Governor’s School: All about sounds

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Paul Allen was probably my favorite of our guest instructors for Governor’s School. He focused on the sounds and rhyming of poetry, but he wasn’t interested in sing-song poetry. He showed us the impact of replicating sounds, even near-rhymes.

It was under his guidance that I produced my absolute favorite poem of the program. First, we were asked to think about an event we had experienced. We described that event in one to two sentences. From there, we chose about five to six key words. These words topped separate columns across our paper and underneath we wrote down as many words as possible that rhymed with them. We incorporated literal rhymes (church, birch) as well as capturing similar sounds (for instance the long A sound in sway, rage, fade). We used these words to craft our poems.

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Governor’s School: Structured poetry

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A simple example of rhyme

I was much more comfortable and used to free-form writing. I didn’t want rules and restrictions. I didn’t want to have to worry about following a pattern or a rhyming scheme. And yet, that’s exactly what I was introduced to for my poetry writing sessions. Our teachers introduced us to structured creativity. That sounds contradictory, but it’s really not. There may be established limits, but that’s really where you prove your skill. I didn’t want to be given a very specific writing topic that I had no experience with, but having a specific prompt meant I needed to engage in writing in a new way.

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Governor’s School: The summer program

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In the summer of 2000, between tenth and eleventh grade, I had the opportunity to attend South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities. I went for the creative writing program. It was held on a campus near downtown Greenville, S.C., about 2.5 hours away from where my parents lived. Sure I’d gone to overnight Girl Scout camps, but this was the first time to be away from my parents for an extended period of time. And it marked the first time I had to live with a roommate. This was a big deal.

I was excited about going but nervous about what the experience might be like. My style of writing was mostly to wait for inspiration to strike, to have an idea or a vision of where things were going and to complete the piece at that time. There really wasn’t a concept of brainstorming and editing, no stressing over word choices and trying to make things sound better. My approach was to really wait for inspiration and pounce in the moment. It was one of the rare times when I could be spontaneous. So I was nervous about how my writing approach would be tested and shaken up, having to meet certain expectations and requirements within a set time frame.

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Applying for Governor’s School

As I’ve mentioned before, I often shared my poetry writing with the school guidance counselor. She was the one who encouraged me to another step in developing my skills.

She was the one who would hang posters on the wall of the cafeteria of scholarship contests and other scholarly opportunities. I first heard about the South Carolina Governor’s School for Arts and Humanities by spotting a poster in the cafeteria. The Governor’s School was offering a 5-week program in the summer for various visual and performance arts, music and creative writing. The poster included details about a one-day workshop at a local community college to offer a chance to work on poetry and learn more about the summer program. Even though I was attending a high school in Georgia, I remained eligible to apply because I still lived in South Carolina.

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