The Reading Under the Gun (or RUG" was a timed writing assignment. I gave students a limited period of time, a short text, some provoking questions, and required them to write until I said stop. The assignment was worth five points. Even if you answered the questions wrong or went off topic, so long as [...]

Assignment #5: weird revision [last]

During April, I gave my students poems. Poetry was one of the fatalities of the misguided school reforms of a couple decades ago which insisted English teachers toss most of our curriculum in for a focus on nonfiction. Don't get me wrong, I had always included nonfiction in my curriculum, but we all deserve poetry [...]

Assignment #5: color poem

This last assignment is poetry. Below are two 20-minute poem prompts. Choose. IMPORTANT: My 20-minute exercises were inspired by prompts provided in the back of Dorianne Laux and Kim Addonizio’s marvelous craft book, The Poet's Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry (W.W. Norton, 1997). Their original exercises are much better than mine. (You [...]

assignment #4 revision: Idyll

Hello. Before the revision strategy, a confession. I have been in a bit of a muddle lately. I "turned off" the news two days ago—tossed the email updates unread, and stopped checking news sources online or Johns Hopkins statistics. I think it did me some good to take a break. For example, I noticed I'd [...]

ASSIGNMENT #4: The Idyllic Place

IDYLL:  a simple descriptive work in prose or poetry that deals with rustic life or pastoral scenes or which suggests a mood of peace and contentment.   One of the things going on in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, perhaps the main thing, has to do with the essential decency and indecency of human beings. [...]

ASSIGNMENT #3: Real Life Problem

Essayist and memoirist William Kittredge was born in Portland, Oregon but lives now in Missoula, Montana, I think. He did a presentation at my first MFA residency about writing an essay. He insisted that he couldn't tell anyone how to write an essay, and then he did. Define a problem by telling a story about [...]


Today, a walk creek to creek, a juvenile eagle, meditation on the value of lies, and a little brainstorming to prepare for Monday's writing assignment. The best one is above, the lies below. So brainstorming. Monday's nonfiction writing assignment was a great favorite with my students, the assignment they completed early in the year and [...]