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Optional Workshops 2015
Writing the Bad Sonnet (from Wingbeats II)
I often hear poets tell me that they simply can’t write a sonnet, that
they can’t write a poem that rhymes, that they can’t write a poem that
uses meter. Balderdash! What they usually mean is that they can’t write
a good sonnet that employs rhyme and meter—-and that may initially be
true. But they can write a bad sonnet; on that point they all agree.
This workshop is designed to help them write a bad sonnet, not only bad,
exaggeratedly bad, the worst they can possibly come up with. Of course,
there’s a method to this madness. By encouraging them to write a bad
sonnet, they not only learn that they can write a sonnet, but they also
begin to understand what goes into writing any sonnet, good or bad. The
idea is that by learning how to write a bad sonnet they will be better
prepared to write a good one. So fear not the sonnet, poets!
The Art of Metaphor: What Is It Like?
Poetry is rooted in metaphor, in which we see the similarity, the oneness, in disparate things. Metaphor works to enact emotional authenticity, to create order from chaos, and to create a bond between the poet and the reader. In this workshop we’ll explore the power of metaphor in bringing images to life and study how metaphor works in a variety of poems. We’ll learn practical strategies for creating more vivid metaphors in our own poetry and we’ll have an opportunity to experiment with this aspect of the craft in some brief writing exercises. (If you’d like, bring a poem you’re not yet satisfied with to use in one of the exercises).
The Objective Correlative
In his essay “Hamlet and His Problems,” T.S. Eliot identifies a mechanism of emotive poetic construction that he describes as the “objective correlative”: “The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art,” he claims, “is by finding an ‘objective correlative’; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, [or] a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked.” However one may assess the ultimate critical value of Eliot’s concept, the notion of the “objective correlative” nevertheless provides writers with a readily applicable, image-oriented framework for infusing their texts with emotive force. In this workshop, we will accept Eliot’s premise that literary writing is defined not by the expression of emotion, but by the successful evocation of emotion, and we will explore effective strategies for embedding emotional stakes within our poems.
Five Ways to Break a Line and Other Mysteries
Where to break a line? What makes a stanza, a stanza? What’s the big deal about iambic pentameter? When does one poem end and another begin? What is a telling image? These are some of the questions we will ask as we dive deeper into some of these more elusive yet essential elements of poetry, namely: construction of the line, rhythm, figurative language, and poetic closure, among others. We will read various illustrative poems, and some writing exercises in an interactive format. Please bring a poem you’d like to work on revising.
Fear of the Bad Poem: Exposure and Response Therapy
In this workshop, poet Carrie Fountain helps participants generate new material, by approaching what often keeps us from beginning our writing practice: our fears. Through fun and engaging exercises, participants will learn how to open up to new possibilities, experimentations, surprises, and, yes, failures, which can often open doors to otherwise unconsidered successes. Learning to speak to oneself in a kind and encouraging way is one of the most valuable skills a writer can possess. We’ll work on that, too.
The Smell of Barbershops Makes Me Sob Out Loud
For this generative workshop, we’ll explore and discuss imagery and image-making. The Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda will be our guide. Neruda is a poet of opposites, contradictions, complexities, and mysteries. He is a poet of expansion and contraction. Mostly, however, he’s a poet of imagery. How can images evoke narrative tension? tell a backstory? cast a spell? create a mood? reveal something about the writer? deceive the reader? embrace or refute political views? make us cringe? make us weep? act like tricksters? Images are powerful, and they unite art across genres, mediums, and generations. Images are soaking in meaning. Bring your notebook. Bring your willingness to discuss the great, strange, bountiful poems of Pablo Neruda. Be ready to write. Neruda poems will be supplied.
The Poems Think (Musically)
This seminar/craft workshop will focus on how careful attention to the music of poetry deepens our experience of the poetic mind at work in a poem. We’ll begin by looking closely at the work of musically accomplished poets—poets like Anne Bradstreet, Emily Dickinson, and Stevie Smith. For each of these poets, sound—rhythmic variation, meter, rhyme, alliteration, or caesura, among others—serves not just to emphasize meaning, but to complicate it, often in the service of enacting the nuances of thought. We’ll conclude by discussing ways in which students can bring a focused, clear knowledge of poetic musicality to their own practice of poetry writing.
Scaling the Wall
At the risk of being labeled (*shudder*) “confessional,” we will explore ways to reach and write material that we continually shun—or steadfastly ignore—usually because prohibitive emotional content makes it so difficult to access. Writing about stunning sunsets or a first kiss is fine–but the work that changes us, that gives us the resilience to move from one human moment to the next, often lies on the other side of a wall that most of us have decided it’s best not to approach. We’ll approach it, we’ll scale it, we’ll scare ourselves more than a little—but the poems we find in that shadowy, uncharted territory will be well worth the journey.
Ideas Taking Shape
Laura Van Prooyen
The payoff in poems that use repeated structures is often where they turn toward surprise. In this generative workshop, we’ll discuss ways that recurring words and phrases can shape our observations, arguments, and desires. We’ll look at a few evocative examples of list and anaphoric poems, then try our hand at writing exercises that explore how recurrent structure can build momentum and free us as writers to play with image and make associative leaps.