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Writing With Constraints Anthology from Perrin Kern’s Class

This fall, the class “Writing with Constraints”, taught by Perrin Kerns met for 4 weeks.

In this workshop, students responsed to prompts that came with some form of constraint or a series of constraints (i.e. write in the present tense, write only in second person, write the experience from end to beginning, etc.), and worked towards a series of prose poems, or a lyric essay, or a personal essay.

Here’s just a few prompts the class responded to:

1. List the names of people you have lost, perhaps by losing touch. Choose one, pose a question to that person, and answer in their voice. Interview this person in your life, and see what they have to say to you. “Whatever happened to you, Molly, since I last saw you ….?

2. List the songs that have touched you, deepened you, accompanied you in times of change, or just now in the pandemic. Write about one of those times, weaving in lines from the song as needed. “The water is wide….”

3. List things people have said to you—advice, insult, secret. Then write the setting, the time, the actions that led to this saying, and end with the quotation. “I was maybe ten….”

4. List kinds of light you have seen—storm pallor, dawn over the river, candle late, strobe on Bourbon St., streetlight back home, light in the eye…. Write a field guide to four or five of these episodes of illumination. “I remember stars over the bayou when I was fifteen….”

5. Make a list of four or five words that feel right together, then write something that uses those words in the order they have come, one for each paragraph or stanza: door…road…book…bowl…sign….

At the end of the class the participants put together an anthology, posted here. It includes Carolyn Wood’s “Covid-19 Journal: The Beginning”, Nancy Austin’s “Eight Things I Know About Patricia” and several other engaging pieces of writing, amazing examples of where constraints in writing can lead.

Perrin Kerns is offering a Essay Intensive in January.


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