Friday, June 14, 2013

Joseph Harrington

I'm thinking of Joe at the Millay Colony now, working on the fourth installment of his Mother Sequence, and thought of the interview from a while back.  Looking forward to seeing these in the future--truly an amazing poet, both in lyrical and conceptual works.

Plus, he is a true StL Cardinals fan!

When he visited Washburn, I used his book Things Come On in my Freshman Composition course. (I always include a poetry section in my comp courses.) I recommend it, for any of the three types of classes: lit, creative writing, and composition. My students "did not understand it" at first, but by referring to the Notes section, and discussing the role of parataxis and juxtaposition, they loved it--and loved his reading with the chance to meet him.


My writing assignment:


When the Personal Meets the Socio-Political

We will read Things Come On by Joseph Harrington and explore his collage technique in writing—combining memoir, history, image, and so on.


Read through Things Come On, and write three responses from different sections of the book.

Brainstorm your own personal, life-changing event—something you would want to write a poem about.

Brainstorm what kind of research would be relevant to include—and collect the research, leading to whatever interests you.

Collage away! Use Joseph Harrington’s strategies for your own work.

Page requirement: At least five pages.



Please respond to three different passages/pages out of different sections.

Each reading response should consist of:

1. the statement or idea that you are responding to placed in its proper context--this may mean providing background information about the poem/story itself (include page number);

2. your reaction to the statement or idea;

3. a connection between what you have read and experienced in your own life


My teaching notes:


How the words are placed. Prose takes a different form than poetry, usually—paragraphs versus stanzas. With Things Come On, lists, images, and such truly use a different form to make a collage.


Basically, when we think of context, we are talking about what words "mean" in regards to the why, where, and how they are used with the other words/images around them. Instead of the denotation--what a line says in itself--the context would compare that line to the lines before and after, if not the work as a whole. A lot of Things Come On has to do with Joseph Harrington’s mother's cancer and her passing away, Watergate, documentation, and the struggle to remember, which sets up the context for the words and images.


Read through the notes in the back for each page. That way, you can see how Joe H. borrows from different texts and sources to "blend in" with his voice.

Also, look for the effect of form—like on page 22. This is a Q&A that refers to himself in the third person. How cool is that?


I found this amazing video on collage! The writer does it with using advertisements--more of a word-by-word method--rather than using research and documents.

Remember the use of notes in the back of Joe's book to "figure out" how Joe is interweaving the historical and social event with his personal event.

The conversation on page 36 is an amazing collage/blending, as Joseph's speech (Mr. Harrington from KS), his father's words (Mr. Harrington from TN), and the Watergate hearings are woven together.

Again, start with an event as a point for your own writing and research:

  • Research the years: what happened in the news, what songs were popular, films, and include the things that would be important to you
  • Research the theme: can you find something relevant to the theme--even published in that year you research before?
  • Are there photographs you can scan form that time? Are there public photographs you can use from the internet?
There is no need to cite anything. However, include a "notes" page (not included as a page for the requirement) for your references. Also, Joseph Harrington uses quotation marks for direct quotes in his work. You need not, though.

Finally, here is my own collage work as an example. I received permissions to publish these, but, as a student, you do not need any permission, as long as you cite your work. In this creative writing example, you need not cite, either--just include the sources in your notes, please!


The true payoff was the students' work:

Your writing project is amazing, as you collage your wrestling achievements alongside your father-figure friend’s battle with Leukemia. . . .

Thank you for writing with courage and honesty over your mother’s death. The overall theme of how pointless high school is with these tragedies going on works in your piece. . . .

Thank you for writing about your tragic experiences in the war—as well as the bad politics involved in it. Your writing project is amazing, as you portray what serving in Iraq was like. The collage between photos and descriptions of each of the friends you lost alongside your poetry was powerful. Also, the quotes about going into Iraq, the quote about having a plan to kill each Iraqi just in case, the photos, and the use of censorship was well done! Truly, I hope you continue working on this as a project—as a possible book.

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