Poet-in-residence Nicole Cooley Explores All Things Tiny for Writers’ Center

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Poet Nicole Cooley loves tiny things: dollhouses, miniatures, but especially tiny texts.

She’ll discuss the opportunities that short-form writing can provide for readers and writers today with her Brown Bag, “Tiny Texts: Flash Fictions, Short Poems, One-Minute Plays.”

Cooley is the poet-in-residence for Week Six at the Chautauqua Writers’ Center. Her lecture will be at 12:15 p.m. today on the front porch of the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall.

“Tiny texts are just really fun and strange,” Cooley said. “They’re some of the weirdest things I’ve ever read. And I love to talk about them and show their strangeness. Their strangeness really shakes up a lot of our thinking about textuality and literature.”

Cooley is the author of multiple poetry collections, including the recent collections Breach and Milk Dress. She recently finished her forthcoming memoir, My Dollhouse, Myself: Miniature Histories, which she said helped inspire her Brown Bag.

The tiny texts Cooley will discuss can take many forms, usually called “hint fiction”: a 25-word short story, a 60-second play, a three-word poem. She said she’ll bring printed handouts so the audience can see what the tiny texts look like on the page.

Cooley said she’ll focus her discussion on whether or not readers can ask the same questions of tiny texts that they ask with longer forms.

“Sometimes, the assumption is that these texts are easy to talk about and easy to write,” Cooley said. “And the fact is, I think they’re actually far harder. These texts all raise really fascinating questions about what writing is and what genre is.”

Cooley said part of the intrigue of tiny texts is not just that they’re short, but that they define themselves as short-form works. This can challenge people’s conceptions of textuality, she said.

“They take the tiny as a condition of their production,” Cooley said.

A famous example of the form would be the index cards Roland Barthes wrote on after his mother died, Cooley said. He intentionally chose to use index cards rather than a journal, a choice Cooley said she finds fascinating.

Cooley hopes people will come away from her lecture questioning the delight in language that they can find in all kinds of texts. She also wants them to have a better understanding of what tiny texts can be.

“We tend to think of the tiny as very cute, and as a diminutive version or a replica,” Cooley said. “And it really isn’t, in my opinion. The tiny text does something very, very different, and I’m interested in the different things that it does.”

Cooley said there’s a line often attributed to the poet Lucille Clifton that she thinks captures the appeal of tiny texts: “Poetry should comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Cooley said this is what she loves about reading, and she often thinks of this line when thinking about tiny texts.

“I think these tiny texts really do that job,” Cooley said.


The author Ryan Pait

Ryan Pait gets a different haircut every summer to keep the people of Chautauqua guessing. This is his fourth summer at The Chautauquan Daily, so if you’re tired of him, that’s OK. He recently graduated with his master’s degree in literature from Western Kentucky University. Don’t ask him about what he’s doing after this summer, but do ask him about the Nicole Kidman renaissance, the return of “Game of Thrones” and what he’s reading.