Advanced Composition Aesthetics and the Writer's Colony
Intro | Page Two | Page Three | Page Four | Page Five | Page Six | Page Seven | Works Cited 
    Finding Our Voice
Voice determines our presence and identity in the world. Elbow argues that "writing with real voice has the power to make you pay attention and understand ­ the words go deep" (299). In contrast, Joseph M. Williams chastises the passive voice as "impersonal, authoritarian, aloof, gassy" and the inconsistent voice as "unfocused, scattered," and "timid" (66). 
Macrorie presents suggestions for teachers, concluding: "What brings about live voices in writing ­ the sound of individual human beings drawing upon all their powers ­ is a release through free writing at the beginning of a course and then a growing self-discipline in trying for truths" (286). The Advanced Aesthetics classroom can adapt many of Peter Elbow's Writing with Power exercises for in-class writing. Students can tape record a three minute impromptu speech in front of the class or their half of a telephone conversation, then transcribe diligently for a record of their spoken voice. Creative dictation often helps with writing blocks and also captures verbal proof of what James Britton describes as "hearing an inner voice dictating forms of the written language" (32). 
     The Joy of Language
Whereas knowledge-telling focuses on clarity and knowledge-structuring focus on organization, knowledge-transforming emphasizes beauty. Short story writer Kelly Cherry shows the dialectical paradox as she explains her reason for writing: "a wish to create beauty from a specific kind of knowledge, the knowledge that we acquire by creating beauty" (xv).
In his scathing portrayal of the war between the humanities and television, David Marc argues that the electronic media so overwhelms us with a bombardment of low-grade televised and computerized information that we grown numb, unable to search for beauty among the digital clutter (76). Remaining an optimist, however, Marc describes the potential of literature: "Intellectual sensations become indistinguishable from visceral reactions as the concentrated allusional resonances of words, phrases, and verbal gestures burst into a needle-shower of associations: a kind of shiatsu massage of the brain, sending pinpricks of cerebral sensation flowing out of the neural system" (28). Moving toward the twenty-first century, writers must work harder to capture attention; emotion, sensation, voice, pace, metaphor, fluidity, and imperative assume monumental importance if we even want to be noticed on the raging intertextual highway. 
Assuming that students learned classical rhetoric in an intermediate course, advanced composition emphasizes the aesthetics of language. Earl MacCormac describes the "wonder and puzzlement" of metaphors which possess "an illocutionary force of stirring the emotions" and "destroy complacency in the use of language" (159). I argue that Peter Elbow's brilliant suggestions in Writing with Power are most useful at the transformative stage. Elbow offers 180 questions to spark metaphoric language, such as "What color is democracy?" and "Describe a place as an animal." (82-93). Once a week, the Advanced Writing class will spend 15 minutes playing with language. We will twist blasé expressions, reverse clichés, create extreme metaphors, coin original words, and compete to be provocative. I imagine standard sentences written on the blackboard with the class calling out rapid-fire modifications, learning that the options for phraseology and syntax are endless. 
     Fluidity and Movement
Prose requires as much attention to rhythm as poetry. Burke compares the internal music of language to the natural, universal beat of our bodies: "Systole and diastole, alternation of the feet in walking, inhalation and exhalation, up and down, in and out, back and forth, such are the types of distinctly motor experiences tapped by rhythm" (193). For writer Gloria Anzaldúa, the beat of words seduces: "the spirit of the words moving in the body is as concrete as flesh and as palpable" (36). Theorist Phelps links writing directly to composing, describing the "music of my worded thoughts" (114). Even ancient Longinus describes composition as "a special melody of words, words which are in man by nature and which reach his very soul, and not his ears alone; stirring ... manifold ideas of words, thoughts, actions, beauty, tunefulness, all of them things born and bred within us" (88). 
Musical fluidity often requires reading aloud, whether in the privacy of our bedroom to an audience of cats or in front of peers in the classroom. Advanced composition students will experiment by choosing musical accompaniment to set a rhythm for their recital of favorite paragraphs and by marking their prose into the rhythmic stanzas of poetry. 
Author: Elizabeth Howell Brunner