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EN908 Writing Poetry

Convenor: Dr Jonathan Skinner
The Blow is Creation: MA Poetry Workshop

Ten workshops, ten approaches to writing poetry. Contemporary and historical, both open and closed, on the page and off, poetry in verse and prose including essays. Lyric research. The stanza lab, from sonnet to xenotext. Walkabout in the vale of soul-making. Poetry in the streets. Poetry as document and institutional critique. Writing on buses and trains, on foot and in bed. Immersed in it all the time, or opening poetry once a day, in a special place. Poems you will only show once, ever, to one person, poems to be read aloud on the BBC, and poems written by robots. This workshop gives you permission to write in ways you’d never dare and challenges what you think you’re doing. How to get to that place where you don’t think too much, you just do it, and how what we think about affects what we do (how to stop quoting T.S. Eliot). How we help one another by learning to listen and to cut with kindness. Locating a platform for your work. Some meanings and methods of publishing. Practical instruction in book making and printing poems you don’t want to forget. Communities of production. How to be a poet plus. Locate a body of work, your own poetry, by spending a long, long time with it.

the Blow is Creation
& the Twist the Nasturtium
is any one of Ourselves
And the Place of it All!
Mother Earth Alone

—Charles Olson, The Maximus Poems


The following outline comprises an indication, not a definitive reading list. Please consult the course weblog for exact assignments.

1 “The Blow is Creation”: how to get the writing cart before the idea horse.

Various writing exercises to trigger flow, movement through materials. From Beats (Michael McClure "alluvials," after Jack Kerouac) backwards. Getting “beneath” your words. Finding your "ear." Focus on sound. Making it strange. Jack Spicer: the poet is a radio tuned to Mars. Writing with force. The scene of writing. ("blow" as type striking paper.) Pen, pencil, notebook, computer? Desk, coffee shop, bar, bed, indoors, outdoors? Instruments and rituals. Ed Sanders's Sesh. CAConrad’s (Soma)tics.

2 "Twisting": how to get at the poem sideways.

Attention to sound, syntactical and rhetorical patterns in language that attune us to the intelligence of, in and between the words. Reading Robert Creeley aloud, For Love (especially "The Whip"); different rhetorical forms of repetition (anaphora, polyptoton, diacope, epizeuxis); different syntactical patterns (beginning, ending sentences/ statements with a verb, subject, conjunction); echoes, rhymes, and half-rhymes; shifts in forms of address (questions, assertions, insults).

3 "Placing": how we determine finally what the poem is "about," and how we guide it there.

Diction. Address. (Proper) names. Editing: i.e. determining what to leave out, the negative space of the poem. Reading Lorine Niedecker, “Paean to Place,” attending to the "riverrine" way she "floods" her content with verse (and vice versa), to the "autobiography" of the poem. Poetry in and of place. Charles Olson, The Maximus Poems (excerpts). Writing in the field. Placing with ritual: CAConrad, Beautiful Marsupial Afternoon (excerpt).

4 Blowing II. Finding your characteristic "stamp,” The common characteristics or "type" of your work.

Tone. Formal strategies (rhyme, meter, line length). Breaking the line: Thomas Wyatt, Robert Creeley, John Weiners. Shuffling the line: Ted Berrigan. Reading sestinas by Elizabeth Bishop, John Ashbery, Sherman Alexie. Other forms. John Hollander, Rhyme's Reason. Typewriter poetry. Larry Eigner and page poetry.

5 Twisting II. Troping. Jakobsen's axes of selection and combination. What the poem figures and how figures work for (or against) poetry.

Reading Sylvia Plath; André Breton and Philippe Soupault, Magnetic Fields; Hart Crane, “The Logic of Metaphor”; Cecilia Vicuña, “10 Metaphors.” Francis Ponge and the case against metaphor.

6 Placing II. Topics. Research. Bringing outside materials into the poem. Poet as witness. Ekphrasis.

Reading Pablo Neruda, Canto General (selections). Ed Roberson, "To See the Earth Before the End of the World," "Topoi." Muriel Rukeyser, “The Place of Dead Roads.” Ed Sanders, "Creativity and the Fully Developed Bard.” Brenda Coultas, “The Bowery Project.” Lyn Hejinian, “The Language of Inquiry” (excerpt)

7 Correspondence. Poems as letters. Writing communities. Collaboration. The politics of poetic form.

Reading Old Occitan cansos or sirventes (Arnaut Daniel & Raimbaut d'Aurenga, in translation). The Elizabethan "sonnet circle." Excerpt from John Keats's letters. Emily Dickinson's "A route of evanescence." Frank O’Hara, “Personism” and associated poems. The correspondence of Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov (excerpts). Bernadette Mayer, Writing Exercises. Ron Silliman, “The New Sentence.”

8 The book of poetry. From broadside to Collected (and/or skywriting).

Modes, meanings and means of production. Some New York School, Mimeo revolution communities, in A Secret Location on the Lower East Side, ed. Rodney Phillips and Steve Clay. Excerpts from A Book of the Book, ed. Jerome Rothenberg and Steve Clay. Chapbook making workshop. Poetry installations. Alec Finlay.

