The Creativity of the Crowd

The Crowdsourced Poetry Project is under way! We have three lines so far and are excited to see more contributions to our sestina. Go to our Facebook page to submit your contribution for the next line. Our poem so far:

I began to ask myself the questions
With answers hanging in the air
What is here is noise, above which we can hear

For those of you who don’t already know, the Press is doing an experiment in creativity where we are hoping to harness the wisdom and imagination of the public to create a stunning poem. We have chosen to use the sestina for our form, mostly because it requires no rhyming or syllable counting, making it more accessible to contributors, while its use of repeated end-words gives it just enough complexity and structure so that it won’t spin off into a wild dervish. A sestina is a poem of six stanzas that are each six lines long and then a final, three line envoi. The stanzas all end with the same six words as the first stanza, though in a very specific order. In “Sestina: Altaforte” Ezra Pound uses these words at the ends of the first six lines: peace, music, clash, opposing, crimson, and rejoicing. According to the form they reappear in the second stanza in a new order as: rejoicing, peace, crimson, music, opposing, and clash, and so on throughout the next four stanzas. The repetition of these words both allows and forces the writer to use them in new ways and with new meaning imbued each time, creating a rich tapestry of language where the pattern continues to reveal itself throughout. Please join us in our quest to crowdsource a poem; the results are sure to be interesting and possibly very beautiful indeed.

A Sestina by Everyone

A Sestina by Everyone

A few weeks ago I was talking with some colleagues about the changing face of literature.  Everyone knows about e-readers and online publications by now, and even blogs are getting a lot of attention.  We started talking about an author who is writing a novel one chapter at a time, publishing it online like a blog, and then getting her readership to send her input on what should happen next.  She then takes all that input and writes the next chapter.  It’s like a Choose Your Own Adventure book but in real time. The author is literally catering to her own, specific audience.  Joking, I said, “Can you imagine writing poetry that way?  Gross.”  Because poetry is so personal, so visceral, there’s no way it could ever be written by a group of random, loosely strung-together strangers, I thought.  But the idea of a crowdsourced poem had gotten into my head and it wouldn’t get out.  What if we did compose a poem with a bunch of random, loosely strung-together strangers?  What would happen to the creativity level?  The personal aspect?  Could it be done?

To understand what we’re talking about, it may be necessary to take a couple of steps back and actually define what crowdsourcing is and how it’s been used in the past. Crowdsourcing is a method of outsourcing work that is thought to get better results by spreading the work around to as many people as possible, especially people who are not necessarily specialized in a particular skill.  The idea is that while expert knowledge is held by a few, wisdom is held in the collective conscience.  The term crowdsourcing was coined by Jeff Howe in an article for Wired Magazine in 2006, but the method itself can be dated much farther back in history.  The editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, Sir James A. H. Murray, faced with the daunting task of recording and defining every word in the English language from Middle English forward, as well as finding the earliest known examples of each, put out an “Appeal to the English-Speaking and English-Reading Public” asking anyone who was willing to read works of English and gather data for this huge etymological endeavor. These contributors would then send in slips of paper for each word researched and Murray and his colleagues compiled the lot of them into the most extensive dictionary we have to date.   The more people you have working on a project the more input you get, and, with an intellectual endeavor, as opposed to a mathematical or scientific one, more and varied input is valuable. But, what about with a creative or an artistic endeavor?  Will the crowd’s wisdom be a contribution to the work or will it detract from it, leaving you with an unfocused, overreaching mess?  I have decided to find out.

Over the next several weeks my colleague Victoria Capaldi and I will be driving a new project that, for now, we are calling “The Crowdsourced Poetry Project.” We, as in Victoria and I and you and anyone who chooses to take part, will be writing a poem, one line at a time, together.  To do it we will post a single line on our facebook page, and then in the comments we will accept submissions for the next line. As the comments come in, Victoria and I will be compiling and editing the submissions, and each time a new line is chosen we will post it and accept for submissions for the next line.  For our  form we have chosen a sestina, originally a French form of poetry divided into 6 sestets (six line stanzas) and 1 triplet called an envoi, a concluding stanza half the size of the rest. The distinguishing feature of a sestina is that the words ending each line in the first stanza are repeated as the end words for the other six stanzas in a specific order: ABCDEFG, FAEBDC, CFDABE, ECBFAD, DEACFB, BDFECA, (envoi) ECA or ACE.  One excellent example is “Sestina” by Charles Algernon Swinburne, reprinted below.  While he chose to rhyme his end words, it is not required.  Some other notable examples are “Sestina” by Elizabeth Bishop ( and SIX by Charlotte Mandel ( .

Stay tuned to our page at to take part in this exciting and terrifying new project.

Sestina by Charles Algernon Swinburne

I saw my soul at rest upon a day
As a bird sleeping in the nest of night,
Among soft leaves that give the starlight way
To touch its wings but not its eyes with light;
So that it knew as one in visions may,
And knew not as men waking, of delight.

This was the measure of my soul’s delight;
It had no power of joy to fly by day,
Nor part in the large lordship of the light;
But in a secret moon-beholden way
Had all its will of dreams and pleasant night,
And all the love and life that sleepers may.

