Workshops

In addition to workshops, we offer a limited number of 30-minute Private Portfolio Consultations.

Note: We may add more 2017 Workshops, if these fill.

What the Poem Wants, Cornelius Eady

What does the poem want? This is a question that I’ll ask and explore with you—through exercises, examples and informed talk we’ll sort those drafts out. I read a lot—some of the manuscripts I’ve read for contests have turned into Nat’l Book Award and Pulitzer Prize winners. I’ll bring that level of attention to your voice. Not to win prizes, but to help you along as you try to figure out how you sing on the page.

Deep image: Discovering our obsessions and emotional images, Natalie Diaz

This generative workshop will explore our notion of image—image is more than a thing you can see. Images are the vessels of story, history, mythology, action, and emotion, among other things. Using previous knowledge of our images of obsession, we will do a series of exercises to help discover and mine our new, emotional images. To paraphrase painter Francis Bacon, we will return the image to our nervous systems more violently—meaning, we will build images that make us and our readers feel

Abstraction and Concretion, Sense and Non-Sense, Vijay Seshadri

In the first half of this class we will look at how abstract elements in a poem—the material nature of language itself, the dynamic elements of syntax, timing, movement—create, sustain, or defeat meaning by looking at a series of poems that represent embodiments of meaning ranging from the clear (or the seemingly clear) to the difficult to the impenetrable. In the second half, we will write a poem that elicits the tension between the abstract and the concrete in poetry, based on a prompt I will provide. Then we will talk about the poems we’ve just written.

ALL THE VOICES WITHIN US: Building Conversation, Dialogue,”Real” Talk in Poems, Wendy Barker

 We’ll look at a few sample poems by such poets as David Kirby, Patricia Smith, Natalia Treviño, Alicia Ostriker, Barbara Hamby, Denise Duhamel, and Kevin Clark to discover the ways they bring various voices—languages, languages within languages, and/or dialects—to vivid life in their poems. And we’ll each write a poem of our own in which we capture a particular human conversational style, or demonstrate human voices in conversation. At the end of our session, we’ll read our poems aloud to each other, and, if time permits, discuss them.

Personal Velocity: Finding Ways to Energize Your Poems, Sheila Black

A poem often depends on pacing—a pattern of control and release that allows the reader and writer to make new discoveries about familiar scenes and topics. In this workshop, we will explore strategies for and methods of creating energy in your poems—from sharp juxtaposition to handling of narrative to different aspects of diction that can create tonal qualities that may drive a poem forward. The idea will be to locate sources of energy unique to your poetry and find ways of enhancing and building on those sources of personal velocity. We will look at poems from Emily Dickinson, Larry Levis, Lynda Hull, Tony Hoagland, Ann Carson and others; we will also perform short writing exercises based on the readings. Participants should bring at least two poems they wish to consider and revise.

Description/Departure or The Brain is a Simile-making Machine, Lisa Olstein

How does the data of the senses transform into language in the brain and on the page? When we attempt to describe, what processes and practices do we—consciously and subconsciously—engage in? What are our options, our intentions, by what are they in- or circumscribed? In this craft session, we’ll explore not only how and why we turn to description in poems, but also how and why description itself so quickly turns from the literal to the figurative, from one idea or object to another, from what’s in front of us to what’s far-flung. Paying particular attention to simile and metaphor—the urges that point us towards them, the kinds of work that they do or undo, the way they haunt the house of language itself and our ability to translate the world—we’ll explore description as tool and practice, as manifestation of imagination, and as expression of logic; that is, as a framework for how we know the world.

(To aid our consideration, we’ll undertake some prompts, close-read some poems handed out in class, and consider the a few of your own poems. In addition to something to write with and on, please bring one copy of 2 poems of your own, finished or in-progress.)

From “Me” to “I” to “We”: Summoning the Power of the Collective Voice in Persona Poems, J. Scott Brownlee

In this workshop we will examine how singular and collective persona poems function differently and hopefully gain a new familiarity and comfort level with writing persona poems in collective voices. Close reading powerful examples of persona poems by Louise Glück, Gwendolyn Brooks, Dorianne Laux, and Danez Smith as the workshop progresses, we will consider how changing a poem’s speaker from “I” to “we” reorients a poem’s energy and scope and results in a poetics of inclusion rather than exclusion . . . a poetics that engages with the social and political moment rather than attempting to escape or retreat from it. Workshop participants are encouraged to bring in two drafts of a one-to-two-page persona poem–with one draft in the voice of a singular speaker (“I”) and the other in the voice of a collective speaker (“we”). Poems based on current events are encouraged but by no means required. We will workshop as many participants’ poems as time permits.

THE ART OF WRITING ABOUT ART, Barbara Crooker

An exploration of ekphrasis, poetry that has a conversation with art. We’ll look at some sample pairings, work by Lisel Mueller, Ellen Bass, Carl Dennis, George Bilgere, Kim Addonizio, and discover some of the techniques and approaches that can be used in writing an ekphrastic poem. Then we’ll look at some paintings ourselves and write a poem of our own, reading aloud and sharing at the end.

Poetry & Photography:  Writing the Poem We Can Almost See Octavio Quintanilla

About memory, Ted Kooser writes that sometimes we think of “some object or event from the past, maybe a clock in your grandmother’s kitchen, and suddenly part of your memory opens like a little door and you can see all kinds of other details.”  With this in mind, we will discuss personal photos to help us open that “little door,” so that we can engage memory, see all the details evoked, and generate the language to write about what we discover. To discuss technique and possibility, we will also look at poets writing in the ekphrastic tradition such as William Carlos Williams, W.H. Auden, and Kate Daniels.

This will be a generative workshop. We will discuss, write, share.  Please bring a photo you’d like to write about.

Straight Up: Honing the Craft of Being Overt, Sasha West

 What do you do with material that requires directness? What happens when your life or your country needs your poem to speak transparently and forcefully? These moments of crisis can be especially hard if we’ve done the valuable work of training ourselves to “show, don’t tell” without also training ourselves to “show and tell.” In this workshop, we’ll read example poems that make overt statements, pull no punches, and lay the world bare. From the personal to the political, we’ll look at forces that drive the speaker into speech. By discussing and practicing craft techniques, we’ll come away with tools that will help us tell the reader something overt that nevertheless remains resonant and compelling.

Pulling Out All the Stops, Tomás Q. Morín

Sometimes a poem can stall during revision for various reasons. One way to address this problem and break through the revision block is to make a dramatic shift in style. While there are a variety of ways to change the style of a poem, one of the most disruptive is to make a poem a single sentence. We’ll look to poetry and fiction for models of the extended sentence. Students should bring a poem no longer than a page they need help revising for an in-class exercise. 

Writing Our Truth: Poetry, Memory, and History, Robin Davidson

In her book Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World, Jane Hirshfield tells us that “Good art is a truing of vision, in the way a saw is trued in the saw shop, to cut more cleanly. It is also a changing of vision.” Poems, then, offer the opportunity for such “truing,” acute seeing, in terms of both personal and social transformation. In this workshop we will explore memory (our interior lives) and history (the intersection of the personal with one’s historical moment) as these inform a poet’s vision. We’ll begin by seeking these two portals into the poem, its truths, by considering a handful of pieces that engage history and the poetry of witness—notions of home, exile, lament, refuge, gratitude. We’ll then shift to a discussion of your goals for your own work, and strategies that may support that trajectory. Please bring with you your writer’s notebook (whatever form that may take—composition spiral, moleskin journal, laptop, tablet), and one or two poems (or journal entries if you prefer) that engage a particular personal memory for use in a workshop exercise.