9 L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E and beyond: flarf, conceptual writing, and “slow” poetry.

Syntax. Poetry in the age of the Internet, networks and social media. Charles Bernstein, “Semblance,” “Stray Straws and Straw Men.” Excerpts from Against Expression: An Anthology of Conceptual Writing, ed. Craig Dworkin and Kenneth Goldsmith, and from I'll Drown My Book: Conceptual Writing by Women, ed. Caroline Bergvall, Laynie Browne, Teresa Carmody, and Vanessa Place. Dale Smith, “Slow Poetry.”

10 Work, community, revolution: poetry in the world.

How to make poetry’s insolvency work for your writing. Building a platform (the not poetry of poetry). Cross-media collaboration. Poaching (writing on the job). Poetry and pedagogy (jobs for writers); writers in the schools (Teachers and Writers). “Poetry outsource,” doing poetry by other means (Robert Kocik). Tasks for the poet in community; activism, and “occasional” poems. Poetry in the street: situationism (Guy DeBord; Kaia Sand and Jules Boykoff, Landscapes of Dissent).

Sessions open with a brief presentation on one of the day’s topics (by one or more participants), and some discussion, followed by a writing workshop. The workshop is a practical application of the week’s topic to the students’ own work. Workshops sometimes take place out of doors or involve visits to an art gallery or elsewhere “in the field.”

Background reading

Read poetry, lots of it, in English and in translation from other languages. Read essays by poets on their poetics. Read beyond your current tastes or the current fashions. Get a good anthology and carry it with you when you travel. For this workshop, I recommend Postmodern American Poetry: A Norton Anthology, ed. Paul Hoover (2nd edition). Note the essays in the back as well as the poems and introductory matter. Also, if your knowledge of English poetry feels spotty, get a copy of the Norton Anthology of Poetry (or if your mother tongue is not English, get the best historical anthology of poetry written in your home language) and read it until it falls apart.

In addition to reading poetry, the following books will prove useful from the point of view of critical and creative practice although it should be understood that we view critical and creative practice as two sides of the same coin. I am not suggesting that you acquire and read *all* of these recources (the required texts assigned for our workshops will be available as PDF excerpts), but do sleuth them out, via libraries near you (Warwick University library will have copies available on short loan), local bookstores, and/or online, and begin to familiarize yourself with the territory.

Bartlett, Jennifer, Sheila Black and Michael Northen, eds., Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability (El Paso: Cinco Puntos Press, 2011)
Bernstein, Charles, Content's Dream: Essays 1975-1984 (Chicago: Northwestern UP, 2001 [1986])
Byrne, James and Robert Sheppard, eds. Atlantic Drift: An Anthology of Poetry and Poetics (Arc Publications and Edge Hill University Press, 2017)
Caws, Mary Ann, ed., Manifesto: A Century of Isms (Lincoln, NE: U of Nebraska P, 2001)
Coke, Allison Hedge, ed., Sing: Poetry from the Indigenous Americas (Tucson: U of Arizona P, 2012)
Dungy, Camille, ed., Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry (Athens, GA: U of Georgia P, 2009)
Eliot, T.S., The Use of Poetry & the Use of Criticism (London: Faber & Faber, 1987 [1964])
Greene, Roland, et al., The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics: Fourth Edition (Princeton: Princeton UP, 2012)
Hollander, John, Rhyme’s Reason (New Haven: Yale UP, 2001 [1981])
Matthews, Harry, Alastair Brotchie and Ian Monk, eds., Oulipo Compendium (London : Atlas, 2005 [1998])
Padgett, Ron, The Teachers & Writers Handbook of Poetic Forms (NY: Teachers & Writers Collaborative, 2000 [1987])
Pound, Ezra, The ABC of Reading (New York: New Directions, 2011 [1934])
Rasula, Jed and Steve McCaffery, eds., Imagining Language: An Anthology (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001 [1998])
Spicer, Jack, ed. Peter Gizzi, The House that Jack Built: Collected Lectures (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1998)
Tolbert, T.C. and Tim Trace Peterson, eds., Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics (Calicoon, NY: Nightboat Books, 2013)
Waldman, Anne and Andrew Schelling, eds., Disembodied Poetics: Annals of the Jack Kerouac School (Albuquerque: UNM, 1994)

You will also find it useful to keep up to date with poetry magazines such as Poetry Review, PN Review, APR (American Poetry Review), Boston Review poetry features, Lana Turner, and online forums such as jacket2 or The Volta.

Assessment (to be confirmed)

Submit A and B.

Page specifications should be interpreted as follows: line space 1.5; font/size Times Roman, 12pt.

For 45 CATS



1. A sequence of poems / a long poem of between 20 and 25 pages


2. A portfolio collection of poems between 20 and 25 pages.



1. 2000-word commentary on the aims and processes involved in writing your portfolio


2. 2,000 word essay on a critical issue that arises from the syllabus.

For 30 CATS



1. A sequence of poems / a long poem of between 13 and 17 pages


2. A portfolio collection of poems between 13 and 17 pages.



1. 1500-word commentary on the aims and processes involved in writing your portfolio


2. 1500 word essay on a critical issue that arises from the syllabus.