Creative Writing: Advanced Poetry
I have a formula, Play + Practice = Work, that I put at the top of my syllabus. Practice can take many forms: wandering around with a keen eye, taking notes, keeping a journal, reading, doing research, translating, or playing a poetry game. Play makes practice a joy and encourages experimentation. Play is generative. I’ve devised writing games (not “exercises”) that carry us to a playful and unself-conscious place. If I’m playing a game, then I’ll have fun and maybe take a risk that I otherwise would fret about. Practice stands for discipline and craft in the formula. Practice also helps us to stop being so precious about “inspiration,” as if somehow if one is in a transported state when one writes, the words on the page are sacrosanct, or as if that feeling were a moment of truth that cannot be reentered or re-visioned. With practice, we write often because we’ve made a commit to, with the faith that out of those practice writing sessions, we’ll find some good lines or a whole poem.
Reading, too, is a way of both practicing and playing. The pleasure of the text and the act of recreation in reading constitute play. The discipline involved in making oneself an apprentice to other writers constitutes practice. I assign the two volume Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry, edited by Jahan Ramazani, Richard Ellmann, and Robert O’Clair because I believe that it’s the most comprehensive anthology of modern and contemporary poetry and poetics in English. My hope is that you will find it an excellent investment and indispensible part of your poetry collection. The poetics section at the back of each volume is very useful. 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.
Requirements are a poem a week, being prepared to comment on your peers’ poems, one or two short presentations on a poet and their poetics, a reading and writing journal, and a final project, which is comprised of a compilation of the poems you wrote and/or revised over the course of the semester.