• 01. a straight-line conjunction of three or more celestial bodies in a gravitational system (such as an eclipse)

  • 02. a Heung Coalition writing workshop


WORKSHOP GUIDELINES The workshop meets every Saturday at 6 pm EST to workshop submitted pieces, make space for generative write-ins, and host teach-ins on craft and form. We also aim to facilitate sessions exploring forms outside of the written word based on community members’ interests. Sessions usually alternate each week between workshops and write-ins/other types of meetings, although this is subject to people’s particular needs.

Why Workshop?
First and foremost, the workshop is a space to be in community with other writers. A supportive community is not epiphenomenal to refining the production of aesthetic forms but an indispensable foundation for creative and technical growth. Instead of a typical academic workshop that offers a singular mode of engagement — cutting criticism contingent on largely uninterrogated notions of craft, reading/reception, and culture — our workshop attends to the social, political, and material conditions that shape our work and our lives as marginalized writers. Following Joy Castro, Matthew Salesses, and others, we understand that craft is politically and socially informed.

Moreover, our workshop is a space to grow not just as writers but also as readers. Seriously and generously engaging with others’ work is necessary for attending to their complexities, mechanics, and potentialities, and we accordingly aim to provide members with discerning and supportive feedback. We strive for the workshop to serve as a way to celebrate each other’s work and lives.

Finally, each workshop session prioritizes the particular needs of the author and their piece. While our base guidelines ensure ample time and space for works to be properly considered by all members, they have (hopefully!) been built porously enough to accommodate all kinds of writers and works. Please review them below:

Workshop Guidelines
  1. Please accompany workshop submissions with brief comments defining your particular feedback needs and any critical context for workshoppers (e.g. I am submitting this piece to a lit mag next week so I would like critiques, I wrote this piece for myself and would like to discuss its theme, etc.)  
  2. Provide content warnings for extreme graphic content. While we aim to fully attend to the complexities of challenging content, participants will engage at their discretion.
  3. Submit/upload your piece the Wednesday before workshop.
  4. Written feedback is welcome, whether in addition to verbal feedback during the workshop or in lieu of in-person attendance.
  5. Please limit submissions to no more than 30 pages, double-spaced.
  6. While we always encourage people to submit their work, we try to prioritize those who have not gone in a while.

Contact us at for any questions.

moderated by Chloe and Kris

Speculative Fiction
moderated by Paige

Horror Workshop
moderated by Keimon

Kishoutenketsu Workshop
moderated by jonah

Eroticism Workshop
moderated by Chloe and Kris

Ghazal Workshop
moderated by Justin

Le Guin Reading Discussion
moderated by jonah

KISHOUTENKETSU [The following was written in May 2023 as an introduction to the generative kishoutenketsu workshop, where participants were encouraged to write their own take on this storytelling structure.]

Kishoutenketsu is an East Asian poem and story structure made up of four parts/acts:
  1. Introduction (ki): an introduction to the characters, era, and other information required to understand the plot.
  2. Development (shō): follows leads towards the twist in the story. More details, broader context about the information set-up in ki. The important thing to remember about this stage is that it is about expansion, but not change. No major changes occur during this development stage. 
  3. Twist (ten): the story turns toward an unexpected development. This is the crux of the story, the yama (ヤマ) or climax. If the narrative takes several turns, this is the biggest one. It will often recontextualize the previous events of the story. 
  4. Conclusion (ketsu), also called ochi (落ち) or ending, wraps up the story. It’s important to note that in a Kishōtenketsu your characters don’t have to show growth, and sometimes barely any action has happened. Just show us the aftermath of the twist. 

Example in a Japanese poem by Rai San'yō:

Daughters of Itoya, in the Honmachi of Osaka.
The elder daughter is sixteen and the younger one is fourteen.
Throughout history, daimyō killed the enemy with bows and arrows.
The daughters of Itoya kill with their eyes.

Example in a Chinese poem by Wang Wei:

After a farewell in the mountain,
Dusk falls, and I shut my firewood-made gate.
When the spring grass is green next year,
I wonder if my friend will return.

Example in a Korean poem by Jeong Ji Sang:

Multicolored green grass on the banks of a long river.
He's singing a sad song in Nampo.
When is the water of Daedong dry?
Every year, farewell tears add to the blue waves.

Some other unconventional examples of kishoutenketsu structure are Super Mario level designs and a popular style of comic in Japan called 4-koma, which are 4-paneled comics that follow this structure. 

