Creative Writing 7041

Poetry Composition 1

Instructor, Avi Sato (


We will be meeting twice a week for two hours each session. Tuesdays 16.00-18.00 will be a seminar block and Thursdays 16.00-18.00 will be a workshop.


This course focuses on you achieving the following. By the end of this course, you should be able to…

  • create poetic verse in various forms and styles.
  • adapt and modulate your writing to the requirements of any given form or style as required by the situation.
  • improvise poetic verse on the fly both in writing and spoken in response to given prompts or as a reaction to other verse composed in an ongoing manner.
  • work in a collaborative commentary environment where you give and receive criticism and specific suggestions.
  • use critical approaches to analyzing your own work and that of others for mutual benefit.
  • edit large volumes of your own and others’ work effectively and efficiently.
  • understand the compositional style and form used in a variety of poetic techniques and apply those to your own work as needed.

Learning Outcomes

During the course, you will be able to demonstrate…

  • mastery of editing and compositional technique in a variety of poetic forms.
  • creative reflection on given situations and improvised prompts.
  • adaptation of your work to achieve expectations as given by an instructor and/or other students.
  • understanding of the relationship between form and content in various cultures and time periods.
  • cooperation within a group-editing situation.
  • self-directed and self-motivated working under short-term deadline and iterative workflow requirements.

Curriculum Details

This is a mixed-methodology course with half its in-class time in a seminar style and the other half in a workshop style. This means that you will be responsible for participation in seminars and, in addition to that, presentation and commentary in workshop settings. The presentation of draft work is a necessity in these situations and criticism will be forthcoming both from me and the other students on an ongoing basis, both in-class and online. Relevant discussion is encouraged but it is expected that you will be mindful of the emotional effect of your words.


There is no assigned textbook for this course. Individual poems to be studied in some of the seminar classes will be distributed as needed.


  • 15% Poetry Journal (due Friday of week 12)
  • 25% Bi-weekly Submissions (due Friday of weeks 2, 4, 6, 8, 10)
  • 10% Shared Commentaries (due before Thursday class of week following submission each week)
  • 10% Mirroring Assignment (due Friday of week 12)
  • 40% Poetry Portfolio (due Friday of week 12)


