Weaseling out of Assignments (with Poetry!)

So ever since I started taking writing classes (not counting that one in high school), I’ve found that I’m less and less willing to write standard essays. Has anyone else found that sort of thing happening? I’ll get a research assignment for a literature class or an honors class or the odd philosophy class, and I’ll just find it impossible to think of a way to make it fun for myself. Once I’m writing an essay I can get into it, but it takes a while to break from writing from an artistic perspective. I know it might sound a bit pretentious, but I’ve been finding even the idea of a standard essay kind of boring, and it’s gotten to the point where I’m looking for ways around it.

The best way I’ve found so far is in my honors class, where we don’t necessarily have a set format for our papers, but we’re expected to do a final research paper on art during the Third Reich. I approached my professor, asking to write a research paper by way of writing a poem on a subject, instead of your normal fifteen page conglomeration of sources and thesis, and she was surprisingly open to it. I plan on writing about the battle of Monte Cassino, which took place in Italy just outside of Rome, and resulted in the needless destruction of an ancient Benedictine abbey. I’ve got a few first hand sources and reports from soldiers and officers on both sides of the conflict, and I plan to find the dialogues that chronicle the Allied decision to bomb the abbey. I’ve never undertaken this sort of writing before, and it certainly is daunting, but I’m hoping that writing a poem that requires extensive research will expand my writing abilities. Plus I don’t have to write a standard research paper anymore.

I’m not sure yet what the project will hold exactly, but I feel good about the decision to write a poem instead of a research paper, and I’d encourage anyone else to try it, if they’re in the right kind of class.

4 Replies to “Weaseling out of Assignments (with Poetry!)”

  1. Evan you have no clue how happy I am right now that you wrote this! I feel EXACTLY the same way and it scares me. Last year I had to write a 10 page paper for a literature class, and I remember sitting in a study area begging Zeus to strike me with a bolt of lightning so I didn’t have to do the assignment. It felt like never ending torture, and all I could think about was how would I be able to write 10 WHOLE pages!? However, just last week in my humanities class we had to do a creative writing assignment that was only 5 pages in length, and yet I couldn’t cut my down from 11.

    Even though I love to read and to discuss literature, I find writing MLA formatted papers the worst of all plagues. I hate how one has to limit down his or her creativity. Freshman year I only did mediocre in my English Literature class because I kept, “making my papers too creative and fun.” When I read that comment on my essay I was so mad because I didn’t know what to do.

    I think I personally have (almost) found a nice balance between being my weird, creative self and following standard essay procedures. I still don’t think it’s fair how it works, but I’m so happy for you that you can do a poem in your class! I would love to read it when it’s complete!

  2. So there’s a part of me, the part that wears a literature hat, that wants to stick up for the good ol’ essay, that ‘try’ or ‘attempt’, as Montaigne dubbed it, that space where we can go to figure things out.

    And yet I view poetry as a site of thinking more than anything, which would make it ideal for (better than?) the essay. And there’s a tradition of essays in verse, most famously Pope’s Essay on Criticism, perhaps.

    Evan: most directly, Pound thought of the epic as a “poem containing history” – and while his racial and cultural views, as well as his Fascist broadcasts for Mussolini, put him on the wrong side of “our” history, he’s right on that literary matter. Cf. Olson’s Maximus and Williams’ Paterson as models, and Howe’s ‘Thorow’, after a fashion. So these might come to your aid!

    Katie and Evan: Olson’s Call Me Ishmael and Susan Howe’s The Birth-Mark: Unsettling the Wilderness as well as her My Emily Dickinson, and more recently Stephen Collis’ Through Words of Others – these are all examples of poets turning to essayistic prose to write book-length prose explorations. There’s hope!

    It is always a question of audience and form – even when you *have* to write a classic essay!

  3. I think I’ve managed to develop a sort of “fluid division” in my writing brain. I’m able to write analytically or creatively depending on the assignment, though sometimes the two bleed into each other. For example, I often find when developing a new story I must do a good amount of research to establish a realistic setting in time and space, so a good amount of analytical detail goes into my creative writing. Conversely, forming logical, persuasive arguments for academic essays often requires a good amount of unique, creative thought. One must always go beyond the text to support an argument effectively, though this doesn’t necessarily mean the actual format of the paper is creative or expressive like poetry.

    I think certain modes of thought are better expressed in certain forms of writing, but I think there’s certainly an overlap as we’ve all been saying, and I think this in-between is an important area to explore.

  4. I have definitely found that I’m less willing to write essays! That’s such a good idea, to use poetry in place of papers. I know that when I’m writing a paper I usually have to add a certain aspect of (prose) poetry to it in order to get myself interested enough to focus, but I’ve never thought of asking my professors if I could write a poem instead.

    I’m interested in what professors would say to that request, and whether it would go over better with different professors based on personality, or subject they taught, or both.

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