You’ll see a lot of Western explainers say that this structure often has “no conflict,” but I personally (jonah) find that description a bit reductive. I guess I would generally agree, if only because the accepted Western concept of “conflict” feels very narrow to me; I’d argue that a character’s internal conflict about someone or something is by definition a story conflict — for example, a character who feels out of place in society is, while not in direct conflict with a specific person, at conflict with the world around them, and it’s this conflict that drives them through a narrative. Anyway, enough of my soapbox.

Your mission should you choose to accept it: Write something in the kishoutenketsu structure! This can be a short story, an essay, a CNF piece, a poem (and don’t feel like you need to stick to the 4-line structure either), or anything else. A recipe, even. After we have two (?) weeks to contemplate and cook up our creations, we’ll return to share them during one of our Saturday sessions. There is no “correct” way to do this, so don’t worry about whether you’re doing it wrong or if your piece fits the bill. I’m mostly interested in how everyone approaches this prompt in their own individual way, so follow your heart on this one! 

GHAZAL [The following was written in November 2023 as an introduction to the generative ghazal workshop.]

With roots in seventh-century Arabia, the ghazal is a form often sung by Iranian, Pakistani, and Indian musicians. For poetry, this means the ghazal is actuated through a technical context of prosody, rhyme, and repetition — according to Sarah Ghazal Ali, “the ghazal is first an auditory immersion, propelled by the matla (opening couplet), radif (refrain), and internal qaafia (rhyme).”

Moreover, the ghazal is made up of couplets that are autonomous and resistant to narrative cohesion. In his introduction to Ravishing DisUnities, Agha Shahid Ali writes, “One should at any time be able to pluck a couplet like a stone from a necklace, and it should continue to shine in that vivid isolation, though it would have a different lustre among and with the other stones.”

These two elements of the ghazal  — its particular formal constraints and refusal of linear narrative intelligibility  — makes it a form that challenges how we typically interface with and speak to the world. I would love to have an opportunity to learn about and explore the form with everyone at Heung!

Form and Structure The ghazal is a poetic form consisting of couplets (two paired lines in each stanza). The initial couplet of the ghazal establishes both a rhyme (between line 1 and line 2) and a refrain at the end of line 2  — a phrase that gets repeated at the end of the rest of the couplets.

For example, John Hollander’s didactically composed ghazal on ghazals:

For couplets the ghazal is prime: at the end
Of each one’s a refrain like a chime: “at the end.”

The opening couplet establishes the rhyme between “prime” and “chime,” as well as a refrain: “at the end.” In the next couplets, the rhyme and refrain are repeatedly only in the last line of the couplet:

But in subsequent couplets throughout the whole poem,
It’s this second line only will rhyme at the end.

On a string of such strange, unpronounceable fruits,
How fine the familiar old lime at the end!

Ghazals are also traditionally ruled by a uniform meter and length. In English, it seems absolute metrical consistency is largely ignored (Agha Shahid Ali cites linguistic differences in Urdu and Persian/Farsi as compared to English) but poets often strive toward lines of equal/similar length. In Agha Shahid Ali’s “Even the Rain,” we can observe an average line length of 13 syllables, with a tight range that never deviates more than one syllable above or below:

What will suffice for a true-love knot? Even the rain? (13)
But he has bought grief’s lottery, bought even the rain. (13)

“Our glosses / wanting in this world”—“Can you remember?” (13)
Anyone!—“when we thought / the poets taught” even the rain? (14)

After we died—That was it!—God left us in the dark. (13)
And as we forgot the dark, we forgot even the rain. (14)

Drought was over. Where was I? Drinks were on the house. (12)
For mixers, my love, you’d poured—what?—even the rain. (12)

Of this pear-shaped orange’s perfumed twist, I will say: (12)
Extract Vermouth from the bergamot, even the rain. (13)

How did the Enemy love you—with earth? air? and fire? (13)
He held just one thing back till he got even: the rain. (13)

This is God’s site for a new house of executions? (13)
You swear by the Bible, Despot, even the rain? (12)

After the bones—those flowers—this was found in the urn: (13)
The lost river, ashes from the ghat, even the rain. (13)

What was I to prophesy if not the end of the world? (14)
A salt pillar for the lonely lot, even the rain. (13)

How the air raged, desperate, streaming the earth with flames— (13)
To help burn down my house, Fire sought even the rain. (12)