  1. You are expected to keep a poetry composition journal throughout this course. The minimum requirement for this is four entries per week, a minimum length of two hundred words per entry. You are encouraged to complete these on a daily basis but, as there is no way to check that this is being done, you are welcome to write as many of these at a time as you desire. As the course extends for twelve weeks, this works out to be a minimum of 48 entries and 9600 words. While absolutely daily entries are not a requirement for an excellent grade on this assignment, you are encouraged to write thoroughly thought-out, short pieces often rather than longer pieces that attempt to do more than tackle a single idea. Examples of these entries will be provided throughout the semester but a loose guideline is to write either a commentary on a piece of poetry that you have read (no more than 25% of the total entries may be commentary) or to compose a short poem of your own. You are welcome to write thoughts and comments about your own work. No matter what length this works out to be or how many entries, I will be happy to read it completely and offer suggestions on anything you submit. You are welcome to submit this assignment as often as you like for ongoing commentary and suggestions rather than waiting until the last day to send it for the first time. Frequent and repeated submission of the work is optional but highly encouraged.
  2. You are required to submit a single poem or a short group or series of poems for sharing, discussion, public reading and commentary every two weeks. These may be poems following the patterns discussed in the Tuesday sessions (forms, themes, etc) or completely of your own choosing. It is encouraged that you attempt to apply what has been discussed that week but you are free to write how you wish. These are to be submitted no later than 23.59 Friday of weeks 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10 to the online forum. Minimum 200 words, no maximum but please keep in mind that other students will be reading and commenting on your work and it may be unkind to make them read thousands of words. Remember, everyone in the course will be reading everyone else’s submissions but not commenting on them. It will be your choice whose work you comment on and either work that is not sufficiently thought-provoking, polished or concise will not likely be selected by others and you will not benefit as thoroughly from their attention. I will be giving comments and suggestions on all submissions. You are encouraged to submit these as early as possible on the weeks indicated as it gives others a longer window to send comments and suggestions and that, in turn, allows you to make improvements to your work before in-class discussions take place. These will be reviewed and commented on with suggestions at the time but you are expected to update and improve your work throughout the semester. Whichever version is the latest by the last day of the semester will be the version that will be assigned a final grade. A running grade will be assigned with each submitted revision and there is no limit to how many times this may be changed.
  3. Commentaries on five other students’ work are to be submitted each two-week period before class on Thursday of weeks 3, 5, 7, 9 and 11. These do not need to be long (minimum 100 word commentary plus any helpful suggestions you feel you can make). You will be graded on how constructive and helpful these comments are. Please note that telling others that their work is exceptionally good (or bad) is unhelpful and will be graded no higher than submitting no work at all. Be brief and concise with your suggestions, specific words and phrases. If there is a particular piece that you would like more comments on, I am happy to arrange with other students an exchange where you comment on their work and they comment on yours. Otherwise and in general, you may select any work submitted for that week. There is no limit to how many pieces you can comment on but a minimum of five per week, not 25 total, will be graded. This means that if you comment on ten this week, you still need to comment on five every other week but your grade will be increased if you have provided more help by commenting on more than the minimum. As always, extra initiative will be rewarded and extra effort will result in better results for all concerned.
  4. Throughout the semester, we will be looking at different styles of poetry throughout the history of writing, from the western poetic traditions and other cultures. You are to select three works that are discussed in the seminars (or others of your choosing, if you have cleared them with me in advance) and write your own poems using that style and voice. There is no specific minimum or maximum word count for this submission as it will distinctly depend on the work itself. Please keep in mind, though, that for extremely short work (haiku comes to mind) it is advisable to treat a cycle of poems as a single work for these purposes as you will be rewarded for your effort and production. As this is an ongoing project, you are welcome to submit it in pieces or complete starting at any point during the semester. You are encouraged to do this early and often as there is no limit to the number of submissions and you will receive suggestions and an ongoing grade each time you offer it as partially complete. The final edition submitted by the last day of the semester will be your final grade on the assignment. (Previous submissions receiving excellent marks have been approximately 500-2000 words.)
  5. You are required to submit as your final project a poetry portfolio of your own work. There is no specific number of poems that this is to include but I recommend a minimum word count of 2500 words. There is no maximum number of poems or words and the minimum is suggested rather than required but if you wish to submit either a very small or large number, I would highly recommend you speak to me first about your submission and to do so early in the semester so you are not surprised by the decision. As with the mirroring project above, this project may be submitted in pieces as many times as you like during the semester for ongoing grades, suggestions and comments. Your final grade on this project will be the one applied to the last-submitted version on the last day of the semester. (Previous submissions receiving excellent marks have been approximately 3000-5000 words.)

Assessment Criteria

It is important that if you have any questions about how your work will be assessed you speak to me as early in the semester as possible. Otherwise, it is encouraged that you submit at least a portion of your work as soon as possible to see how it will be assessed in practice. Writing is a very subjective form but adherence to styles, use of language and punctuation and the construction of meaningful discourse are basic requirements. There is a wide latitude on what constitutes good writing, whether prose or verse, but striving for beautiful and thoughtful use of language to communicate a coherent message is a foundation for that and in its absence, there is no latitude to reward effort.

You will, throughout the semester, be expected to demonstrate these as basic abilities. Beyond this, excellence will be determined by your creative use of language to develop but these are requirements for a passing grade.

  • Understanding of convention and form.
  • Originality of work.
  • Organization of your work, your logic, your language and your subject matter.
  • Your use of appropriate form and subject in cooperation.
  • Your ability to communicate concrete and abstract concepts both separately and simultaneously.
  • Coherent editing and adaptation of your work, including grammatical norms and punctuation which, while possible to modify through the use of poetic license, must be consistent and, if you wish to deviate vastly from these norms, a discussion may be wise in advance.
  • Clean, clear and visually-pleasing presentation.

Assessment of an ongoing nature will be given as submissions are made and whenever it is requested, in addition. If you are not doing well, you will know this quickly after you make any submission. If you have not received any evaluation, it is because you have not yet submitted any work and this is, if it is more than a few weeks into the term, unadvisable.

To achieve a passing grade requires more than simply presenting poetry that adheres to forms during the time period provided. You must adapt to guidance and participate in the critical process with other students and show significant effort and improvement during the semester as a minimum.

An excellent grade will be awarded to a student who does the above and shows significant progress but, beyond this, demonstrates mastery of various poetic forms and a creative approach to language.

