Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Literary Banking: Investing In Your Imagination

Oxford Creative Writing Master Class
with author Douglas Bond
How is a literary tour of middle England like making deposits in the bank of your imagination? Let me show you by giving you a window into the most recent Oxford Creative Writing Master Class.

I wrote the first draft of this post while unwinding with Stilton, Hojiblanca olives, and Languedoc, in drenching London after an invigorating week of guiding seven aspiring writers on a literary tour of middle England (or is it middle earth?).

Let me nudge the door ajar and give you a peek at one brief episode of that inspiring week just concluded. Join me as I rehearse our opening day's literary adventure together:

  • First stop, Martyrs' Monument, rooting our literary tour in history, in this case, the tragic history of the Bishop martyrs of 1555-56.
  • Then off to climb Anglo-Saxon St Michael's Tower (c. 1054) and view Oxford from above, get the lay of things.
  • In the 13th c nave of the City Church, we discussed liturgy, the Reformation, transubstantiation, the rediscovery of biblical truth, Lewis's first communion December 4, 1914, where he "ate and drank condemnation to myself," as an atheist coerced by his father to be confirmed in the Church of England.
  • Then strolled past Christopher Wren's 17th c Sheldonian Theatre where Lewis, still raw from the trenches of WW I, read his winning essay May 24, 1921, placing him squarely on the rising academic radar of Oxford.
  • Dinner at The King's Arms, the eatery with the highest IQ per square inch of anywhere in Oxford.
  • Stop over at the doorway of one of JRR Tolkien's houses, and onward to Merton College Chapel for Holy Week evensong, sung by magnificent college choir (ranks with King's College Chapel Choir, Cambridge, in my opinion), music by William Byrd, with texts by Martin Luther, and concluding with our joining the choir singing Isaac Watts, When I Survey (to Edward Miller's Rockingham Old, the proper tune, not the Lowell Mason ditty we Americans sing it to).
  • Then country drive (on the wrong side of the road) to Banbury Hill Farm, near Blenheim Palace in the nearby Cotswolds, and cheese and chocolate as we launch into our first of many tutorial times together. 

Each day was filled with wonderful and memorable literary experiences that are designed to give expansive breadth and substantive depth to the writer's mind and imagination. We cannot write well if we do not have a well-nurtured mind, heart, and imagination. I sometimes refer to what we are doing as making deposits in the bank of our mind, imagination, and heart, there to be drawn out as we mature, develop our writing skills, and are presented with opportunities orchestrated by the kind providence of our good God. Think of it as literary banking, and now is the gathering, saving, storing up season of life. What a week of literary banking lay ahead!

After experiencing that first evensong at Merton College Chapel (think Anglo-Saxon scholar JRR Tolkien) with my Oxford Creative Writing Master Class writers (think unforgettable intensive writing experience on location amidst the vaulted splendors where so many greats honed their writing craft), on our second day, I had my scholars settle into the hushed majesty of an Oxford college chapel, rain pattering against the stained glass, and write to a prompt.

Decades of teaching have taught me to require nothing of my students that I don't equally require of myself. Hence, I wrote a sonnet for them to parse and scan, and to use as a working illustration of just what iambic pentameter is and why it is so valuable for a writer to submit to the conventional forms of poetry:

I sensed that there were angels here, 
With awe-filled bowing, wing beats drawing near--
Or is it Merton's chorister that I hear, 
Medieval tiles endure their fickle feet?

Amidst the splendors grand, I take my seat, 
Agape at Gothic grandeur, soaring high; 
My mind awhirl with wonderment, I sigh
As choral songs arise and ancient stones reply.

The tapers bow as lyric praise redounds, 
Mute hearts, yet feeling voices, heavenly sounds 
Of Anglo-Saxon accents, blithe and strong, 
Lift glory, laud the Father, with their song. 

Ennobled for the moment, I belong, 
But it's for endless anthems that I long.

(Oxford, March 24, 2018, after evensong at Merton College Chapel).

I am podcasting more details from the recent OCWMC at The Scriptorium. Browse the archive of The Scriptorium for writing tutorial, vignettes of Church history, interviews with other authors, and more, then follow and share.

Join me on the next Oxford Creative Writing Master Class. There are two OCWMCs in 2019 but they will fill fast:

Spring: April 2-9, 2019

Summer: June 15-22, 2019

Space is limited so visit and contact me today to reserve your place. #oxfordcreativewritingmasterclass