Earlier this summer I taught a Creative Writing Honors class, through the Center for Teaching Development's Spectrum program at Northwestern University. One day I led the students on a soundwalk -- on the Northwestern University campus, and into Lawson Park.
Here are some pedagogical underpinnings that pertained to the soundwalk, and the soundwalk poems that students created after the soundwalk. We talked about ways by which writers can empower their writing, and how their writing can be suffused with vivid imagery and bright language to captivate readers. One way to do that is to consider how images that pertain to each of the five senses can be woven into the fabric of the short stories, poems, and other literary works they are crafting. Mindful that we live in a visual media-obsessed society, focusing on the sense of sound can help us to imbue our writing with scintillating details that engage readers.
We also talked about connections between writing and walking, such as how the flâneur figures into the oeuvres of writers such as Charles Baudelaire. Walking can be marvelous way for a writer to mull over ideas, get inspired by stimuli that one encounters along a walk, step away from work -- and of course there are excellent cardiovascular benefits of walking!
With those things in mind -- and because the weather was so nice -- we went on a soundwalk this morning. We headed north on Sheridan Rd., and passed the Grosse Point Lighthouse and Evanston Art Center. Then we walked into Lawson Park -- along a woodsy trail along a low-lying wall of rocks. Then we stopped at the edge of the beach, and students wrote notes on what they were experiencing.
We walked up to the clearing, and students wrote in the field and playground. Students were invited to pick one or more items from the natural environment (as long as it doesn't involve plucking potted flowers or other aspects of a garden) -- such as a stick, leaf, or small stone.
Then we started to head back to campus. On the way we detoured into the Grosse Point Lighthouse property, along a gravel road by a Jens Jensen-designed waterfall by the Evanston Art Center, and then stopped for a minute behind the lighthouse as an EAC painting class was working on paintings.
We headed southbound on Sheridan, with ambient traffic din and the sounds of red-winged blackbirds and other birds. After lunch students started to write soundwalk poems, gleaning specific words and phrases from what they wrote while on the soundwalk.
Then students created soundwalk poems. Those soundwalk poems included visual elements: paint and typographically arranged lines that moved in straight or curvilinear ways across the page. Students put paint on paper with objects they had gathered (as paintbrushes): tallgrass, flowers, sticks, stones as they combined text with image. Some of the soundwalk poems had calligrammatic qualities, whereas others were akin to concrete poems or vispo.
Here are some good soundwalk-related links:
Here are several examples of students' soundwalk poems --