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ENGL 498: Senior Seminar


Engl 498-001, Senior Seminar in Writing, Fall 2009
6:00–9:00 M / Multipurpose Classroom Facility Rm 210
Professor Janet Holmes
LA-232 . 426-3134 (office and voice mail)
jholmes [at]     or     holmes.janet [at]
Office hours:    By appointment. I am in my office daily and you’re free to drop by, but to ensure that I’m there when you are, it’s best to make an appointment.

Senior seminar is required of all senior English majors. This section is for majors with a writing emphasis.

ENGL 498 is a capstone class designed to give you the opportunity to make use of all the experience you have had as writers during your coursework at Boise State. Because writers in at least three genres (poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction) are enrolled, assignments may be applied to any of the genres. We will focus this semester on the idea of creative obstruction or restriction, using Lars von Trier’s The Five Obstructions as a touchstone text. Students will study texts to which obstructions have been applied, revise original work in light of restrictions, and create new work under obstructions we devise ourselves. We will also explore the ways in which creative obstruction can provide revision and content strategies for writing in all genres.

Required texts
Eunoia, Christian Bök
The Anger Scale, Katie Degentesh
Self-Portrait on the Walls (film), Jim Dine
Island, Charles Hartman
The Periodic Table, Primo Levi
Where the Smiling Ends (film), Andi Olsen
A Void, Georges Perec
A Humument, Tom Phillips
Exercises in Style, Raymond Queneau
The Five Obstructions (film), Lars von Trier and Jørgen Leth

Course objectives

  • Consolidating and demonstrating the creative writing skills you’ve acquired in previous course work, and acquiring new skills.
  • Helping you approach your writing as an artist as well a craftsperson.
  • Introducing you to new aesthetic approaches to writing.
  • Engaging you in discussion and critique of literature and film.
  • Demonstrating your critical writing abilities through a seminar paper.
  • Demonstrating your oral critical abilities through workshop and oral presentations.
  • Presenting your original work in a reading.

Each week you’ll prepare readings to discuss in class. You’ll bring the textbooks to class so you can refer to them during discussions.

You’ll do five kinds of writing assignments in ENGL 498:

  1. a five- to seven-page seminar paper to be read in class (you will also help guide the ensuing discussion);
  2. a two- to three-page reflection on a reading attended this semester (due within a week of the reading);
  3. a two- to three-page reflection (Assignment #1) on a film;
  4. three new pieces of creative work (Assignments #2, #4, and #5); and
  5. a revision of a work written for another class in light of what you’ve learned in this one (Assignment #3).

All creative work for this seminar should be done in MS Word or a compatible format and e-mailed as attachments to class members and to the professor for comment. Whereas it is the recipient’s responsibility to print out the files received, it is the sender’s responsibility to mail the work out at least two days before it is to be discussed in class: time for recipients to print, read, and critique the work independently. This is not primarily a workshop class, though there will be times that we’ll workshop each other’s writing.

Seminar papers should be prepared in 12-point Times Roman type double spaced on 8-1/2″ x 11″ paper and turned in to the instructor after they are presented in class. They should discuss an element of craft in the work being discussed on the day the paper is due; that element may or may not include the restriction under study.

In addition to reading and writing, you are expected to be an engaged participant in the seminar, contributing in equal measure with your classmates. While I expect commentary from each member of the seminar, I will discourage both reticence and dominant behavior.

There should be nothing new to you here.

  1. Attendance: The nature of a seminar is participation by all parties, so missed classes cannot be made up. Lateness is disruptive. Absences and repeated tardiness will affect your grade. If in the course of the semester you know you will need to miss a class, please consult with me beforehand. If you are contagious, coughing, or have flu-like symptoms, please do not come to class.
  2. Readings: The texts for this class are intended for adult readers. I will not excuse unpreparedness in the event that you are offended by the texts, writers, filmmakers, or artists assigned for class. If you are worried about the content of readings in this course, I advise you to talk to me and consider dropping the class.
  3. Demeanor: No ridicule, malice, or competitive aggression will be tolerated, especially in workshop.
  4. Academic Integrity: Familiarize yourself with Boise State’s plagiarism policy; it is available at Plagiarizing in a creative writing course is a particularly sad enterprise.
  5. Office of Disability Services: The Disability Resource Center (DRC) is responsible for ensuring that Boise State University maintains an educationally and physically open, accessible environment for students with disabilities. If you have needs that are not being met in our classroom or need assistive technology, please contact the DRC. Their website is

Seminar paper, 35%
Writing assignments, 35% (5 assignments and 2 reflection papers)
Class participation, 30%

Schedule of Assignments
6-9 pm Mondays
I reserve the right to make changes to the syllabus throughout the semester. It is your responsibility to keep up to date with any changes I announce in class.

Week 1
August 24    Introduction, syllabus
Film: The Five Obstructions (shown during class), Lars von Trier and Jørgen Leth

Assignment #1: 2–3 page reflection essay on the film (due Aug. 31)

Week 2
August 31    Fiction: Exercises in Style (including those from The Oulipo Compendium), Raymond Queneau
Turn in Assignment #1

Assignment #2: Re-read 1981 preface and rewrite the story according to the
restrictions made in class. Then invent 2 new styles for the story and rewrite it (due Sept. 14).

Of interest: Louis Bury in Jacket #37

Week 3
Sept. 7     Labor Day: no class

Week 4
Sept. 14    Fiction: A Void, Georges Perec
Seminar papers #1 and #2
Turn in Assignment #2

Assignment #3: Choose three to five pages of your own writing. Apply an
obstruction of your own choice to that writing, then e-mail copies of both versions to the class list on or before Sept. 21. Assignments will be workshopped Sept. 28.

Week 5
Sept. 21    Poetry: Eunoia, Christian Bök
Seminar papers #3 and #4
Turn in Assignment #3

Week 6
Sept. 28    Workshop Assignment #3

Week 7
October 5     Poetry: The Anger Scale, Katie Degentesh
Seminar papers #5 and #6

Assignment #4: write an original short story, nonfiction piece, or poem
sequence based upon the obstruction. E-mail to the class list on or before Oct. 19. Assignments will be workshopped Oct. 26.

Week 8
October 12    Memoir: The Periodic Table, Levi
Seminar papers #7 and #8

Week 9
October 19     Poetry: Island, Hartman (read “Tambourine”)
Seminar papers #9 and #10
Turn in Assignment #4

Of interest: Musical pi and Pi String Quartet

Week 10
October 26     Workshop Assignment #4

Assignment #5: write an original short story, nonfiction piece, or poem
sequence based upon obstructions of your choosing.
E-mail to the class list on or before Nov. 9. Assignments will be workshopped Nov. 16.

Week 11
Nov. 2     Bring a dictionary to class today.
Oulipo n+7 exercises in class; Catherine Daly’s Paradiso n+3 poem (downloads to your computer)
Seminar paper #11.

Week 12
Nov. 9    Fiction: A Humument, Tom Phillips
Seminar papers #12 and #13
Turn in Assignment #5.

Week 13
Nov. 16    Workshop Assignment #5

Week 14
Nov. 23    Thanksgiving week: no classes

Week 15
Nov. 30    Films:    Jim Dine: Self-Portrait on the Walls, Jim Dine
Where the Smiling Ends, Andi Olsen
Seminar papers #14 and #15
Class evaluations

Week 16
Dec. 7    Class reading

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