But such life’s triumph as men waking may
It might not have to feed its faint delight
Between the stars by night and sun by day,
Shut up with green leaves and a little light;
Because its way was as a lost star’s way,
A world’s not wholly known of day or night.

All loves and dreams and sounds and gleams of night
Made it all music that such minstrels may,
And all they had they gave it of delight;
But in the full face of the fire of day
What place shall be for any starry light,
What part of heaven in all the wide sun’s way?

Yet the soul woke not, sleeping by the way,
Watched as a nursling of the large-eyed night,
And sought no strength nor knowledge of the day,
Nor closer touch conclusive of delight,
Nor mightier joy nor truer than dreamers may,
Nor more of song than they, nor more of light.

For who sleeps once and sees the secret light
Whereby sleep shows the soul a fairer way
Between the rise and rest of day and night,
Shall care no more to fare as all men may,
But be his place of pain or of delight,
There shall he dwell, beholding night as day.

Song, have thy day and take thy fill of light
Before the night be fallen across thy way;
Sing while he may, man hath no long delight.

This article was written with assistance from UPNG interns Victoria Capaldi and Patrick Brehe

Link-N-Blogs Apr 5

“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” –Sylvia Plath

Curious George Goes Digital: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt launched this week. This popular monkey is the face of the new website, apps, books, games, and more as part of a new digital approach with a focus on educational materials for children. Publisher’s Weekly (PW) shares details on Curious George’s new multi-platinum stardom.

Mailbooks For Good: A new way to give books to charity. This nonprofit organization has teamed up with Random House Australia in order to prepackage certain books so that after customers have finished reading they can turn the cover into a sealable package and send it to the disadvantaged and homeless. Huffington Post sits down with the creator for a Q&A about how this program came to be and how it works.

What Does Your Pen Say About You?: Your pen can talk! Not really, but according to this article in The Atlantic Wire, it can say a lot about your personality. From fountain pen to crayon, see what your choice of writing instrument says about you.

All You Need Is Books: It is the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ first album Please Please Me. In honor of this, Zola Books lists the band’s top ten favorite books. From going to Mordor with Frodo to chasing the White Rabbit with Alice, this band has a wide variety of favorite that may surprise you.

7 Deadly Myths: Getting published can seem like a daunting task, and finding an editor can seem next to impossible. Huffington Post lists some myths and truths about editors that can help in selecting the best person to edit a manuscript. So keep writing and remember that the number one truth is editors love books.

“Only the very weak-minded refuse to be influenced by literature and poetry.” –Cassandra Clare, Clockwork Angel


4 Ways to “Show Don’t Tell”

Have you ever heard the expression “show don’t tell?”

Most people learn this expression when they are being taught to write in school, but the concept is very much important to anyone who wants to create a story. It is important to show the readers the world you are creating on paper rather than telling them what is occurring. Writing is much like painting in this aspect, and it is harder to do than it sounds. Here are four tips to keep in mind when you begin to write.

1. Be Descriptive!

Being descriptive is more than adding a string of adjectives to describe a noun. It is creating an image using carefully constructed words so that readers see what you are describing.

Telling: She was nervous before stepping on stage.

Showing: While standing behind the red curtain that separated her from the larger audience, her hands became moist with sweat and her throat began to run dry.

These two sentences are discussing a girl who is nervous, but the second sentence allows readers to come to that conclusion on their own rather than having information given to them. However be cautious of the amount of description you use; it is possible to add too much description and in doing so you lose the audience’s attention.


2. Be Specific!

It is important to take the time to explain. Rather than using the vague expression “It was a wonderful feeling” What was the wonderful feeling? What makes this feeling wonderful? By explaining the feeling in more detail it allows readers to feel the wonderfulness as well. Asking “why” is helpful in deciding what needs further specific details.

3. Use Sensory Detail!

Similar to real life, people need to be able to figuratively see, smell, feel, hear, taste the things in the environment you are creating. It is important to add details other than that of sight for the readers to fully capture what you are saying.

“Her hair smelt of coconut and sand.”

“His feet echoed down the fall as he left.”

4. Use Dialogue

Using dialogue allows readers to experience a scene for themselves. Most stories are character based, so by showing interaction between characters it brings the scene alive. Dialogue can tell readers a great deal about characters, their relationships, emotion, and mood.

Telling: He loved her.

Showing: “I am completely in love with you, silly girl,” John said as he leaned down to press his lips against her forehead.

By having the character state it, the readers can hear his voice and see the relationship between the people of the story. People want to connect to other people, and dialogue helps with this.

When writing you must keep your audience in mind, and one way to keep them interested is by engaging them in the story and painting them a picture of what is occurring. So remember show your audience the world you have created on paper rather than telling them about it.


