1940, in which he reflects on the stiff upper lip.

This evening after I had done some decent practicing, I played some of my earlier pieces—the “Nocturne,” the “Bagatelles,” the “Romanza” & “Mazurka” and this has put me in a nice, blue sentimental mood. It would be natural to write a blue letter, with purple moments & mauve cadences, but I’ll do my best not to inflict this on you. Contact with the English has taught me the indecency of emotion; has taught me that naked emotion is as unforgivable as walking down the street without one’s pants. I have as yet not decided whether I am a better man now that I have assimilated this philosophy.

arnold van wyk

Highveld’s 2016 Reading Studios will include Barley Patch by Australian Gerald Murnane.

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Murnane is well known for his virtuoso complications of genre and authorial identities and roles. This recent interview by 3:am Magazine (“Whatever it is, we’re against it”) will give you a sense of the writer – who is and is not Gerald Murnane.

Highveld will also be reading writers who are themselves, like Rosamond Lehmann, Ivy Compton-Burnett, Bessie Head, Virginia Woolf, Patrick Chamoiseau, Eleni Sikelianos, Henry Green, Clarice Lispector and Ivan Vladislavic. Or are they?

 

Imaginative Remembering: Experiment #1

After Another Explosion

You couldn’t see, but we heard the palaver at the bottom of our grounds. We were scared but not confused. My daughter collided into our verandah posts, she ran so hard, calling Daddy! Daddy! This is the nightmare. And I had been nowhere as usual, and the Melmans went on talking their trash in the following quiet. Over the suburb hung the odour of sulphur and burnt newspapers. It was like a Guy Fawkes night. The bitches that roam had taken to their burrows. All the neighbourhood fowls disappeared that night, too, the lot of them gone, into the night garden. November 2014

After Another Explosion was generated using some of the techniques of Imaginative Remembering with some writer friends at my Disturbing Immersions drop-in studio at Her Majesteas Salon, Heidelberg, South Africa, this weekend 21/22 November 2015. The process went something like this:

1. Choose 6 memories. Write them down in full, grammatical sentences, no more than 3 sentences per memory. Work fast but not frantically.

1. I am in the night garden and I am afraid.
2. My mother points out the almond tree in bloom.
3. Oupa is strolling across the fields like a landlord with his spaniels.
4. I am fascinated by the word Weimeraner.
5. Heather and Vanessa did something in the wendyhouse with Vikus.
6. Aunty Emily approves of me when I comply with her wishes.

2. Choose the memory you love best, the one you cherish. Draw a heart around your words.

2. My mother points out the almond tree in bloom.

3. Choose a memory you’d rather not have. Draw lines through it.

5. Heather and Vanessa did something in the wendyhouse with Vikus.

4. Choose a memory in which there is more than one person. Write the memory from the point of view of any person that isn’t you. Or the person whom the memory didn’t happen to. Write 10 full, grammatical sentences, in a neutral tone, exploring the memory. Don’t write more or less than 10 sentences. Give the work a title. Number the sentences and write each one on a new line.

The Night Garden
1. Tonight the little girls disappeared into the stand next door in the dark.
2. It was Guy Fawkes and after the fireworks.
3. The smell of sulphur and burnt paper hung over the neighbourhood.
4. The dogs had gone, gone quiet.
5. The Melmans were talking rubbish as usual and I would rather be somewhere else.
6. This is not the dream.
7. Julia came running onto the stoep: Daddy! Daddy!
8. What’s going on? I said.
9. We’re scared at the bottom of the garden.
10. We heard noises and you can’t see.
11. There are moths and it’s too quiet.