Grade Descriptions

While marking is somewhat subjective, it is helpful to have a rough guideline as to what is expected of you to achieve the result you desire on each of your submissions. These are only outlines but they should give you a goal to aim for. I do not believe in borderline grades (A-, C+). If I believe a paper is good enough not to be a C, it will be a B. If it has not reached the level required for an A, it will also be a B. This may sound harsh but, especially coupled with my policy of unlimited potential resubmissions to improve your grade, if you have not achieved the grade you are seeking, you will have plenty of opportunity to improve the work and change its grade accordingly. It may be useful to note that I do not grade on a curve or using probability. Your fellow students’ submissions have absolutely no impact on your grade and you are no more or less likely to do well in a class of extremely high or low abilities. Each level’s description can be assumed to be in addition to the requirements for all lower levels of achievement — an A paper must meet all the requirements of a B paper, for example, in addition to those listed in its particular grade’s description.

A (80-100%)

This is an exceptional submission. It is clear in its purpose and use of language, meeting and surpassing its goals. It is free of grammatical or typographical errors and is presented in a coherent visual style with correct attention to detail. Its use of language is sophisticated and appropriate to the level of the course and target audience. While I have absolutely no difficulty in assigning an entire class of submissions an A, these grades are rather rare.

B (70-79%)

This is a submission that meets all requirements and uses original, creative thought in communicating them. It is free of grammatical or typographical errors and is written in a fluid and easy-to-understand manner. It is appropriate to the level of the course and the target audience. This is a submission that does everything that is asked but does not go beyond the requirements.

C (60-69%)

This is a submission that lacks originality or creativity in its use of language and treatment of the subject matter. It attempts to meet the requirements of the assignment but fails to do so completely. To achieve this grade, a complete submission must be present, without notable grammatical or typographical errors but its content does not meet the expectation and you are encouraged to resubmit for a better grade after having consulted with me and revised your work.

D (50-59%)

This grade is where submissions that do not meet basic editing and structural requirements fall. An assignment that is incomplete (while mostly present), that does not answer the given questions or requirements but presents a relatively complete attempt or comprises grammatical or typographical errors that show that the work was not properly presented will receive this grade. It is expected that you will resubmit at least once if this is where your work is resulting and meeting with me is highly recommended to discuss future work and how to improve your grade.

F (1-49%)

A submission that fails to meet the basic requirements of the assignment, ignores the question being asked, contains significant structural errors, misuse of language, large grammatical and typographical errors or is absent an obvious degree of thinking will receive this grade. Receiving this grade, I assume you will come to see me to discuss resubmission as soon as possible and assistance will certainly be provided.

U (0%)

A failure to submit or the use of another student’s work or work from sources that are not cited, including the use only of sourced work without any significant portion of the text being the student’s own, will receive a grade of U, unacceptable work, noted as 0%. In addition, plagiarism may be treated more harshly, including an investigation. You may speak to me at your earliest possible opportunity to discuss the problem with your work and look at options for improving it.


You will be given the opportunity to submit feedback in office hours or at the end of the course using the standardized student feedback methods in place in the faculty. If this is not sufficient or if you have any questions, problems or concerns, please contact me privately by email or see me after any of our sessions so we can schedule a meeting to discuss whatever may be on your mind. Feedback on your work will be provided promptly and repeatedly on each submission but if there is anything specific you wish to address, I invite you to email.


In accordance with guidelines in the faculty but just as importantly in accordance with participating actively in humanity, it is expected that you will actively treat your fellow students with respect. While I believe strongly in the poet’s right to freedom of expression, this will not be seen under any circumstances as an acceptance of hate speech, racism, sexism, language against those of a different sexuality or gender or anything of this sort. This does not only cover your submissions but your comments during the seminars and workshops.

I have an absolute zero-tolerance policy for disrespect and hate speech and you will be immediately asked to leave if you choose to engage in such behavior. Criticism is meant to be constructive and helpful and sometimes this is taken to be harsh or heavy-handed but there is, as we are all aware, a difference between criticism of work and personal attacks on an individual. The former, criticism of work, is part of the course. The latter, personal criticism of any sort, is not to be engaged in either in course or online.

It is not necessary that you agree with another student’s choice of approach to language, their faith, their culture or their adherence to norms. It is, however, necessary that you treat all such behaviors, backgrounds and choices with respect. Intentional (or repeated) use of undesirable pronouns or language referring to a group of people by their place of origin, referencing their dress or faith, culture or location, educational status or gender, is wholly unacceptable and will be treated as such.

