Invitation to the Voyages

“Invitation to the Voyages” is an exercise I use to teach imagery. It can be adapted for any writing genre. 

I give each student an unusual household object and a series of questions. In these questions, the writer is prompted to describe the sensory qualities of that object and an imagined room in which it would belong.

The idea for this exercise is inspired by Xavier de Maistre’s 1829 novella A Journey Around My Room, in which the narrator creates a fantasy world out of his imprisonment in an attic room, as well as a writing prompt by the graphic novelist Lynda Barry in her beautiful book on creativity, What It Is.

By the end of the exercise, students have created an emotional and intellectual environment for the reader, and have a better understanding of the power of vivid concrete images. Exercises such as this one take students outside of the usual parameters of classroom activities and push them to consider their writing and the world from new perspectives. It pairs well with James Wright’s “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota,” since that poem heavily communicates its meaning through image and uses many of the same directional cues as the Barry questions (for example, “Over my head…” and “to my right…”). 

Visiting Lecturer at University of Illinois at Chicago |

Annah Browning is a Visiting Lecturer in the English Department and the Honors College at The University of Illinois-Chicago. She holds an MFA from Washington University in St. Louis and a Ph.D. from the Program for Writers at The University of Illinois-Chicago, and she is the author of a chapbook, The Marriage (Horse Less Press, 2013). Her poems and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Black Warrior Review, North American Review, The Kenyon Review Online, Verse Daily, Willow Springs, and other journals, and have received awards and recognition from Boulevard, Indiana Review, Blue Mesa Review, and Vermont Studio Center. Her research interests include creative writing pedagogy, the Gothic, Romanticism, Emily Dickinson, persona poetry, and lyric theory. She is Poetry Editor of Grimoire, an online literary magazine of dark arts  and Associate Editor of During Office Hours.

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