5. Rewrite the sentences starting with 10 and working your way down to 1.

1.We heard noises and you can’t see.
2. We’re scared at the bottom of the garden.
3. What’s going on? I said.
4. Julia came running onto the stoep: Daddy! Daddy!
5. This is not the dream.
6. The Melmans were talking rubbish as usual and I would rather be somewhere else.
7. The dogs had gone, gone quiet.
8. The smell of sulphur and burnt paper hung over the neighbourhood.
9. It was Guy Fawkes and after the fireworks.
10. Tonight the little girls disappeared into the stand next door in the dark.
The Night Garden

6. Identify the concrete nouns in all the sentences. Choose synonyms, or opposites or associations for these nouns.

noises -palaver, racket, silence
garden – park
somewhere – nowhere, anywhere, a placedogs – hounds, brakke, bitches
smell – pong, odour, clunk
stoep – verandah, porch, patio
dream – mystery, longing, nightmare
sulphur – swael
paper – newspaper
rubbish – trash, junk, garbage, vrotgoed
fireworks – explosions
neighbourhood – suburb
girls – chicks
stand next door – empty lot
dark – night, black

7. Replace the nouns in your 10 reordered sentences with the new words you’ve found for them.

1. We heard the palaver, and you can’t see.
2. We’re scared at the bottom of the park.
3. What’s going on?
4. Vanessa came running onto the verandah.
5. This is not the nightmare.
6. The Melmans were talking trash as usual and I would rather be nowhere.
7. The bitches have gone, gone quiet.
8.The odour of the geyser and burnt newspapers hung over the suburb.9. It was Guy Fawkes and after the explosion.
10 Tonight the chicks disappeared into this lot in the night.

8. Find a way to invert each sentence. Swop clauses, turn a negative statement into a positive, etc. Provide some kind of flipping around for each sentence.

1. You can’t see, and we heard the palaver.
2. At the bottom of the park, we’re scared.3. What’s going on?
4. The verandah came running onto Julia.
5. This is the nightmare.
6. I would rather be nowhere as usual and the Melmans were talking trash.
7. Quiet, the bitches have gone, gone.
8. The suburb hung over the odour of the geyser and burnt newspapers.
9. After the explosion, it was Guy Fawkes.
10. The chicks disappeared tonight into the night of this lot.

9. Write the sentences in one long line without any punctuation, just word after word, and add the original title at the end.

You can’t see and we heard the palaver at the bottom of the park we’re scared what’s going on the verandah came running onto Julia this is the nightmare I would rather be nowhere as usual and the Melmans were talking trash quiet the bitches have gone gone the suburb hung over the odour of the geyser and burnt newspapers after the explosion it was Guy Fawkes the chicks disappeared tonight into the night of this lot the night garden.

10. Look for new groupings of words and phrases, new sentences, now that the individual words are free. Craft a short piece of prose that is grammatical, although it may or may not make perfect sense.

11. You will have a piece of evocative raw material. It may be a prose poem. It may be the kick off for a piece of fiction you didn’t know you had waiting. Perhaps you will want to recover some of the facts of your memory but use some of the images Imaginative Remembering has given you. Maybe you hate the piece. And that is a good reason to keep it. Or burn it.

PS What about the memory you love with all your heart and the one you wish you didn’t have? Let the first one go. And the second, recite to yourself as though the words were sacred.

The Sonnet Machine: Experiment #1


Arthur Woolf

I was bending over slowly to adjust my white and perfect ankle sock lined
up in the corridor for maths.
Arthur Woolf was what we called a big boy: smudge of moustache, and
smoked alone in the toilets.
Arthur Woolf did not take maths.
He took woodwork. His school shorts were tight around his thighs. His
coiling

Hips strolled past our right neat line of clever girls and boys on his big
boy’s way to the woodwork workshop.
I was bending over to adjust my little sock. I was taking my own sweet
Time. Arthur Woolf stopped his saunter to the woodwork workshop.
He had his hands in his tight shorts pockets. And he found me

Wanting. He shook his head. No not like this, he said, and bent down from
his waist to his shoes as I was. His ropy arms were hairy, dark silky hairs
I could see.
Arthur Woolf looked upside down at me. You must do it like this, he said,
and knelt down on the tiles on his one bare knee, rolling down his long
boy’s sock with his dirty
Big boy’s fingers. I could see.
And his woodworking shoulders like slow skinless animals alive in his
shirt.