Overall, you are expected to treat others with respect and to assume that such respect will in turn be granted to you. I am certain that we will all appreciate learning and working in a peaceful and respectful environment.


It is expected that you attend and participate fully in these sessions. There will be additional, optional classes that you are encouraged to attend. You are a university student and this is simply part of being in the program. I will not award you marks for showing up and participating but I reserve the right to ask the faculty to reexamine your status in the program if you make a habit of missing class without a valid reason.

I am not cold-hearted or mean about attendance and if you have medical, family or other extenuating circumstances, I will certainly excuse you from class. Please let me know of these as quickly as possible, preferably before the class but I am well aware that emergencies happen and you will never be penalized for unavoidable absence. If possible, please complete the weekly requirements during your absence.

While the study of language and its writing is an open and constructive discipline, we do not have the space or time to welcome guests whose presence has not already been cleared. If you wish to bring someone to class, ask me in advance and it is likely that, unless you make a habit of it, I will accept your request. That being said, your friends are not necessarily part of this program and have not paid for the time necessary to review and comment on your work and it would not be fair to take that time away from those who are expected to participate. Visitors to our classroom may wish to look seriously into extracurricular offerings in creative writing and I am happy to point you in the right direction.

Academic Support

The faculty offers academic support and, as a student, you qualify for free assistance. As this is a course in the study of language rather than an objective or scientific discipline, however, it is unlikely that this will be useful to you, as the service is mostly for reading and study skills and writing of traditional papers, none of which are present in this course. If you have questions about time management and participation in online discussions, you may find their assistance useful. If you have difficulty with any of the assignments, however, you are welcome to contact me by email, see me after any of the seminars or workshops or come during office hours and I will be happy to offer you whatever help you request.


As in all academic institutions, plagiarism is harshly prohibited in this course. If you submit work as your own the work of another student or an individual from outside the faculty, an immediate grade of 0 will be assigned and proceedings will be started to reexamine your fitness to continue in the program. All submissions will be processed through the faculty’s standardized plagiarism scanning software to ensure that your work is original. If you have any questions regarding this, please contact me at your convenience.

The frequent question that appears regarding this in this area of study is about the notion of “found poetry”. I will not ask you to submit anything of the sort and doing so will be considered, at least, a lack of completion of the assignment using your own words or, at most, grounds for a plagiarism charge. I would strongly suggest you not engage in such practices.


It is expected that your analysis, when required, will follow a standardized set of referencing guidelines, including footnotes and lists of works cited. It is not prescribed that you use a particular style but it must be plain to see where the work has been found and how to access it and your style must be consistent.

Electronic Submission

All work is to be submitted electronically. If you wish to submit physical copies of your work, you are welcome to do so in addition to electronic submissions. I encourage you to submit your work as text rather than formatted documents or PDF files so that they may be copied and pasted for easier suggestions and comments in the online forum. Work not submitted online will be deemed not submitted. If you do not receive confirmation by email of your submission within 24h, do not assume that it has been received and resend the document.

All work will remain your own property and it is stated in the online forum that the copyright of all work is retained by the original author. I expect all participants to respect this copyright declaration for all posts and submission of work in the public forum for commentary and suggestions.

Late Submissions

Time-sensitive submissions including commentaries and submissions for workshop or seminar evaluation, if requested, are accepted up to and including the time stated in the outline. Beyond this, they will not be accepted and you will receive 0% on these assignments. You will be permitted in extenuating circumstances to complete alternative assignments to regain these grades but this is not a given and will not be assumed in all cases.

Non-time-sensitive submissions may submitted and resubmitted as frequently as you like up to and including the last day of the course at 23.59. Time-sensitive submissions may be resubmitted for reevaluation up to and including this time, also.

There will be no penalty for late submissions as time-sensitive submissions will not be accepted late and work submitted after the last day of the course are not included in your grade. Non-submitted work will result in a 0% on that component.

Mitigating Circumstances

Alternative assessments will be provided in certain circumstances for mititating circumstances. This will be determined on a case-by-case basis. Please contact me with the details of your situation as soon as possible.


I am happy to offer modified assessments and avenues for participation to those who require it. If you have a reason to request a modified program, please contact me as soon as possible and detail your situation. This has, in the past, been granted on various segments within the creative writing curriculum in my courses including audio versions of submissions, large-print, color-specific printing for certain students to more easily read, moving to more accessible classrooms and the use of specialized technology. This is not an exhaustive list and your individual needs will be taken seriously to create the best possible experience for you in this course.


