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The Best Words in the Best Order - and God's Blessing

Matthew Keranen, Sandra Pylvainen and Anne Servin | The Voice of Zion January 2021 --

LLC Publications Online Workshop Fall 2020

The first LLC Publications Online Workshop was held on October 31, 2020, via the Zoom communication platform. Participants from across the continent gathered in an online space to learn and be encouraged in prose, poetry and photojournalism both for their personal development and for the future of LLC publications.

LLC Publications staff view the expansion of communications capacity as important to mission work both here on the American continent and to mission work in Africa and South America. To that end, the online workshop was conceived during the era of COVID-19 restrictions. LLC workshop organizers found that they were unable to convene at Stony Lake Camp as planned, so in place of the in-person workshop, an online workshop plan emerged.

Over thirty participants from across the United States and Canada met for four hours, an hour for each subject session, with instructors Matt Keranen, Sandra Pylvainen and Anne Servin. Presentations included mini-lessons, panelist commentary from across the continent, writing activities and small group discussions. While the foundational elements of each subject area comprised much of each lesson, the instructional plans developed with the central idea of encouraging current and future contributors to LLC publications – the Voice of Zion, Shepherd’s Voice, Christmas in Zion and Easter Messenger.

Session I: Prose

Matt Keranen began his lesson by reviewing some good writing axioms for prose of any genre. Significantly, he highlighted the need for fresh language and avoiding tropes that first come to mind. Prose is writing that tends to follow natural patterns of everyday speech (as opposed to rigid, predetermined structure) for the purpose of expressing oneself, educating, entertaining or providing information or instructions.

Then, he presented a unique short fiction form – the Japanese Haibun – as his structural framework for developing a tight descriptive prose piece. The genre may include one or a few descriptive paragraphs, then ends in a haiku, the 5-7-5 syllable poem form. This is Matt Keranen’s Haibun, read as a model:

The hands, no longer mobile, lay on the bedcover, under which the rest of him is also still. The tired eyes follow me as I gather the albums from the shelf in the corner and carry them to the bedside table. I move pill bottles aside, a drinking glass and a blood pressure cuff. I switch on the lamp and open the shades. Outside the summer day shines brightly, grass waving in the sun on the river bank. A boat floats by, the girl rowing it throws her head back in laughter.

I lift an album and open it, nestle it between his still arms. His fishing boat in the photograph is also still, frozen in time fifty years later. The steelhead, the salmon, caught in the net, spill over the hull to the slick boat floor gleaming in the flash of the camera. That boat moved and it moves now, in our minds. Lived life flows, a lively stream in grandpa’s eyes.

His strong hands pulled nets

Lifting, wrestling writhing fish

Slippery livelihood.

Writers tried the form in a ten-minute “storm,” then shared in breakout groups. Results were rich. Here is an example written by Allen Pirness:

The determined, monotonous purr of a John Deere diesel engine is the same whether pulling a plow or leaving the bay out to sea in the pre-dawn light. The warm soft sea air feels much better than the chilly, dry air of the farm. The prospect of landing a sporting fish is much more appealing than considering how to till the field most efficiently. The open galley door conveys the welcoming smell of bacon and coffee versus the tractor cab waft of old spilled coffee and grease. This excites my appetite to make yet another stimulating contrast to the differences vacation brings when work is left behind.

The hurried, half-asleep routine of the captain and crew reminds me that this is their mundane. They shiver in the breezy chill as we get up to speed on the open glassy water of the calm morning sea. The hooks are baited, the captain glides to a stop at a promising patch of seaweed floating on the endless shimmer of sunrise on the water.

Fishing lines are cast.

An instant strike on the bait.

The fight has begun.

Session II: Poetry

The poetry session focused on freeverse poetry, its origins and some elements typical to this poetic type. Freeverse poetry is written by contemporary poets here and in Europe, also among believers who write poetry. While we continue to write and enjoy the rhyming and particular rhythms found throughout the long history of poetic types (such as epic poetry of Homer or The Kalevala), we note that contemporary poetry has shifted from tight forms to more open styles.

Around the turn of the 20th century, as society progressed further into the Industrial Age, art forms shifted to modernism. Poets began working with imagistic poetry without adherence to a prescribed rhyme and rhythm. In this freeverse style, rhythms felt increasingly conversational. Sound devices shifted to subtle repetitions and the poetic focus moved to supporting the message in the image. After reviewing elements common to imagistic poetry, the poetry session examined poetic examples from Teuvo Aho, illustrating a freeverse, imagistic form.

