The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

Back in Iowa (Everybody’s Favorite Word is…)

with one comment

Juxtaposition! One can’t scratch one’s ass out here without elbowing two or three people who just uttered the word, or who are writing the word in their journal, or who are debating the relative merits of it in whatever genre in which they work.  It’s the word I’ve heard the most out here this summer, discounting articles such as “a,” “an,” and “the,” of course.  The work shop leader quipped the other day that the University of Iowa mascot should be the Fighting Juxtapositions.  I qualified that by pointing out that they’d actually have to be passive.  Haha…

Juxtaposition:  the fact of two things being seen or placed close together with contrasting effect.

It’s an important concept, actually.  Actually, it’s critical.  It can be the basis by which a poet or other writer makes incisive commentary on whatever he is writing.  Take two things and put them side by side and see what happens.  What observations do you make?  What things do you see that you didn’t see before?  What unexpected things come up?  Bingo…  you got yourself something to write about, and it might be fresh and original or at least amusing.

I rarely have set out as a writer to intentionally juxtapose two things.  Never have I sat down and said to myself, “Hmmm…  what can I do with juxtaposition today…???”  Nonetheless, I have done it.  Heck, the first poem I submitted to workshop was about a two-for-one prostate exam I inadvertently received a few years back.  True story.  How the hell does one bring an uncomfortable and even disgusting (albeit necessary) medical experience to the elevated and insightful realms of verse?  Well, that’s the poets job.  And I did it.  But truth is I set out to be an irreverent wiseass when I started writing it.  Most of my writing starts that way.  Turns out I was also using juxtaposition.

Two weeks into workshop, the “j” word was echoing through my mind when I was doing a cross-out poetry exercise with a fine dining article I found in a local publication.  It sounded like the writer was using a lot sexually suggestive language in his writing, so I was crossing out the rest to focus my attention on what wasn’t crossed out.  Then, later that night, I heard someone at a bar make an off-handed and dirty comment about his dating life, and for the first time perhaps ever in my life, my juxtaposition bell was rung.  I worked on putting the statement with the language from the recipe article.  Don’t know how well I did it, and I haven’t gone back to redraft it since it’s been workshopped, but in the least the practice was enough.

This all sounds well and good but that I’m on a college campus—one renowned for its MFA writing program.  Thus we’re running the risk of “juxtaposition” becoming part of what a writing acquaintance of mine terms “MFAspeak.”  That’s a type jargon that evolves when a group of writers or others in the same discipline start throwing around fancy-sounding terms without necessarily backing up the usage with solid evidence.  All too often, speaking above one’s head is a cover for not fully understanding something or not having done enough work on it.  One good example of this is the term “agency,” as in “Who has agency in this poem?” or “What can be done do increase the narrator’s sense of agency in this story?” or “I couldn’t really decide who has agency in this narrative.”  Those are such general and vague questions that they can lead most anywhere, but they sound clever and insightful.

So “juxtaposition” is cool and all that, and I’m glad it’s fully on my radar as both a writer and reviewer, but it’s also on my bullshit radar.  Hopefully the former will overpower the latter.

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Written by seeker70

July 25, 2014 at 4:50 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Irreverent wiseass? I’m having a hard time reconciling that with how we know you are.

    Adam Vollmers

    July 25, 2014 at 6:02 pm


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