Gutter Opera with D. Foy

An amalgam of principles, techniques, strategies, and perspectives deployed singly and in unison to achieve a vision that couldn’t otherwise be achieved. Therein lies the heart of gutter opera.


Where: Online — Available everywhere!

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Enrollment: 18 Students

Price: $350

Class Description

So what is gutter opera? Here to explain is your instructor, D. Foy:

I reached a place as a writer where a single form or style or technique felt insufficient to my needs. I didn’t want just this or that, but, to borrow Lee K. Abbot’s expression, all things all at once. And every time I found myself slipping into one mode or other, I felt like a liar. So rather than keep to just one way, I began to meld approaches derived from influences as disparate as film script, allegory, jabberwocky, slang, doggerel, yarn, tale, poetry, journalese, profane street talk, criticism, lyric essay, theory, philosophy, and history, to name a few in a giant list. The term I created to describe this mode of working, together with its result, is gutter opera.

Put another way, gutter opera is an amalgam of principals, techniques, strategies, and perspectives deployed singly and in unison to achieve a vision that couldn’t otherwise be achieved. For me, gutter opera manifests as euthanasia with a sledgehammer, confession with a bullhorn, epic in a dumpster, redemption through a needle’s eye. For you, though—because it isn’t just my technique, my state of mind, but every bit yours, as well—gutter opera is sure to assume a completely different view and form. That’s the good news, and it’s what this class is all about.

By the time you’ve completed this four-week workshop, you’ll be well on your way to creating worlds with materials and influences you hadn’t thought permissible—the principles of krump, the tropes of Kubrick, the chops of DJ Cheb I Sabbah, the sensibility of Virginia Woolf—if that’s what sends you sighing. But whatever sends you sighing, all in one, as one, it’s what you’ll use to make gutter opera all your own, and to send your readers sighing, too.

* Please note that over the course of our weekly seminars, we will intentionally avoid discussing such basic elements of literary craft as character, theme, POV, structure, setting, and the like. With gutter opera, these things are implicit and derive, as it were, holistically.

What This Class Covers


Gutter Opera: What It Is and How It Works

Gutter opera has precedents—it’s existed as long as humans have made art. It’s only that we’ve haven’t labeled it as such. Generically speaking, to engage in gutter opera is continuously to juggle multiple considerations on multiple levels. Put another way, gutter opera is the practice of being ourselves, and that—who we are—who we think we are—is an ever-shifting complex of radically divergent memories, desires, impulses, and drives, each struggling, as it were, endlessly to usurp the other’s precedence. As writers before the page, rather than resist our nature or force it to be other, we want to work instead toward opening ourselves to the possibilities of both/and. We need a way of working, in other words, that’s agile enough to accommodate both heaven and hell, what Jedediah Purdy’s mother said, describing her work in the garden, is “a union of thought and dirt.” Trust is the key.

In this seminar, we’ll consider antecedents to gutter opera, as well as techniques and ways to cultivate and enhance our trust, not merely in things as they are, but in ourselves as we are—just as we are—in the moment of composition.


Perception: Attention, Intuition, Digression, Style

Art is an inside job. It starts with us, and with our minds. Perception is the requisite state for writing. What we perceive and how we perceive it dictates what we write and how. As for gutter opera, it aims at maximum inclusivity. Attachment to this or that obstructs this aim. The more acutely we’re attuned to our perceptual faculties, the wider our creative horizons and the greater our satisfaction. Style isn’t something we develop but rather access, and is a function of attention, intuition, and digression, none of which are remotely mutually exclusive. They are, in fact, sister concerns linked hip to hip, especially in art and this thing we call writing. 

We’ll spend our time this seminar addressing these concerns, individually and conceptually, and then we’ll tap into their basic principals—what they are and how they work, and how we can train ourselves to expand and enhance them both in our moment-by-moment lives and in the process of composition.



We all have experience with, and, on basic levels, understand a vast expanse of linguistic types and modes. In fact, we encounter and often naturally and automatically use them in daily speech without our explicit recognition. Between the street, the job, the office, the home, the state, the market, and the Internet (which increasingly is all these things), we’re daily, hourly, minutely exposed to and forced to negotiate the vast spectrum between formal and informal English—from the miserably low to the exalted high—in the forms of profanity, jargon, slang, bureaucratese, and poetry, among countless others, at times in multiple languages. And yet somehow before the page we often find ourselves bound by parameters we believe inflexible. In gutter opera, thank God, none of this applies, because in gutter opera, there are no rules but those we make. Best of all, as we’ll see, we don’t need to learn these things—we already know them.

This seminar will: examine a variety of linguistic types and modes in and out of literature; focus on strategies and methods to help you recognize and expand your awareness of these types and modes as you encounter and use them; and jumpstart your practice with these techniques and forms in your writing.


All Things All At Once

Realism in art is a misnomer of the grossest kind. It has nothing to do with the real, only a notion of it. Neither is minimalism realism, for the same reason. Both, actually, are forms of distance and disguise that are miserly and therefore the antithesis of art, whose aim is generosity without end. But neither, on the other hand, are we after maximalism, not, at least, for its own sake. When Blake said that the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom, he meant to suggest that it’s not until we open ourselves to the whole of existence—this and that, always—that we can begin to see things with greater clarity. Reality is huge, and reality is generous, which is why gutter opera, with its ability to present all things all at once, is one of the optimum means both to mirror reality and fulfill your purpose as an artist.

We know (or have a grip on) what gutter opera is now, and how it works, and why, and will use our time in this seminar to combine all of the elements we’ve studied in a piece that is your own brand of gutter opera—an expression, that is, of your nature in the moment of composition, your vision of the way things are.

* Each week will include writing assignments designed to put your new skills to the test. Those assignments will be critiqued by both the instructor, and your fellow students. 

Goals Of This Class

  • Learn what gutter opera is, how it works, and why
  • Learn to expand, trust, and marshal yourself and your perceptual faculties at will
  • Learn to recognize and discern between language in all its manifestations and to better deploy it in the moment of composition
  • Learn to create your own gutter opera

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