Inspiration for Creative Writing Clubs Everywhere

Christy Delahanty"I see your spider legs and raise you an octopus tentacle."

The only legible phrase on our recently-decorated banner is also - though it does loosely correspond with the crayoned-in contents of the bubble letters - nonsensical. This doesn't matter.

The English and Creative Writing Club is among hundreds of recognized organizations on the University of Arizona campus and at least a handful of special interest - that is, non-exclusive - clubs. When I was became vice president my sophomore year, I wasn't worried; I knew the drill. Mostly due to low membership, the activities had dwindled to the bare bones of annual projects - chapbook, outreach, outreach - and the weekly meetings revolved around these bones.

But when I became president, I got nervous. We had garnered some extra members, and I felt unqualified to lead this now-respectably-sized group toward any sort of literary or creative goal.

But during the summer, a friend of mine vocalized the underlying suspicion that had been stalking me: "It's really not that hard to lead an excellent club." Now, halfway in to my first semester as president, I'm learning this is true.

The ingredients are straightforward (but so are those of pie crust and caramel, though both are easily ruined): a pinch of vision, a handful of enthusiasm, and as much willingness to sound stupid as you can muster. But what keeps the pie crust together and the sugar from smoking is nonsense.

My vision: 1) Create a space where UA students and Tucsonans can come to appreciate what language can create. 2) Be a portal to the world of literary events our city has to offer.

My enthusiasm: It thrills me to lead people to experiences I wish I'd been led to before.

My willingness to sound stupid: It's there. Now that I've suggested filming a Paradise Lost infomercial, I can say anything.

But in leading anything, willingness to rearrange is what lets the nonsense in. Sticking to your guns is valuable only if your guns are working well; if your plan is lacking, then no plan is better.

Example One: I held a "party" in second grade. Randomly chosen Saturday. No occasion. Pin the Tail on the Donkey because it was classic and Twizzlers because I could buy them from Walgreens. The memory of the three girls in attendance holding that donkey tail and spinning around in silence ranks up there on the list of failures.

Example Two: To redeem myself, in my first apartment, I threw ice in the washing machine to cool what wouldn't fit in the fridge, shoved Lady Gaga into the shoddy CD changer because it's what was there, and wandered through circles spoon-feeding Neapolitan ice cream to anyone who bared a sweet tooth.

Moral: Ideal isn't a word that should enter a group setting. If you have a people to lead, their fun depends on your flexibility. Pushing for perfect only ends in dizziness and stale Twizzlers, while conversation and exploration lead to intriguing phrases scrawled in Sharpie, which make people stop and stare.

And people did stop to read about the appendages of spiders and octopi as they passed by our booth at the cultural fair, where - it appeared - we were the only club not representing a country. We stayed glad; those who were word-inclined asked what we did, and those who weren't made puzzled faces and went to buy teriyaki.

Over the course of the school year, we have plans to bring professors in, participate in everything community-related possible, discuss classes, sample slam, attend readings, write poetry on the UA Mall, and gently force passersby tell stories to us.

We might not get to it all - our membership still fluctuates and interest wavers especially around midterms and spring break. But whatever we get to will be done with some nonsense ... and the banner's ready and waiting.

What we do and why we do it. Here's what's on our agenda for 2010-11:

"Interview" our new sponsor

Before settling into the school year, the club got to know new faculty sponsor Jerrold Hogle, Ph.D., giving us a sense of where to turn for guidance if we need to.

Exercise

Throughout the course of the semester, we make time to both free write and to follow prompts like writing with the non-dominant hand and redacting all but select words from newspaper pages to create a found poem.

Be taught

Whether it's a UA professor, a local slam poet, or our own advisor, we learn something from any expert who comes to talk to us.

Share class experiences

Prior to registration, we discuss our potential schedules, give tips on teachers and classes to take and avoid, and ask questions. In doing so, members can coordinate schedules and gain valuable information about classes in and out of their majors.

Table at the Wildcat World Fair

In an effort to get the word out about ECWC, we've adopted a "yes" policy regarding UA Mall events. Though the World Fair was primarily a cultural event, we made our presence known and stood out the more because of it.

Tell stories at Tucson Meet Yourself

This year's TMY not only got our name out, it also gave us stellar ideas for future events and outreach. In the sobremesa area, we handed out words and asked attendees to tell us how they got to Tucson in whatever manner they chose, so long as it involved their word.

Write Halloween haikus on the UA Mall

We work both bonding and outreach magic with a table and an approved spot on the Mall. Sitting together from 10 till 3 in the still-hot October sun is valuable, and offering passersby candy and poetry can only create positive associations.

Write Valentine's Day poems on the UA Mall

Our long-standing annual event, Valentine's Day poetry is our moneymaker. We win people's pocket change and also their hearts, dedicating more than roses and violets to them or a special someone of their choice.

Table at The Loft's screening of "HOWL"

A big deal for those who care about poetry, the 2010 film starring James Franco is, especially when it's screened at The Loft, an excellent place to see and be seen. Besides, we want to see the movie!

Enter the Milton Marathon Trailer Contest

The UA Milton Marathon is a quirky example of the many forms literature takes in Tucson, especially. The call for 90-second trailers on "Miltonic themes" was not something we could, in good faith, ignore.

Volunteer for LibriVox.org

A website that organizes the audio recording of public domain books and makes them available for free, LibriVox, though not based in Tucson, is a thing worth supporting. The process of recording a chapter of one old story or another is likely to yield something for both the club and the world of audio book-listeners.

Submit to Persona

Literary magazines are representative of the work written in a given place and time. Though we've submitted as a club in the past, we primarily want to encourage members to submit on their own.

Create a club chapbook

Each year, the ECWC produces a few copies of a club-compiled handmade chapbook to keep, archive, and sell. Last year's design involved a cupcake wrapper and an accordion binding - as well as several short stories, nonfiction pieces, and poems.

Attend Poetry Center readings

An obvious but priceless resource for our club, the Poetry Center's calendar could keep us booked week in and week out if we let it. We focus on the (usually) Thursday-night readings, mingling beforehand and sticking together throughout. Especially if you don't attend such events regularly, it's nice to know you're expected and welcome.

Attend "WIP!" readings at Casa Libre

The UA graduate students' Works-in-Progress readings, held at local literary jewel Casa Libre en la Solana, aren't just a taste of MFA-level work and lifestyle - they're also a darn good time. Complete with nibbles and drinks.

Attend POG readings

We have yet to attend as a club, but this "collective of poets, literary critics, and practitioners of other art forms who have joined together in Tucson, Arizona" is another Tucson-specific find. Headed by UA English professor Tenney Nathanson, these readings are a resource we intend to use.

Attend Slams at Bentley's

Bentley's House of Coffee & Tea is home to Tucson Youth Poetry Slam's monthly events. For a taste of poetry out loud and the social importance of the art we love, ECWC stops in to these events.

--Christy Delehanty

Created on: 
Thursday, January 27, 2011
Arizona Board of Regents