These classes take place in a publicly-accessible building and, as such, your privacy is not guaranteed. That being said, however, I will do my best to grant what privacy is possible. Your personal comments will be delivered to you electronically using the email address that you select, not published publicly. Your work will be shared in the online forum but access is restricted only to students in this class and to me, your instructor, at all times.

No student is permitted to share the work of another outside the class either electronically or in print. A breach of this instruction will result in a reevaluation of your place in this program. If you wish to share the work of another, it is expected that you will acquire their permission, in writing, in advance, just as you would for the pre-publication work of any writer.


You have the opportunity to submit your assignments at any time electronically. You also have the opportunity to resubmit these assignments an unlimited (within the time limits) number of times for reevaluation. All students in this course are given the same opportunity but it is up to you to avail of these options. If you select only to submit your work once and at the last minute, you may feel that the system is not being fair to you but this is a result of your having not taken advantage of those opportunities as others will have done. The requirement for submission does not vary by student except in the manner of modified programs and extenuating circumstances. If you feel that this is causing you to receive unfair treatment, please contact me as soon as possible and we will discuss what can be done to provide you the best course experience. It is expected that you will award all other students in this course a similar consideration for their fairness, as has already been mentioned as to respect.


It is general practice to provide this in chronological order and this will be done in that way, to an extent. I mention this, though, because seminar classes will be outlined first, followed by workshops. I believe this makes it clearer but please be aware that there are, in fact, two simultaneous lists that follow.


Please note that all the readings will be provided electronically at least one week before the class discussing them (with the exception of the first two weeks for obvious reasons) and you will be expected to have them with you either on screen or, if necessary, on paper in class. These are short examples and it would be wise to ensure that you have read them thoroughly and given at least some thought to composing in the style of each as this is exactly what will be expected.

Each seminar will be divided into four pieces, each lasting a half hour. The first piece will discuss the selections provided and how they are constructed. The second piece will discuss more general guidelines for the form and their relationship to the culture (both time and location) where they were created. The third piece will be a group exercise in creation of your own take on these forms and these groups will be assigned during the class. These compositions will not be graded but they may be shared, at least partially. The fourth piece will be an ongoing comparison between the new forms that we have discussed and those of previous weeks. The first two seminars will vary somewhat from this structure. Each seminar will be given a form or several related forms, a culture to focus on and example verse to be used purely as guidance.

Week 1

This class will be an introduction to various forms of poetry and examples will be provided in-class so there is nothing to prepare. You will be called on to compose short verses but there will be no miniature workshop session. You will also be given this syllabus in this class and we will end slightly earlier than usual so you can thoroughly read it and ask any questions individually that you may have on first reflection on the materials. This is also the point at which you will be asked to provide a contact email to receive an electronic copy of this, ongoing class notes and the examples for the remainder of the course. This does not need to be your primary email but you will need to check it throughout the semester to access electronic work and to receive electronic suggestions and comments on your work. You may certainly request to have this in hard copy but it will be more quickly available electronically, if that is possible. I am happy to supplement the examples here with work from my own publications but I certainly do not presume to use these as teaching tools. If this is something that you would like to have added to your weekly examples, I invite you to let me know.

Week 2

This class will discuss free-verse poetry and its various cultural implications both in the west and in contemporary traditions in China, Japan and Korea. This is the first of several free-verse sessions in this class, as this form offers the widest range of possible expressive forms. It works as a good introduction to the format of the seminars but the other classes focusing on its intricacies and options will be at the end of the course, after we have dealt with various more formally-rigid concepts.

  • “The Day When Poetics are Recycled” and “Border Z”, Minashita Kiriu
  • “The Snowy Night” and “A Faraway Place”, Moon Taejun
  • A selection of poems from _ Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent_, Liz Howard
  • A selection of poems from Not Written Words, Xi Xi
  • A selection of poems from The Blue Hour of the Day, Lorna Crozier
  • A selection of work from Autobiography of Red, Anne Carson

You have doubtless already become aware that these selections are taken from much longer works. You are encouraged to read the whole collections they belong to but we will only be discussing the example works provided out of fairness to demands on your time. When possible, I will bring hard copies of the collections to class and any student is more than welcome to borrow them for a short time, even after the semester is complete, to read the work in its context.

