Tag Archives: Master Class

16.14: Poetic Language

Your Hosts: Mary Robinette, Dan, Amal, and Howard

We might begin with description.

Or we might begin by deconstructing the act of describing.

Wait. No, not there.

Let’s jump in AFTER the deconstruction.

Let’s leap beyond a statement of topic, let’s hurdle clear of mundane declarations of the audio file’s length, and together plunge headlong into metaphor, the icy water perhaps calling to mind Archimedes, as we describe our episode (or any other thing) not in terms of its intrinsic attributes, but by taking account of what it has displaced into the spaces it doesn’t occupy.

How long does the displacement remain? How might one apply paint to the emptiness after the thing has left?

What color is silence that follows the end of the episode?

(An end which follows twenty minutes and thirty-three seconds in which the four of us discuss the kinds of words we imagine when we say “poetic language.”)

Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, and mastered by Alex Jackson


Look at this sentence: “It’s a dark, grey winter’s day; there’s a lot of snow on the ground and a cold wind’s blowing.”

Distill this sentence until it feels like a poem to you. Introduce line breaks wherever you like; cut as much as you want until it feels like it’s singing to you.

Then, once you have a compact, dense poem, expand it outwards: can you keep it feeling like a poem while giving it more shape and length?

Trail of Lightning, by Rebecca Roanhorse

16.13: Day Brain vs. Night Brain

Your Hosts: Mary Robinette, Dan, Amal, and Howard

Patterns in the way we’re speaking may betray which ‘brain’ we’re using; often bound by what’s familiar, sometimes loosed for free-er choosing.

Writing like the day-brain’s thinking
Singing while the night-brain’s winking
All the cadence going funky
(golden-mantled howler monkey)

Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, and mastered by Alex Jackson. XKCD #1412, by Randall Munroe, was referenced during this episode. As was the Greater Cleveland Film Commission.


Night Brain exercise: take a piece of prose that is giving you trouble. Put yourself in a dark, quiet place. Listen to a recording of a poem (“Moon Fishing” may serve nicely.) Write automatically, unselfconsciously, for 5 minutes: think about it like singing on the page.

The City in the Middle of the Night, by Charlie Jane Anders

16.12 : Singing Versus Speaking

Your Hosts: Mary Robinette, Dan, Amal, and Howard

Can you hear your writing sing, being intoned instead of read? With the dialogs as tunes whose tags say “sung” instead of “said?” When the rhythm of your prose echoes the rhythm of a song you’ll see perhaps you’ve been a poet all along.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, and mastered by Alex Jackson. Les Miserables was written by Victor Hugo, set to music by Claude-Michel Schönberg, and ruined here by Howard Tayler.


Take a passage from your own work that isn’t quite working. Try to sing it: what happens when you do? Do you notice things about it that you don’t usually? Try to write it as a song — and then translate it back into prose.

Stargazer, by Dan Wells