I took in Arthur Woolf’s demonstration.
I could immediately gather how the girl way would lose me my chances to
display the dainty edges of my soft white panties at the soft white edges
of my bottom. September 2013

In Arthur Woolf, I was mainly concerned with rhyming – end rhymes and internal rhymes; cheat rhymes (repeating the exact same word or words): maths/maths, woodwork workshop/woodwork workshop and I could see/I could see; and slant rhymes (words that only just rhyme): toilets/coiling, sweet/me, dirty/shirt and demonstration/bottom. It was fun and sometimes difficult to consider words for their sound rather than using the first – perhaps the most efficient? – word that came to me.

I didn’t make use of iambic pentameter. (The Sonnet Machine is a forgiving machine.) But I did use the basic Shakespearean structure of three quatrains and a final couplet.

My raw material was a childhood memory of being told how to be a proper girl. The space of the three quatrains gave me the opportunity to explore the details of the encounter – social and sensory. The couplet pushed me to sum up, and that summing up came as a surprise.

The Sonnet Machine delivered the complexities of an experience which as an adult I had fossilised into that of a sexually innocent little girl, the victim of gender normative behaviour training. Now I can see the little girl’s sexual desire, including her desire for gendered power, among other difficult truths.

My sonnet Arthur Woolf is excavated material from my unconscious and my imagination, and from various seams of my culture. It may contribute to a piece of memoir, or perhaps become a short story. Maybe I’ll make it a flash. I will probably use some of the techniques of Imaginative Remembering to develop what The Sonnet Machine gave me.

Imaginative Remembering is one of the online writing studios offered by Highveld Reading and Writing.

Our memories – social, familial, cultural, personal – are coded: by those who share them, and by ourselves as we turn “what happened” into the stories that suit us. In Imaginative Remembering, we will tell our lies. And they will lead us like a trail of pebbles to a new remembered truth. We will imagine “what happened” rather then replay it. We will make things up, exaggerate, change the endings. We will generate fiction that is true.

The Sonnet Machine: How It Works

One of my favourite exercises for exploring an idea or enlivening a piece of dull writing is to put myself through The Sonnet Machine. Here’s how it works.

In one end go the raw materials: our glorious visions, that one luminous word we adore, the brilliant opening line of the novel we can’t write, junk, a dream, a moment, the crucial scene in our short story, the shape of a cloud, someone else’s brilliant idea, the poem you wrote when you were 15 and heartbroken, whatever …

… and The Sonnet Machine delivers a piece of writing with an aesthetic form and language-rich content.

The Machine’s primary function is to find patterns: of images, sounds, feelings, rhythms. It also illuminates shadow material: characters who may have been hiding, emotions you’ve suppressed, opinions your super ego censors.

Your sonnet won’t be a finished piece of work. Indeed, it’s likely to be clunky and not make sense. But it will be bulging with images, throbbing with a beat. It will want you to work out what it wants you to say. It’s like your pattern-loving brain and Shakespeare and Petrach and a few other geniuses went into a bosberaad and came out with some suggestions.

In particular, The Sonnet Machine does not deliver narrative. Telling a story is not what a sonnet does best. As Mark Strand and Eavan Boland describe it in The Making of a Poem, the sonnet engages an emotional or intellectual question, captures mood and tone, and allows a fairly free association of images to develop lyrically toward a conclusion.

And now you, the prose writer, must do the work.

Highveld Reading and Writing Studios offers The Sonnet Machine as an 8-week online studio.