Writing Tips: Introduction into Characters

One of the most important aspects of a novel is the characters—protagonist, antagonist, major characters, minor characters, and cameos. The story is told through these characters, and therefore require more planning. Writers must describe these characters with vivid illustrations, depicting their physical appearance, personality, background information, and their actions that are relevant to the story.  A writer gives each character, no matter their importance, a great deal of planning to create an entire persona around a single character. While most people only remember the major characters it is important to also create a supporting cast and characters that only appear as cameos. Each character depicted in a novel has a purpose, and our goal is to examine these different types of characters.

character development

The Protagonist is the character who has the most involvement to the events in the plot. The protagonist usual goes on either a literal or character development 3metaphorical journey, sometimes both, throughout the course of the novel. The protagonist’s main goal is the driving force behind the plot. They are usually the relatable character to the audience, so that the audience becomes invested into what happens next with the character. This type of character is the most dynamic and usually the one who is transformed by the end. Using the iconic childhood series Harry Potter, the protagonist is the title character Harry Potter. The novels follow his journey from being the one who stopped Lord Voldemort during the First Wizarding War to their battle during the Second Wizarding War. Harry Potter transforms throughout each of the books, and readers are able to relate to him not because he is a wizard, but because he is compassionate, loyal, and moral.

Along with the Protagonist there are other major characters who play pivotal roles within the novel. These characters have their own history which the writer may or may not share with the readers. These characters also have their own unique way in which they act, dress, or talk. These characters have a connection with the protagonist and may fill a standard relationship role (family, friend, lover, co-worker, etc.). These characters may fill essential roles regarding the protagonist. Along with the protagonist there is usually:

  • Antagonist: This character is not evil, but is considered the opposition to the protagonist. Someone he must contend with and outsmart in order to achieve their goals. For Harry Potter his antagonist is Draco Malfoy; the boy who continually undermines the protagonist, although in the end Potter usually comes out ahead of Malfoy.
  • Villain: This character is essentially the “bad guy” who wishes to do harm to the protagonist, and tries to stop the protagonist from reaching their goals. The villain throughout the Harry Potter series is He-who-must-not-be-named/Lord Voldemort/Tom Riddle. In order to fully complete his transformation as a person Harry Potter must defeat the villain, which he does in the final chapters of the seventh novel in the series.character development 4
  • Sidekick: This character(s) help the protagonist reach their goals, and are usually family, friends, or lovers to the protagonist. Harry Potter maintains two sidekicks, his best friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger; who help him overcome all the major obstacles throughout the series even though they do have disagreements as friends usually do.
  • Mentor: This character helps guide the protagonist through his journey. The protagonist usually goes to them for advice and help. Harry Potter has many mentors who help guide and protect him, namely: Albus Dumbledore, Sirius Black, Hagrid, etc.

Supporting characters are important to the plot, but they only appear in certain parts of the books. Each of these characters have unique characteristics and ways of presenting themselves, but writers rarely give information about their backgrounds unless it plays an important role to the story. There are many supporting roles throughout the Harry Potter series and most of them are present in most or all of the books. Supporting characters include the Weasley family, Dobby, Seamus Finnegan, Mad-Eye Moody, Remus Lupin, etc.

Cameos are characters who interact only briefly with main or supporting characters. They are there to help move the plot along or add authenticity to a setting. They appear in the story, perform their function, and then are not mentioned past that. Examples in Harry Potter include the numerous death-eaters and other witches and wizards at Hogwarts.

Characters are a key element to telling a story, and each character must be attended to individually. Before a writer can begin to tell the story they must decide who all the characters are (main and supporting), their roles, and their personal stories. After that occurs, then a story can begin to take shape.

character development 2

All images courtesy of Google Images and International Movie Database

Toni Guest

3 Ways to Overcome Writer’s Block

Everyone has to write, whether it is for a school assignment, business meetings, or for pleasure, everyone has to write. But what happens when you get stuck, when you stare at a blank piece of paper or computer screen and cannot think of what to write next? Everyone experiences writer’s block at some point. If you focus too much on the daunting task of a completed story or assignment, then you will have a hard time with the simple task of just beginning. The key is to start small and build from there.

If you are having a difficult time formulating ideas of what to write, take a break. Go to the park or library, just somewhere outside of the room you are sitting in. Don’t forget to take a notepad! Inspiration can hit at any moment, and the world around you can help when it comes to brainstorming new ideas. Write down observations or ideas that come to you so that you may use them later, either for this writing assignment or another one.

Are you stressed about the big deadline that is looming? Are you anxious about having to write something? Take a deep breath and start small. If you are having difficulty with a concept or putting your ideas on paper, then it is best to start with a simple outline of how you wish to organize your paper. Once you have the big ideas in order, then you can begin filling in the smaller details. This stage also helps you to get rid of extra information that is not essential, so that you can create a cohesive and ordered outline before beginning.

Once you have organized your thoughts, you can begin to write. But what if you are having difficulty with writing the introduction to an essay or first sentences of a story? It is okay not to begin with the first words. Sometimes it is helpful to begin with another paragraph, and form those ideas before coming back to the introduction. It might even be helpful to fully write the body of the essay or the climax of a story before returning to the introduction because you might be able to better explain the essay or story after it is fully written.

It is important to write no matter where you start. Take it one sentence at a time and do not worry about the essay or story as a whole. Once you have finished, then you have time to proofread and look at the complete document. Good luck!

Toni Guest