For Immediate Release
April 10, 2013
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Professor of English Anne Panning, PhD, wouldn’t typically encourage her students not to write new material. But in her graduate-level Seminar in Creative Writing this past fall, repurposing existing material was the name of the game. The class read Kenneth Goldsmith’s Uncreative Writing, which praises a process called bricolage, defined as “something made or put together using whatever materials happen to be available.” The students then spent the second half of the semester creating their own bricolage projects.
For their Scholars Day presentation, “The Performance of Prose: How Writing Must Adapt to 21st Century Technology,” students Tom Wiggins, Lindsay Infantino and Amara VerValin demonstrated how they took this creative freedom and ran with it — in three very different directions. The standing-room-only audience was treated to an array of visual and audio stimulation that expanded the definition of storytelling.
Tom, a lifelong lover of music, found himself drawn to “literature as music or with music or because of music.” For his project, he literally turned text into tunes. Labeling 26 consecutive keys on his keyboard with the letters of the alphabet, he proceeded to play various pieces of text, using the sequence of musical notes associated with the letters. “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” a line of Kerouac, Tom’s full name, and the text on the bottom of a Wegmans-brand tissue box each began to take on their own rhythms. The process, which Tom likened to molding clay, produced expected patterns in some places (as letters and phrases repeat, so do the notes) and, at other times, unexpectedly beautiful compositions. Tom is currently working on a large-scale symphony using this same process.
Lindsay’s project combined her passions for literature, dance, music and visual art. Pulling lines from the poetry of John Donne and a monologue from Margaret Edson’s play Wit, she created a “found poem” with the rearranged fragments, which she and a friend recited over music (also a creation born of two pieces melded together) — all while performing a dance piece Lindsay choreographed. Repetition in the poem/music mash-up inspired repetition in the choreography. A firm believer in the one-and-done shelf-life of a live performance, Lindsay and her friend performed the piece for her class, but she did not want it recorded; however, this left her without something tangible to hand in at the semester’s end. So, she created a collage, including handwritten words as well as text and images cut from magazines, which echoed the mood of the project.
Amara knew she wanted to work with video for her seminar project; it was just a matter of narrowing down the possibilities. Inspiration struck when she discovered a video montage on YouTube of Vanna White’s Wheel of Fortune introductions from the 1980s — as well as an interview in which Pat Sajak confessed to enjoying quite a few margaritas with Vanna before filming episodes in that same era. Through Amara’s own manipulation of video and layering of music, she sought to create a textless narrative that turned preconceived notions of pop-culture identity into something new — and even a bit sinister. The slow-motion clips and dark, dramatic music produced precisely this effect.
Panning and her students are excited about the possibilities as the landscape of modern prose evolves to incorporate new forms of narrative, many cross-disciplinary. Literary magazines such as TriQuarterly are publishing increasing numbers of video essays and other experimental forms. These students have provided an array of examples of how the modern writer/creator/media manipulator can help the literary world break free of old conventions.
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