Note that this class will be split into two one-hour segments, the first discussing free-verse composition and the second a miniature group workshop to create your own free-verse works. As this will be the first of these groups, you will be given the full hour to create and share your ideas in preparation for the more condensed sessions in following weeks.

Week 3

The third week will focus on a discussion of what is likely the most famous literary form of verse, the sonnet. We will discuss it in its traditional iterations and its contemporary versions, the society from which it came, in the English-speaking world and Italy in particular, and its typical subject matter and expectations. This will also be our first discussion on how you as poets can go about breaking the norms of poetic form and when/where you may wish to look at doing so, why it is possible in the contemporary world in a way that it never has been before and the connection between traditional verse and popular music (something that will be discussed more fully in another session).

  • Sonnets 5, 13, 18, 71 and 100, William Shakespeare
  • “London”, William Wordsworth
  • “November”, Lorna Davis
  • “Ozymandias”, Percy Bysshe Shelley
  • “Vermont”, Phillip Whidden

Week 4

In week four, we will be discussing epic poetry but, rest assured, I have no intention of asking you to read them in their completeness. We will look at traditional Greek and Indian styles and excerpts from contemporary epics. In this workshop, you will not be asked to write your own epic but to plan how one may be written and compose a few lines from different sections.


Note that this is a far longer list than in other weeks because of the breadth of epic poetry. These examples are very short, however, so please do not be discouraged from looking at them all. As this is a developmental discussion, these are all given in chronological order and it is advisable to read them for the first time in the order shown — there is a distinct progression that you will see from exploring them.

Excerpts from…
  • Iliad, Homer
  • Mahābhārata
  • De raptu Proserpinae, Claudian
  • Neelakesi
  • Chanson de la Croisade Albigeoise
  • Shmuel-Bukh
  • Hermann and Dorothea, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
  • The Lord of the Isles, Walter Scott
  • Tamerlane, Edgar Allan Poe
  • Evangeline, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
  • The Cantos, Ezra Pound
  • The Lay of the Children of Húrin, J. R. R. Tolkien
  • Empire of Dreams, Giannina Braschi

Week 5

The fifth week is a look at poetry celebrating life and death. We will look at traditional forms (elegy & ode) and some poetic interpretations of modern funeral rites. We will be discussing the ideas of death, suicide, the afterlife and cultural variations on how those themes are understood, discussed and transformed into poetry, both written and oral. Please be aware that this is impossible without some potentially-triggering moments and if this is in any way a potential problem, I would ask you to speak to me about it before this week takes place. That is certainly not a problem and I have prepared an alternative selection of poems and a prerecorded seminar looking only at odes to muses, complete with its own workshop assignments so you will not be lacking in practice or understanding if you feel the need to miss this week’s topics. I believe that they are significant and important enough in the way that poetry is used in contemporary society that a course in poetic methods and composition would be remiss to leave it out but that does not make me unsympathetic to those who would wish not to participate.


Given the length of some of these works, I will not generally shorten them but will highlight the section that will be discussed and, if time is particularly tight, you can decide for yourself how much to read.

  • “America”, Robert Creeley
  • “Daddy”, Sylvia Plath
  • “Dejection”, Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  • “Dissection”, Anne WIlkinson
  • “Fugue of Death”, Paul Celan
  • “In Memoriam”, Alfred Tennyson
  • “Ode to Salvador Dalí”, Federico García Lorca
  • “Ode to the Confederate Dead”, Allen tate
  • “Pietà”, Kevin Young
  • “The Haw Lantern”, Seamus Heaney
  • “You Were You Are Elegy”, Mary Jo Bang

In addition, short excerpts from contemporary and traditional memorial services from various traditions will be included and briefly explored for their cultural and poetic content and applicability. It is likely that you will at some point in your career be asked to write memorial poetry and it is one of the most common times to feel underprepared as a poet.

Week 6

At the half-way point, week six, we will be looking at contemporary music as a form of poetry. I will not be expecting you to produce the lyrics of new hit songs but the study of lyrics is an excellent way to connect what you write with a far larger potential audience, an audience generally disconnected from traditional forms of poetic publication. While it is sadly a small minority who walks into a bookstore to buy a book of poems, nearly every person in the modern world at least occasionally listens to music being performed with words. Whether you think this poetry has artistic merit or not is an open subject for debate but it is certainly poetry that gets listeners and sometimes that takes with it its own type of success.

