ENG 4566 Writing Poetry II

Course Overview

This advanced undergraduate workshop focuses on the intricacies of writing poetry. The course will also be a voyage of discovery into the delights of reading world poetry.

The course will include weekly exercises to hone the craft of poetry writing. Poems will be “workshopped” in class and there will be set reading on poetry, poetics, and writing techniques. By the end of the course, students will be expected to complete a final portfolio of six poems, and a statement of poetics. Students will also be asked to recite poems.

Introductory Session

In this introductory session, we will discuss poetry and the self, and we will consider a number of definitions of poetry by different writers. We will think on the workings of the poetic persona, and we will discuss a portfolio on the subject of mirrors by poets like Rainer Maria Rilke, Paul Muldoon, Sylvia Plath, Douglas Dunn, John Ashbery and Sinead Morrissey. We will also visit the OSU library, and begin work on a sestina.


  1. Intimacies

To begin the theme of intimacies, we will consider confession in poetry, particularly Confessional School. Before this week’s class, you might want to consider the following questions. What is seductive about the confessional persona? How do we know that the confession is sincere, or is this irrelevant? Does confessional poetry always have to be miserable? Remember Germaine Greer’s statement in Slip-Shod Sibyls that ‘To be cured of the misery is to be cured of the poetry’. How have contemporary poets reinvigorated the confessional poem? We will consider examples by poets like Robert Lowell, Anne Sexton, Hugo Williams, and Sharon Olds.

In looking at the intimacy of form, we will focus in particular on the epistolary poem drawing on ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’ by Leonard Cohen and Ted Hughes’ Birthday Letters. We will consider the intimacy of the letter and find inspiration in real love letters.


  1. Dreams

Drawing on the writings of Freud and Jung, we will discuss the theme of dreams by considering what dream language has in common with jokes and slips of the tongue. The inspiration for this session will include discussing our own dreams, looking at Freud’s case studies, and studying clips of dream sequences by Hitchcock, the Marx Brothers, and Guillermo Del Toro. Poets to be discussed might include Alejandra Pizarnik, Muhammad al-Ghuzzi, and Marina Tvetaeva.

In thinking about “dream forms,” we will look particularly at the practices of French Surrealism including automatic writing and the movement against logical coherence in language and form. After studying examples by Breton, Eluard and the rest, we will undertake a number of challenges from the OULIPO school which will stretch our thinking about traditional poetic form.


  1. Histories [Including a workshop at the Historic Costumes and Textiles Collection]

This week, we will be thinking about how to write convincing and authentic histories in poetry. Using examples such as Ruth Padel’s poetic account of her great-great grandfather Charles Darwin, we will enter the museum, where we will be able to choose any historical period to write about, and we will complete a number of writing challenges related to our chosen objects.


  1. Ecologies[Including workshop at the OSU Insectary]

The course so far has been based around decisions that we make as writers. Do we choose to probe the self and its intimacies as in Confessional poetry, epistolary poetry or poetry inspired by dreams, or give ourselves up to the histories of others, distancing ourselves from the personal and making a poetic moment beyond the realms of our immediate experiences? Ecologies often brings to mind the natural world, but the philosopher Wendy Wheeler points out that we are not only observers of ecologies but participants in them too. For our next topic I want us to talk about ecopoetry, a kind of poetry that is aware of such interconnections. We will look at poems in the anthology Earthshattering edited by Neil Astley.

Following on from our discussion about ecological themes, this week we will visit the OSU Insectary, where we will be challenged to write in very short and very long poetic forms. We will discuss the effect of the long and short line, and consider how such formal choices influence the final poetic product.

Suggested Reading

We will mainly work from materials copied and provided for each class. If students are interested in further reading, however, I would suggest the following for your own interest:

Astley, Neil (ed.) (2007) Earthshattering, Ecopoems. Tarset: Bloodaxe.

Boland, Eavan (2000) The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms. NY: Norton.

Chang, Handel and Shankar (eds) (2008) Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from Asia, the Middle East and Beyond. NY: Norton.

Dumanis, Michael and Cate Marvin (eds) Legitimate Dangers: American Poets of the New Century. Louisville KY: Sarabande Books.

McClatchy, J.D. (ed.) (2003) The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Poetry. NY: Vintage.

—(ed.) (1996) The Vintage Book of Contemporary World Poetry. NY: Vintage.

Oliver, Mary (1994) A Poetry Handbook. NY: Mariner Books.

Stillman, Frances (1972)The Poet’s Manual and Rhyming Dictionary. NY: Thames and Hudson.