He would raze the mountains, he would level the waves; (12)
he would, to smooth his epic plot, even the rain. (12)

New York belongs at daybreak to only me, just me— (13)
To make this claim Memory’s brought even the rain. (12)

They’ve found the knife that killed you, but whose prints are these? (12)
No one has such small hands, Shahid, not even the rain. (13)

Beyond form (how the poem is arranged on the page — lineation, meter, etc.), ghazals also follow a particular structure (how the poem’s thoughts and movements unfold). As I mentioned earlier, ghazals resist a cohesive narrative that links couplets together. Couplets should be autonomous — their manifest meaning should not depend on their relation to other couplets. Recall the necklace metaphor — each should “shine in …vivid isolation.”

Notice, too, how the last line of the ghazal above brings in its author, referencing “Shahid.” Poets often end ghazals by bringing themselves in, whether pseudonymously or not.

So, as a brief summary of form and structure: the ghazal is made up of an initial couplet that establishes rhyme and refrain, which continues in the second line of each succeeding, standalone couplet. In the final couplet, the writer often brings themselves in (as name, as speaker, etc.).

Hope that provides a little bit of context on the form. The best way to familiarize yourself is to just write one! Speaking of which…

Writing Ghazals, or “Blame the Form, Not this Pitiful Creature” Writing within formal constraints is generative — great, boundless material can arise from the many compromises you need to make to stay within the boundaries of form. In this sense, I think it would be best if we tried to challenge ourselves to largely stay within the boundaries of the “traditional” ghazal. 

There are, of course, ghazals that play against typical form and structure: enjambments between co-dependent couplets, unrhymed lines, even disappearing refrains. But I would encourage us all to try and work within the normative form first, and embrace how much it makes us shift our perspectives and writing styles.

It also allows us to play a game in our heads that I call “blame the form, not this pitiful creature.” In this game, we (well, just me, really) can attribute our writing failures to the “artificial” impositions of form rather than our own graceless execution or lack of vision. This allows us to unashamedly take immense risks — for example, I am largely allergic to rhyme, but the ghazal forces an insistent rhyme throughout. When I inevitably throw in a cringe rhyme, I blame the form, not this pitiful creature. If you are a novelist that the ghazal is unceremoniously dumping into the swamps of non-narrativity, you can show up with something that stinks and drips brackish water because clearly the form is to blame. 

I hope this little blame game can help you approach the ghazal’s formal demands with more freedom. Take risks, blame the form. Write imperfectly, blame the form. Compromise on what you thought you wanted to say, stumble into something good — then it’s all you!

If you need a little bit more scaffolding to get drafting, a couple of tips. First, decide your refrain. It will be relatively short (a word or brief phrase). Try to arrive at a refrain that you can extend out into a lot of different directions. If it’s a word or phrase that you often find yourself returning to, or just stands starkly in your mind, try running with it!

Once you have your refrain, write the first couplet. This means you will need to create the rhyme — just go with what feels right for that couplet. Then, you can create a rhyming word bank: compile a bunch of words that fit within the rhyme you’ve established.

From there, you should have the two fundamentals: refrain and rhyme. These will be unchanging formal certainties that can guide the rest of the poem’s development.

LE GUIN [The following was written in January 2024 as an introduction to Le Guin’s Hainish stories to prepare readers for the selected works.]

Ursula K. Le Guin has become near-synonymous with two of her fictional universes: Earthsea, and the Hainish worlds. The latter is an astoundingly rich setting for meditating on the multiplicity of the human experience; Le Guin imagines an alternate cosmological history in which the Hainish, a human-like race of people, once colonized a wide swath of planets across the galaxy, in some cases populating them with genetically-engineered humans as “experiments.” When the advanced civilization on Hain collapsed, each of these planets (including Earth, known in the Hainish stories as “Terra”) eventually forgot about the existence of the Hainish or even of their connection to each other. Millennia later, the Hainish, as the oldest and most mature of the human races, sought to connect these worlds once again under an interplanetary league known as the Ekumen. Many of Le Guin’s Hainish stories and novels cover the Ekumen’s efforts towards intragalactic diplomacy by incorporating new planets under their banner, usually through a protagonist working as an impartial Observer and making first contact with an entirely “alien” human culture and language. What results from Le Guin’s anthropological experiments, as varied and multitudinous as the Hainish’s own, is a stunning breadth of functional fictive societies that illuminate and teach us about our, the readers’, world. 