Much as with any of the other work in this course but perhaps more obviously here, the content of this work being provided here contains ideas of other times and places that may be objectionable and its investigation and discussion here should not be taken to be even the slightest support for the cultural norms or statements that are being presented by the writers and singers in question.

  • “American Pie”, Don McLean
  • “Bird on the Wire”, Leonard Cohen
  • “Doo-wop”, Lauren Hill
  • “Forever Young”, Bob Dylan
  • “Hey Jude”, John Lennon
  • “I’m Not in Love”, Tori Amos
  • “Let Her Go”, Passenger
  • “Once in a Lifetime”, Talking Heads
  • “Paranoid Android”, Radiohead
  • “Rolling in the Deep”, Adele
  • “Short Skirt Long Jacket”, Cake
  • “The Kids Aren’t Alright”, The Offspring
  • “Who Will Save Your Soul”, Jewel
  • “You Don’t Know My Name”, Alicia Keys

While I often offer extra seminars on specific topics on request, it has been the norm that this week will be the source of another look at popular lyrics as poetry in an open discussion forum closer to the end of the semester. If this is something you would like to see, please let me know. The caveat is that I will ask you to suggest a contemporary pop song whose lyrics are worth discussing as poetry.

Week 7

The seventh and eighth weeks, we will focus on short poetry from various cultures and what makes each special. We will be looking mostly at written forms in week seven and improvised forms in week eight. This will include the haiku, tanka, renga (Japanese), daina (Latvian), pathya vat (Cambodian), kural (Tamil), yuefu (Chinese) and goryeo (Korean).

In this week, we will be looking at a collection of short poems from each of the following poets. Given that many of these are only two or three lines long, this may appear a longer list than it is in practice.

  • E. E. Cummings
  • Edward Storer
  • Joseph Campbell
  • Kang Eun-gyo
  • Kobayashi Issa
  • Makoto Ōoka
  • Matsuo Bashō
  • Natsume Sōseki
  • Richard Aldington
  • Ryūnosuke Akutagawa
  • Taneda Santoka

We will supplement this list with contemporary examples of new year’s couplets in the Chinese tradition and various anonymous works from the Japanese, Chinese and Korean short poetry traditions. In addition, we will look at memorable advertising slogans as poetic forms.

Week 8

The eighth week will be a continuation of the exploration from week seven of short poetic forms and the time for exploration of your own work will be somewhat extended in this class so that we all have an opportunity to share impromptu composition. We will be using most of the time in this week and in the workshop that follows to work on improvisational poetry, starting with the rigid forms discussed in week seven and moving to free-verse improvisation. We will also take a short look at the rise of extremely short poetry in social media — Twitter, Facebook and even Instagram.

Week 9

In the ninth week, we will be taking a look at scripture as poetry. While this is not always seen as a good example of contemporary compositional style (and it generally isn’t), it is a completely different motivation for writing than the others that we have looked at. You may be familiar with some of the writings that we will explore here from a religious context but we are not going to debate religion. We’re going to look at these as works of poetic writing and what kind of effect they have on a contemporary audience. Then we will explore what you can take away from the example of scripture and liturgy that you can use to improve your own poetry. We’re also going to have a short discussion of what it means to be a poetry translator, as almost all of this work is in translation.

Excerpts from…
  • Bible and Torah (primarily Psalms, Proverbs, 1 Corinthians, Revelation)
  • Dhammapada (primarily the first two chapters)
  • Maṭnawīye Ma’nawī, Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī
  • Mukhya Upanishads (primarily Brahmanas)
  • Qur’an (primarily Al-Anfal, An-Nahl, Al-Kahf and As-Saffat)
  • The Lotus Sutra
  • various recitations from the Pali canon

In addition, we will look at collections of religious poetry from Thich Nhat Hanh, Mahmoud Darwish, Navit Barel, Chih Yuan, Chia Tao and Han-Shan Te-Ch’ing.

Weeks 10-12

The tenth, eleventh and twelfth weeks will be a return to free-verse and prose poetry. We will look at some contemporary work and take time to explore the submissions already given by you (with your permission, of course). The example list for these three weeks will be short as we will mostly focus on your own writing and create more within the class setting both collaboratively and individually. As we have already focused on short poetry, the main area of interest in these classes will be on longer works.

