By VINCE TWEDDELL
for the Mail Tribune
ASHLAND — Language is constantly changing. And so is the way it is disseminated — look at punchy email, or the shorter and quicker 140-character tweet.
To a degree, those social constructs are seeping into literature and pushing it in a different direction, said Craig Wright, a professor of creative writing at Southern Oregon University.
Exploring these sorts of ideas and the direction of writing will be a goal of a weeklong intensive writing workshop this summer, the first program of the Institute of New Writing/Ashland. The workshop runs Aug. 12-17, with SOU professors Wright, K. Silem Mohammad and Robert Arellano organizing it.
They hope for an enrollment of at least 50 students — established writers and novices — but all interested in exploring different modes. The deadline for registering is May 15.
Alissa Arp, dean of the college of arts and sciences at SOU, said the workshop involves three of the university’s most creative and productive faculty members, all ground-breaking and edgy — which are descriptors the writing program will pursue.
“We want to push kind of the edge,” she said, adding that the institute is looking to do things differently than already established creative writing programs.
Wright said the August workshop is an early step in the school’s efforts to establish a master of fine arts program in creative writing, which would also be part of the new writing institute. Organizers are shooting for a 2014 start to that, Wright said.
Mohammad, an associate professor of English and writing as well as a poet, will head the poetry workshop called “21st-Century Poetry and the inheritance of Experimentalism.” He said the program will specialize teaching poetry modes that often are not taught in other MFA programs.
He said he hoped students would come “looking for new ways of expression.”
That could mean working in conceptualism—using quotations, transcription or appropriation to form a poem, he said. It could also be using Google search results of random terms to create poetry, a technique called “flarfing” that Mohammad used to write his collection, “The Front.”
Looking for new ways of expression is a poetry tradition. Mohammad mentioned modernists who at the beginning of the 20th century broke away from rhyme and iambic pentameter. Change continued through the century and has not stopped, he said.
“What’s new now won’t be new 20 years from now,” Mohammad said. “You have to keep looking in new places.”
That’s one of the points Wright believes the institute will attempt to pursue — looking for new and different ways to convey a writer’s message. The quickness of today’s world may be a clue as to what new forms emerge, said Wright, who questions if short stories are concise enough for a contemporary audience.
He said he didn’t believe that the emotional effects a short story pursues — making a reader feel — can change, but he believes there may be new forms a story may take.
“We can continue to deliver that in different ways,” said Wright, who will lead a workshop titled, “Advancing Constructions of the 21st Century Short Story.”
Arellano, an SOU associate professor of creative writing, will lead a workshop on noir writing. Visiting writers include Vanessa Place, Sharon Mesmer and Kevin Killian.
Discussions revolving around the progress of literature will be central to the summer workshop, and later the MFA program, Wright said. The program’s goals also are to explore ways writers can understand, reflect and advance culture, he said.
“It’s always art’s job to lead the conversation,” Wright said.
For more information, see www.sou.edu/inwa.
Vince Tweddell is a freelance writer living in Talent. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story originally appeared in Medford Mail Tribune.