The Poetics of Grief

6 weeks. Thursdays between March 31, 2022 and May 5, 2022. 7-8:30pm.

“After great pain, a formal feeling comes.” Emily Dickinson, writing that line in 1862, understood the transformational power of grief. The great pain of mourning can also be a source for our greatest insights, compelling us toward catharsis as a way to survive the crush of a loss that can seem, at first, to be insurmountable.

In this course, we’ll track the poetics of grief as it moves through its many stages: reckoning, regret, remembrance, ritual, recovery, and redemption. Each week, we’ll read poems that mark a certain place in the journey from great pain to formal feeling, working together to define the ways in which poetry can act as a formal container for profound grief.

Every class will begin with a generative writing exercise that builds on the class before, so that by the end of our 6 weeks each student will have a poetic account of their own passage through the course. Weekly writing prompts will ask students to consider themes we discuss during class and apply formal techniques we identify in readings, offering novel approaches to help provoke new poems.

Students will also have opportunities to submit 2-3 poems for workshopping, providing a critical and supportive space to aid in the revision process.

Poetry in Translation

4 weeks. Tuesdays between November 30, 2021 and December 21, 2021. 7-8:30PM

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Translation is always, ultimately, a kind of failure. To shift the language of poetry from its origin means you must lose some of the texture of that original. And yet, as the poet James Merrill once wrote, “But nothing’s lost. Or else: all is translation/ And every bit of us is lost in it.” The loss and failure that defines translation is evidence, at least, that we are still trying to understand one another.

In this course, we’ll look at a single book of poetry-in-translation, alphabet by Dutch poet Inger Christensen and translated by Susanna Nied. Organized in an alphabetical series of ever-expanding poems, alphabet is a powerful meditation on environmental wonder and collapse, as formally inventive as it is deeply poignant.

We will also attempt to complete our own translations* of a poet we admire. Through weekly prompts and exercises, we’ll try multiple translation tactics, learning the many different ways a text can be translated.

*Mastery of a second language is not required for this course—we will treat translation as a tool for more deeply engaging with the function of meaning in language, rather than expecting to create “perfect” translations.

The Poet’s Journal

8 weeks. Wednesdays between August 11, 2021 and September 29, 2021. 7-9PM.

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If a poem is the expression of an individual mind experiencing a particular moment, reading poetry can feel incredibly intimate—like being let in on a secret world.

In this course, we’ll uncover the secret worlds each of us contain. We’ll decipher our unique systems of language and map the patterns and images that chart our imagination. Through a series of exercises and prompts, each student will create their own “Poet’s Journal”—a daily diary that will help us engage with our own interiority, and mine the secret world in all of us to find the raw material for poems.

To guide our explorations, we will read widely—poetry, essays, hybrid writing, translation, and more. Each class will include ample time for discussion as we work together to try to understand how poetry works. As a final assignment, each student will write their own “Ars Poetica,” a type of poetic manifesto that seeks to define their personal relationship to poetry.

Each student will also have the opportunity to workshop 2-3 poems during this course, gaining valuable feedback and insight from a class of engaged readers.

Shelter in Place, a Poetry Workshop

10 weeks. Tuesdays, between March 2, 2021 and May 4, 2021.

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In this 10-week workshop we will be reading, writing, and engaging with the craft of poetry with the goal of re-encountering an expansive world through the window of our quarantines.

We will read over 40 poets, complete 10 generative poetry exercises, write 9 prompted poems, engage with 7 critical essays, and workshop 3 poems per poet.

The course is designed to develop and build on a series of tools that any writer can use in the creation and revision of their poems, and to help one another critically engage with poems as a way to expand our sense of what a poem can—and should—do.

At the end of the course, poets should hope to have a collection of (at least) 22 new poems. In our final class, we will take time to talk about and practice revision processes on some of these poems, and Robert will lead a Q&A about literary publishing.

Oulipo Poetry

Tuesday, November 17, 2020. 7PM. Zoom.

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In poetry-writing, one of the most difficult challenges to overcome is the effort to “make sense,” to apply a personal logic and language to feelings that are often just out of reach. Oulipo—a French school of writers and mathematicians—reminds us that the prime directive of language is to push new, strange, and surprising insights, undoing the insistence of the self in favor of an exterior constraint. These constraints force the writer to follow choices that may not have been available without the influence of the constraint.

In this one-day class we will learn and practice Oulipo constraints to use as tools in our poetry editing arsenal. Come prepared with an original poem that you want to edit, and learn how to let these constraints guide your work and unlock new directions in your writing.