Here is the lesson plan for how I ran the workshop, followed by the handout, and a poem of mine that illustrates the final prompt.
WHAT I DID BEFORE THE SESSION:
1) From among the twenty-five chapters, I selected two: "Sunil Yapa: The Long Sentence" (Chapter Two), and "Melinda Moustakis: Ellipses (Chapter Fourteen).
2) I typed two or three example sentences from each chapter and came up with a title for each example sentence. For example, for the chapter on long sentences, the first example appeared in this way:
Sunil Yapa: The Long Sentence
Example 1: Using modifiers to add precision to an experience...
There were people hollering from every corner, marching people of all shapes and sizes, all body types and hairdos, an assortment of clothing choices and fashion accessories to express their personalities...
3) At the bottom of the examples from each chapter, I copied Nina Schuyler's writing prompts for that chapter.
4) I re-typed "Winter Thirst" by Gerald Stern from American Sonnets (W.W Norton, 2002).
5) Below the poem, I typed a writing prompt about writing a one-page poem as one sentence.
6) I printed out enough copies so that each writer had his own handout.
WHAT I DID IN THE SESSION:
1) Prior to writers arriving I distributed handouts.
2) I opened with an introduction to what we were going to do that day: learn about and write stunning sentences that are long and short, both for the prose writer and the poet.
3) I read the few short paragraphs from Schuyler's book that introduced the chapter.
4) When we got to the first example sentence, I had a volunteer read the sentence aloud.
5) I resumed reading the brief explanatory material from Schuyler's book until we reached the next example sentence.
6) I asked for another volunteer to read the next example sentence.
7) I repeated this process until we arrived at the end of the chapter.
8) I instructed the writers to read the prompts that followed on their handout, to select one, and to do the prompt.
9) After 5-10 minutes, I had volunteers read what they had written and share how it went for them.
10) I repeated this process with the material that I had prepared from Schuyler's book.
11) We took a break (after about an hour).
12) When we returned, I read the Gerald Stern poem and we all did the writing prompt.
13) I asked for volunteers to read their poems.
14) We talked about strategies for varying lengths of sentences in both prose and verse.
15) The entire writing workshop took just under two hours.
Here is the entire handout that I prepared, along with a poem that I wrote several years ago using Gerald Stern's poem as a prompt.
WRITING STUNNING SENTENCES: THE LONG AND THE SHORT OF IT
Examples from How to Write Stunning Sentences by Nina Schuyler ed.
Sunil Yapa: The Long Sentence
Example 1: Using modifiers to add precision to an experience…
There were people hollering from every corner, marching people of all shapes and sizes, all body types and hairdos, an assortment of clothing choices and fashion accessories to express their personalities…
Example 2: Using modifiers to define a character…
This woman with ambiguously light brown skin, with green eyes as bright as any sea, who at one time ran a sort of illegal animal shelter behind her off-the-grid house on an unnamed island beyond the city, who journeyed here with four friends in an Econoline van, the four of them eating sandwiches of sprouts and beans, this pretty girl in laced black boots who wore black jeans and a loose white shirt, the sleeves rolled to the shoulder like some kind of back-alley tough—she had the kindest of smiles, a smile which creased her mouth and lit those green eyes and which you could see were she not currently wearing a full-face black gas mask.
Example 3: Using parentheticals and repetition to carry more information…
He had scheduled nine hundred on-duty officers. Now they were looking at upward of fifty thousand protesters in the street and four hundred delegates—four hundred delegates from one hundred and thirty five countries who may or may not speak English—to safely shepherd from the Sheraton Hotel to their meeting at the convention center.
1. Start with an expletive construction—“There is,” “There are,” “It is,” ‘It was.” Note: you don’t want to use too many of these types of sentences because they are relatively passive. Whatever follows after your opening expletive is your subject. Now start modifying the subject, adding precision, details, images, as Yapa does with this sentence “There were people hollering from every corner, marching people of all shapes and sizes, all body types and hairdos, an assortment of clothing choices…”
2. Pick one of your characters. Begin your sentence with this character, as Yapa does with “This woman.” Now begin to modify it, describing your character physically. In this same sentence, add the word “who” and include some of your character’s past history, as Yapa did with the clause “who at one time ran a sort of illegal animal shelter behind her off-the-grid house on an unnamed island beyond the city.”