In The Sonnet Machine, we use the strictures of form to release us from the strictures of our habits. We all make creative moves that come easily to us: perhaps they’ve been successful in past work, perhaps we admire them in other writers, perhaps we’ve just been making them for years. They can become so familiar that they feel natural, and we forget that once it was a choice to use that particular voice, or punctuation style, or way of ending a story. Included in these comfortable moves are our imaginative associations. One idea reliably generates another idea we love. The Sonnet Machine forces us to make moves we may not want to or like, and takes us beyond our creative defences into the danger zone of our untamed imagination. This intensive studio begins with a brief introduction to the sonnet forms, then moves to a sonnet writing hazing out of the familiar and into the wild of your writer’s mind. You will forge new neural pathways to the images, stories – the words – that your habits have been protecting you from. In the final session of the studio, I will guide you to begin a new piece of work with the stamina and freedom you will have acquired.

I also use it as an element of other studios, such as Disturbing Immersions.

Disturbing Immersions: Drop in!

Disturbing Immersions at Her Majesteas Salon will be a drop-in studio. And free. You don’t have to book, and you can come any time. I’ll be there: from 10am to 3pm on Saturday 21 November and Sunday 22.

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Map and directions to Her Majesteas: 67 Verwoerd Street, Heidelberg, Gauteng.
Her Majesteas menu.

You’ll find me writing, drinking tea, reading on a couch. And available to chat. Or if you’d like to try one of the Disturbing Immersions exercises, we can.

There’ll be information on my other studios, including December’s online Write Sex and the online Reading Studios that I’ll begin in February next year.

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Welcome to Disturbing Immersions at Her Majesteas!

About Karen Martin

DSC_0009 - CopyWriter
I graduated in 2014 from Syracuse University’s top-ranking creative writing MFA programme, where I worked with poets Michael Burkard, Christopher Kennedy, Brooks Haxton and Bruce Smith, novella expert Brian Evenson, novelists Arthur Flowers, Rivka Galchen and Dana Spiotta, visual artist Juan Juarez, memoirist and poet Mary Karr, writer-activist Minnie-Bruce Pratt and short story writer George Saunders. Jonathan Franzen and Zadie Smith visited. I have also worked with veteran writing teacher Lesley Cowling in Johannesburg. And online with short-short writer and poet Barbara Henning and personal narratives teacher extraordinaire Anja Achtenberg. The gifts to me of these devoted teachers, inspiring artists and high order human beings are what I want to share in my Highveld Reading and Writing Studios.

My fiction won me a fellowship at the Norman Mailer Writers Colony, where I worked with Jeffery Renard Allen. I also won an artist’s residency at the Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild. Caine Prize winner EC Osondu awarded my 2013 short story “Re-Enactments” the Stone Canoe prize for an emerging fiction writer in Upstate New York. My first work was published in ITCH in 2010. In 2010, I was also ITCH’s e-intern.

Writing Teacher
At Syracuse University, I taught critical reading and academic writing to undergraduates, as well as a literature appreciation class. I taught fiction to a summer class for high school students. My MFA in Creative Writing required participation in three semester-long workshops, which included written and verbal presentations on my fellow writers’ work, and focused group discussions on aspects of literary craft. I took classes in the short story, memoir, Proust, Ulysses, the novella, contemporary American fiction, Western poetry, the visual arts, music and writing, and literary hoodoo, among others. These seminars required close reading, and written and verbal presentations.

Editor
The anthology I developed and co-edited, Queer Africa: New and Selected Fiction, won the prestigious 2014 Lambda Literary Award for a fiction anthology, the first African book to win a “Lammy”. Queer Africa 2 is in the making.

Technical Editor
I have 20 years’ experience as a freelance technical editor. Among my specialities is Plain English, and I am highly regarded for my interpretive skills. My clients include the South African National Treasury and other government departments, civil society organisations, research institutes, museums, and individual writers. I have international accreditation in copy editing, and I am a member of the UK Society for Editors and Proofreaders and the South African Professional Editors’ Guild.

September 2015