  • “Smile” & “Tower of Light”, Sugimoto Maiko
  • “Snail” & “Galaxy”, Hachikai Mimi
  • A selection of poems from A Really Good Brown Girl, Marilyn Dumont
  • A selection of poems from Boy With A Thorn, Rickey Laurentiis
  • A selection of poems from Engine Empire, Cathy Park Hong
  • A selection of poems from Faithful and Virtuous Night, Louise Glück
  • A selection of poems from Kingdom Animalia, Aracelis Girmay
  • A selection of poems from Lighthead, Terrance Hayes
  • A selection of poems from Native Guard, Natasha Trethewey
  • A selection of poems from Neon Vernacular, Yusef Komunyakaa
  • A selection of poems from North End Love Songs, Katherena Vermette
  • A selection of poems from Red Erotic, Janet Rogers
  • A selection of poems from Salsa, Hsia Yü
  • A selection of poems from Six Girls Without Pants, Paisley Rekdal
  • A selection of poems from Tender Hooks, Beth Ann Fennelly
  • A selection of poems from The Country Between Us, Carolyn Forche


The workshops are generally based on the seminars for the same week and this is more of an expansion on those expectations.

Week 1

The first week’s workshop will be on improvisational poetic forms so you will not need to prepare anything except your own mind.

Week 2

Your second week’s workshop will be on any free-verse poem or group of poems that you would like to share. This week’s minimum word count will be approximately 1000 words, which may be a single piece or a set. Comments from other students will likely be confined to one poem but mine will be on the entire submission. In this and all other weeks, there is no maximum word count for submissions and you may consider this an opportunity to receive comments on a group of poems.

Week 3

Week three will be a workshop on sonnets. You are encouraged to write a sonnet for this workshop but it is permissible to submit another form if you would like. If you write a sonnet, one is sufficient but more will be accepted. If you are writing another piece of work, an approximate minimum of 200 words is expected.

Week 4

The fourth week will certainly not require you to write an epic poem. In this workshop, you are free to write a short poem in the epic style or any other narrative form of poetry — narrative free verse or prose poetry. I encourage you to write a single work with a minimum of 1000 words but you are free to use a cycle or collection of poems to achieve this minimum word count.

Week 5

Week five is devoted to poems on life and death. You are free to write any style you wish but you are encouraged to experiment with ode and elegy. Again, your minimum submission length is approximately 1000 words but this may be several pieces together.

Week 6

In week six, you are encouraged to write a song. There is no particular word count expected but if you decide to write outside of the lyrical form (songwriting lyrics, not lyric poetry), again this will be approximately 1000 words. No musical style is necessary but if you feel like recording a performance of your work, this is certainly not in any way required but it would be appreciated by everyone in the class, I have no doubt. As always, all information and submissions are private but I shall repeat this here that anything shared with the group is not to be distributed outside the class without written permission of the person who created it.

Week 7

The seventh week is a workshop on short poems, particularly those of eastern cultures. You are encouraged to write a series of poems in any of the styles discussed. I would recommend either haiku or tanka as a foundation for writing a group of linked poems. The approximate minimum word count for this week is 250 words if you are writing a series of short, linked works or 1000 words if you are submitting longer poems.

Week 8

Week eight is a continuation of week seven. You may write another similar work to that of the previous week or explore the more flexible social-media and advertising forms. The word count expectations are also the same as week seven.

Week 9

In the ninth week, I am going to encourage you to do something different. I would like you to write a creation myth in verse. This should be a minimum of 1000 words but, as always, there is no maximum length. It may be related to that of your own faith or completely different. It is completely up to you, as long as it is in English. If you wish to write something else, you are certainly welcome to do so but we will focus mainly on historical and scriptural writing in the workshop.

Week 10

The tenth week comes along with the expectation to write at least one free-verse poem. The minimum is 1000 words for your submission but that may be split among a series of works or even unrelated poems.

Week 11

Week eleven will be devoted to prose poetry. I would like you to write at least one paragraph poem and your total should be no less than 1500 words.

Week 12

In week twelve, we will be looking at flexible forms of poetry and you may submit any non-formal poetic type you like. This is expected to be a minimum of 1500 words in one work or spread over several, even many. You may use short or long forms. In addition, you may submit as much of your portfolio for general commentary from the class at this point but I expect that you will have already shared much of what you have been working on for that project by the last week.


This document was last updated on 2019.11.17 and corresponds to the Fall 2019 semester version of this course. For earlier course outlines, please get in touch directly as only the most recent version will be displayed here to avoid potential confusion.