3. Is there something you want to emphasize in your sentence? Use repetition, as Yapa does in the sentence with the parenthetical that repeats “four hundred delegates.” By doing this, you focus the reader’s attention on this detail, and if you’ve picked the right detail, you’ve probably raised the stakes.
4. Do you need to slow your sentence down, so the reader has time to absorb it? To vary your syntax? Try a parenthetical, as Yapa does with the sentence, “Now they were looking at upward of fifty thousand protesters in the street and four hundred delegates—four hundred delegates from one hundred and thirty five countries who may or may not speak English…”
Melinda Moustakis: Ellipses
Example 1: Images without the verb…
The silver of cleaned knives and metal tables, the silver of slabs of fish, of fish heads, eyes still with shock, mouths cocked open.
Example 2: The powerful partial…
Nerves and muscles twitch. Stand, they twitch, when she rests. Rest, they twitch, when she stands. Sleeping is more work than working. To sleep is to unlearn. Uncut every cut. Unknife every knife. Unline every line. Unmouth every mouth. But not everything can be undone.
1.Write a sentence with 3, 4, 5 nouns—but no verb, as Moustaskis does in this sentence, “The silver of cleaned knives and metal tables, the silver of slabs of fish, of fish heads, eyes still with shock, mouths cocked open.”
2. Take a look at the list you wrote in prompt #1. Can you repeat words for emphasis, as Moustaskis does with “silver” and “fish?” Can you add alliteration, emphasizing a particularly sound? Do you want to create a harsh feeling? If so, add plosives, b/d/k/g/t/p. A soft, comforting feeling? Try the sibilants, such as “s” or “sh.”
3. Try writing a series of short sentences that begin with the same word or prefix, as Moustakis does with the series, “Uncut every cut. Unknife every knife, unline every line. Unmouth every mouth.” You’ve created a great build to your final sentence, which should break the rhythm as Moustakis does with her final sentence, “But not everything can be undone, with her final word, “undone,” echoing the other words in the pattern.
WRITING ONE-SENTENCE POEMS
Example by Gerald Stern:
I grew up with bituminous in my mouth
and sulfur smelling like rotten eggs and I
first started to cough because my lungs were like cardboard,
and what we called snow was gray with black flecks
that were like glue when it came to snowballs and made
them hard and crusty, though we still ate the snow
anyhow, and as for filth, well, start with
smoke, I carried it with me I know everywhere
and someone sitting beside me in New York or Paris
would know where I came from, we would go in for dinner—
red meat loaf or brown choucroute—and he would
guess my hill, and we would talk about soot
and what a dirty neck was like and how
the white collar made a fine line;
and I told him how we pulled heavy wagons
and loaded boxcars every day from five
to one A.M. and how good it was walking
empty-handed to the no. 69 streetcar
and how I dreamed of my bath and how the water
was black and soapy then and what the void
was like and how a candle instructed me.
From American Sonnets (W.W. Norton, 2002)
Write a one-page poem as one sentence, using parentheticals, adding modifiers and repetition, beginning the first line with “I grew up with…” or “There were people…” or “This woman…” or “This man…”
Example of poem written by Terry Lucas, beginning with the line:
"I grew up with __________in my mouth..."
I grew up with diesel in my mouth,
aroma of hobo coffee boiling on the stove,
poured into my father's Stanley thermos--
I was addicted by age six, stealing
slurpy sips, testing the temp
before passing the chrome cup
across the doghouse, riding shotgun
in a Freightliner cab-over--my father's eyes
always tending to the road, left
hand on the wheel, the right flicking
twin stick shifts, as he ran
the 250 Cummins through the gears,
before taking a swallow of the steaming brew,
then passing it back and resting his palm on the knob
ticking to the rhythm of the toothed transmission--all one song
that lifted like a carnival ride, then decelerated
with mechanical whine, entering town
after facade town, fiction after fiction.
By Terry Lucas
By Terry Lucas
From In This Room (CW Books, 2016).