Poetry uses the Left Brain: Creative Writing, and Research?
When one thinks of creative writing, he or she might imagine it as a “right-brained” activity with little room for the analytical aspect of the mind.
While this is sometimes the dominating perception, it is far from the reality. To expose students to the true nature of the professional writer’s craft, there will almost always be some discussion of how “left-brained” activities, like research, come into play.
I watched Carrie Eneix’s class have a discussion over The Secret Life of Bees a few weeks ago, and we planned a unit of study that began with students being exposed to the type of research Sue Monk Kidd did for the book and analyzing examples from the text. It was inspired by the following quote by Kidd describing how she went from knowing “not much at all” about bees to writing a book where they are a primary focus.
“I began my bee education by reading lots of books… I discovered bees were a symbol of the soul, of death and rebirth. I will never forget coming up with medieval references which associated the Queen Mary with the queen bee… Books couldn’t tell me everything I needed to know about bees, so I visited an apiary in South Carolina. Inside the honey house, I sketched all the honey-making equipment, trying to get a handle on how they worked… I experienced when the hive was lifted. I became lost in a whirring of bees. So many, I could hardly see. The scent of honey drifted up, the bee hum swelled…”
Taken from “A Conversation with Sue Monk Kidd” in the introductory materials for The Secret Life of Bees.
Here were the learning targets for the lesson:
- I understand how authors’ use short and sustained periods of research for a variety of purposes.
- I can identify the types of purposes (to add specificity, develop metaphors, and enhance imagery) for which an author might use research.
- I can utilize purposeful research in a variety of mediums to meet specific purposes in my own writing.
The first two were targets of the specific lesson for the first day, and the third was a long-term goal by the end of the project.
On the introductory day, students were given three categories for which an author might do research. Here are the slides we discussed for those:
After we discussed the types, then we looked at passages from the text and analyzed them in two ways:
- What research might Sue Monk Kidd have done to gather the information (book, video, primary source etc.)?
- For what purpose (to add specificity, develop metaphor or enhance imagery)?
Here are some examples of those:
Students wrote from where the research might have come and to what end it was used, and we discussed each one. This entire concept is new to most students, and there was no definitive answer, so this was something with which they struggled. However, they were provided with other models and examples later in the unit which I will talk about in an additional post.
On this same day, they were given their assignment. It was the following:
- A short narrative (250 words or less) or poem (approximately 25-50 lines) that focuses on a “self-selected” community that becomes a “family” or provides a sense of belonging to its members to positive or negative ends. This is not a personal narrative, so choose one that will provide a venue for research.
- Examples/possible options: a tribe (at any point in history), gangs, immigrant communities, fraternal orders (Freemasons for example), religious communities (such as Amish or Mennonite), communes, cults etc.
- A short narrative (250 words or less) or a poem (approximately 25-50 lines) that is based upon an insect/animal as a metaphor for some larger idea and is built on the real-world aspects of that creature to develop the metaphor.
- Examples/possible options: butterflies, a type of fish, lion, polar bear etc.- really any living creature but humans
Ultimately, students would be presenting these pieces of writing to the class. More to come on this later.
Here are the resources we used for the lesson:
- Research in Creative Writing Power Point with Examples
- Research in Narrative and Poetry Introduction with an example of research for creative writing, an explanation of the assignment, and a suggestion for the use of Google Docs included
- Creative Writing with Research Rubric