Panelists Peggy Glynn, Krista Simonson, Karl Haapala and Aaron Wuollet commented on their personal poetry writing practices: Why do I write poetry? Where do poems hide? How do I begin? How do I revise? Panelists’ answers were poems in themselves – so often, as poets discuss their craft, they play with images. Aaron Wuollet, in his remark, supported the poet's goal: he likened the revision of a poem to a sculptor cutting away stone to reveal the essence of the image, exposing some truth about human existence.

For the freewrite activity, writers chose one of two topics, grief or Christmas. Products of the freewrite reflect the study of imagery in freeverse form. Writers who chose to write about grief saw the topic through personal reflection:

Emptied parents gaze through

arranged flowers covering freshly disturbed mounds

dry eyes, all tears cried out

twittering birds

gaily flit above silent headstones

translating sorrow to angels’ songs

Lisa Wuollet

It’s been two years

but sometimes I stop in my step

and recall

the cardamom smell of your kitchen

and your soft wrinkled hand

with stubby fingernails serving pulla

spread with the butter from the Blue Bonnet tub on the counter

and the rounded wooden knife that fits perfectly in my hand

Keilah Johnson

Other poets wrote about Christmas during the 15-minute freewrite, drawing perhaps from past reflections or memories:

The walk is crisp,

a smell of snow in the air.

A bus scurries by,

studs claw the moist road.

Doors open to a muted hush,

warm light fills the sanctuary.

The story of Christmas is told.

Karl Haapala

Under the Father’s Table

This poor sheep dog

Crawls under the grace table

And finds Christmas table crumbs.

Father’s gentle hand

Reaches down to caress

Little boy slips me a prized morsel.

Oh….how good it feels here

Safe and secure

Under the Father’s table.

Jim Moll

These artifacts provide a glance of what transpired over the hours of workshopping. Follow-up comments on the workshop ranged from “not enough time in the break-out rooms” to “how can we form online workshop groups?” These comments reflect the engagement in writing and in this online workshop model. The writers were committed to honing their skills for work with language, imagery and message. Most of all, it was evident that believers find writing to be therapeutic and edifying for their journey, whether or not their work was published or even finished.

Session III: Photography and Photojournalism

This session briefly presented the history of photojournalism in America and outlined the objective of creating narrative from imagery. In essence, photojournalism is a news story told through pictures with little or no text. It began with pictures in newspapers during the Crimean War and the American Civil War when camera technology was growing as a means of reporting. Photojournalism tells a story through photographs, ones that can make a person stop and think, “Wow. That’s a great image.”

Photojournalists’ images are candid yet informative images, taken with intention and purpose. These images are commonly black and white, giving a timeless feel. The absence of color overall facilitates focus on the subject in the image rather than the hues of the subject matter. Black and white is a good choice when the color in a photo may serve only as a distraction from the intended message.

In addition to background review, the session looked at other elements to consider when photographing an image, such as the rule of thirds, lighting and composition.

This online photojournalism workshop intended to provide general tips for photos used for the Voice of Zion, Shepherd’s Voice and other publications. Typically, these periodicals need the mood of the photo to convey safety, warmth and peace. Sometimes a symbolic picture can have a neutral mood but suggest a theme. In general, photos are needed to illustrate, inform and inspire.

During this session, participants were asked to do a photo activity to help recognize how lighting can impact an image and how lighting and placement is of central importance in photography. The aim was to help participants learn what all goes into photographing and creating a final image for use in LLC publications.

In Summary

In part, what is lost by not having an in-person workshop is known to us. We know we were not able to assemble together in a camp setting, face to face, with long, relaxing dialogues about the writing process and the product. We missed that opportunity.

Meanwhile, what may have been gained by using this new online format is unknown to us. New opportunities within this online model seemed likely: participants could join from thousands of miles away, writers with young children were able to join in even with children nearby, perhaps some curious ones Zoomed with us for even a short time – just to listen. All of this may expand capacity for LLC Publications; the Voice of Zion and Shepherd’s Voice staff may find new writers and photographers who are willing to share their gifts.

But what did this online gathering mean for each of us? What about readers, somewhere in the future, who read what these writers write, and in reading the pieces feel encouraged, less alone, or moved to share their joy of believing with another? In this, we pray and trust that God will bless this online workshop effort and all publications efforts as He sees best.

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