Advanced Writing of Poetry

English 8530
Section 1
Aliki Barnstone
Tate 310

I assign the two volume Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry, edited by Jahan Ramazani, Richard Ellman, and Robert O’Clair (or another comprehensive anthology). I advise graduate students to own this two-volume set because I think it’s indispensable, especially for exams. The poetics section at the back of each volume is most useful. This edition is more diverse than previous editions, though the length of the selections reinscribe gender, ethnic, and racial disparities. As an editor myself, I want you at once to have a sense of the canon, to question it, and, I hope one day, to take up the mantle of reforming it for future. To this end, the greater part of our reading calendar is student generated; each student chooses a poet and a poetics essay, and does a short presentation with an eye toward enriching our workshop vocabulary and deepening how we situate ourselves in the poetic dialogue across time. I also assign Robert Pinsky’s The Sounds of Poetry because I think it is the best guide to sound.

This is a workshop, and we will limit the time we spend on discussing reading, yet I find we have the most productive sessions workshopping when we develop a vocabulary together based on our readings of poetry and poetics, and describe how our own poetics and artistic process are transformed by our reading. The premise here is that we write poetry in dialogue with the poets of the past, present, and future. Each of us will bring a lexicon to the table enriched both by what we read in common and on our own.

Each member of the workshop will do two oral reports, one from the Modern volume and one from the Contemporary, that deals with one poet and that poet’s poetics essay or an essay that would apply that poet.

Writing assignments include turning in approximately a poem a week for a total of twelve and a final project. I like to have a generative component to the workshop. I’ll introduce you to some of my writing games, and we can come up with some together, as well. I will encourage us to experiment with short form prose poetry, which could include zuihitsu and haibun, and translations ranging from more strict translation to imitations to translations from one era to another (for example, an Anne Bradstreet poem in contemporary English). All these writing possibilities will depend on you and your interests and we will be open other possibilities. We will spend the first part of the workshop on generating work, and the last weeks (a week for each of you) on manuscripts. Depending on where you are in your manuscript development, we’d discuss either a full-length book manuscript (42+ pages) or a chapbook length one (12-22 pages). Students who are not in the creative writing program or who write in another genre and who would feel more comfortable with another kind of final writing project are welcome to propose one.