Many of Le Guin’s Hainish works are as much about storytelling as they are about culture, anthropology, and politics. Certainly, to Le Guin, storytelling is indivisible from them — in fact, the way we tell stories shapes the way we understand the world around us. How we encounter and receive information, she posits, is just as important as the quality of the information itself. In one of her most renowned essays, “The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction,” Le Guin reimagines the story as a carrier bag, and insists that it matters what we put inside the container, and furthermore, that what goes inside our carrier bags is reflective of our humanity.

I would go so far as to say that the natural, proper, fitting shape of the novel might be that of a sack, a bag. A book holds words. Words hold things. They bear meanings. A novel is a medicine bundle, holding things in a particular, powerful relation to one another and to us. … That is why I like novels: instead of heroes they have people in them.

Le Guin’s words feel particularly timely in this moment, when we are watching in real time a collusion between imperialist states to craft dehumanizing narratives around Palestinians (and other Indigenous populations) in order to justify a genocide. I have often questioned the point of art-making, especially in the seat of imperial power, but now I am convinced that at least part of our duty is cultural resistance. Not just to insist on counter-narratives, but to break the entrenched systems of narrative production entirely. What is the transformative power of a story — not just as an empathy simulator, as imagined by liberals, but as a blueprint for the future, a challenge to the status quo, a catalyst for real world action? These aims are what Le Guin achieves best in her work — she teaches you how to see, think, and question. Best of all, she shows you how to imagine

Together, we will be reading two short stories that belong to Le Guin’s Hainish universe, “The Shobies’ Story” and “Dancing to Ganam,” which exemplify some of Le Guin’s goals with her particular style of storytelling. (I think her books are better encapsulations of what I described above — in her own words, she likes novels — but Justin did not allow me to assign everyone three novels.) These two stories explore a specific moment in time in the Hainish universe, one of immense technological shift. Prior to the timeline of these stories, the method of traveling long distances across space was called NAFAL — Nearly As Fast As Lightspeed — which invoked the phenomenon of time dilation. Subjects on a ship traveling at NAFAL would be experiencing time at a slower rate than stationary subjects on a planet or space station. Therefore, expeditions were often considered a semi-permanent post, as decades or centuries could pass on the ground during one’s months- or yearslong NAFAL flight. Shevek, The Dispossessed’s anarchist physicist, introduced the Ekumen to the ansible, a device that can transmit communications across space instantaneously, without the same kind of time lag that plagues NAFAL. Here, in “The Shobies’ Story” and “Dancing to Ganam,” technology has progressed far enough along for ambitious researchers to test out the churten — Le Guin’s word for teleportation, or instantaneous travel. 

As you read these stories, take note of how the influx of information that you, the reader, are receiving changes your very experience of reading. How do we perceive and understand events that are happening in the story, how do we know we are truly understanding something? How does the very structure of the story impact our grasp of what is happening? What were your impressions of the stories and characters at the start of the story, and how do they compare to your impressions at the end? How does Le Guin pose the act of storytelling as an extension of her politics?

Consider these stories from an anthropological perspective as well. What are the cultures and languages being represented? Many of these characters’ home planets are represented at length and in detail in other Le Guin stories or books — but without the benefit of that knowledge and context, how did you approach understanding each of their cultural backgrounds? What could you glean from the information provided? Diegetically, how are each of these characters interpreting and understanding new cultural information? How is understanding being formed and reformed? How does meaning travel across language, and what obstacles might it meet? 

Lastly, I would be remiss to mention the speculative element of Le Guin’s fiction. Why does Le Guin use the vehicle of science/speculative fiction to explore her ideas? What changes if we try to reinterpret some of these narratives as literary realism? Why does science/speculative fiction matter?

Please don’t feel like you have to answer each and every one of these questions, but keep them in your head as you read and as we embark on our discussion. While this is my second time reading these stories, Le Guin’s stories are so rich with ideas and details that I feel like I will be participating in sharing my thoughts on her work on a level playing field with all of you. Excited to amble down this exploratory path together! 

Extra Credit reading (aka the 3 novels):
The Dispossessed
The Left Hand of Darkness
The Telling

Extra Extra Credit Reading:
“The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction” by Ursula K. Le Guin
“On Not Reading Science Fiction” by Ursula K. Le Guin

© 2024 Heung Coalition.