Assistant Professor of Creative Writing and African American Literary Arts
The sonnet is one of our oldest and most ubiquitous poetic forms. For centuries, writers as disparate as William Shakespeare, Marilyn Nelson, Wanda Coleman, and David Wojahn have dabbled, innovated, succeeded, and sometimes failed with the form. In this course, we will explore the demands and nuances of the sonnet, in an effort to discover what has attracted and continues to attract so many practitioners. By semester's end, students will possess greater facility with the form itself, as well as skills and techniques that may be of use when composing future poems, whether formal or free-verse.
"Poetry," writes Yusef Komunyakaa in his essay collection Blue Notes, "is an act of meditation and improvisation. And need is the motor that propels the words down the silent white space." In this intermediate poetry workshop, students will consider various perspectives on the revision process and explore strategies for re-drafting poems-in-progress. While this class is open to any poetry student with previous workshop experience, those who stand to gain the most are those who've already amassed a sizeable body of work-poems, drafts, notes-with which they are, for the most part, dissatisfied and are eager to improve. It is imperative that students come with an open mind, willing to surprise themselves and one another.
Why do some artists prosper and gain notoriety, even fame, while others spend their lives toiling in severe darkness? Why do some become household names while others struggle even to maintain a household? Are some just better artists than others or is there something else at play? How much of this has to do with industry politics, network opportunities, and business that has nothing to do with the business of making art? In this intermediate poetry seminar, we will study the work of four African-American poets whose work, for reasons we will consider, has gone largely unrecognized by mainstream audiences. Students will pay these poets their proper respects by treating their work with all the attention it deserves and, yes, by stealing from them! Poets under consideration include Wanda Coleman, Henry Dumas, Christopher Gilbert, and Laini Mataka. Prerequisite: Prior poetry workshop experience.
In this advanced level workshop, we will explore the many ways poets address feelings of loss, in particular the loss of loved ones, in their work. As always, our focus will be on the methods and mechanics of good writing, but such topics under consideration will also include the ethics of elegy, as well as the line between homage and appropriation. A few of the poets we'll be reading include Jericho Brown, Gjertrud Schnackenburg, Larry Levis, Lucille Clifton, and Jake Adam York. Prerequisite: Prior 200 level poetry workshop experience.
In this course, students will learn (and learn to subvert) conventions of the three primary modes of poetry: the lyrical, narrative, and the hybrid lyric-narrative. We will attempt to draw on the strengths of the traditional workshop model while avoiding its many shortcomings. Students will hone their critical skills through close reading of each others' work and in prose responses to outside reading assignments, but special emphasis will be placed on generating new poems, not up for workshop. By allowing students to create new work without fear of censure or critique, and by approaching the revision process as one of constant and exciting discovery, we will cultivate the necessary risk, play, and mystery that is the lifeblood of good writing.
Although he published relatively little in his lifetime, Robert Hayden is widely considered a leading figure in African-American poetry. In this advanced level craft seminar, poets will perform close readings of Hayden's poems as well as those of his predecessors (Auden, Hughes, Yeats) and progeny (Komunyakaa, Wright, Hayes), always with an eye toward "stealing" techniques that may enhance our own work. Prerequisite: Students must have taken at least one poetry workshop prior to enrolling in this course.
When Lucille Clifton passed away in February 2010, American poetry lost one of its brightest and most consistent lights. The author of thirteen poetry collections, as well as many volumes of children's literature, Ms. Clifton was that rare poet whose work could reach into lecture hall, prison dayroom, coffee shop, or community center, and touch anyone who was ready to be annealed. In art and in life, she has inspired legions of writers and readers and continues to give us much to consider. This semester, an in depth study of Clifton's body of work will provide us ample opportunity to explore the myriad possibilities of the short, plainspoken lyric, as well as such themes as race and gender politics, canon formation, and disenfranchisement in 20th and 21st century America. Required text: The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton: 1965-2010 (BOA Ltd.)
In this advanced level poetry workshop, students will explore strategies for generating new poems and revising older work, always with the intention of surprising themselves. Drawing primarily from the Afro-Diasporan, Latin American and Caribbean surrealist and magical realist canons, students will be encouraged to break free of their usual processes and practices in order to write the poems they never knew they wanted to write.