Craft of Poetry Discussion Exercise: “What Is a Poem? What Is Poetry?”

Note: In this in-class discussion exercise, my ENG 2030 students were able to interrogate the questions “what is poetry?” and “what is a poem?” by looking at different texts, some poetic and some religious and some musical, in order to answer the question. The links to the texts are below the directions.

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  • A traditional Irish blessing.

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind always be at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face,

and rains fall soft upon your fields.

  • These passages of religious texts (Qu’ran and Bible).

And until we meet again,

May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Have you considered him who turned away?

And gave a little, and held back?

Does he possess knowledge of the unseen, and can therefore foresee?

Or was he not informed of what is in the Scrolls of Moses?

And of Abraham, who fulfilled?

That no soul bears the burdens of another soul.

And that the human being attains only what he strives for.

And that his efforts will be witnessed.

Then he will be rewarded for it the fullest reward.

And that to your Lord is the finality.

And that it is He who causes laughter and weeping.

And that it is He who gives death and life.

 

Return, O LORD, deliver my soul: oh save me for thy mercies’ sake.

For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?

I am weary with my groaning; all the night make I my bed to swim; I water my couch with my tears.

Mine eye is consumed because of grief; it waxeth old because of all mine enemies.

Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity; for the LORD hath heard the voice of my weeping.

The LORD hath heard my supplication; the LORD will receive my prayer.

Let all mine enemies be ashamed and sore vexed: let them return and be ashamed suddenly.

 

 

 

  • Benjamin Bagby performing excerpts from Beowulf with harp accompaniment:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Spring 2017 ENG 2030 Craft of Poetry Required Texts

The following information is taken directly from my Spring 2017 ENG 2030 Craft of Poetry Syllabus.

ENG 2030 Craft of Poetry Required Texts and Materials

  • Girmay, Aracelis. Black Maria. BOA Editions, 2016. ISBN: 978-1942683025.
  • Johnson, Jenny. In Full Velvet. Sarabande Books, 2017. ISBN: 978-1941411377.
  • Levin, Dana. Banana Palace. Copper Canyon Press, 2016. ISBN: 978-1556595059.
  • Rankine, Claudia. Citizen. Graywolf Press, 2014. ISBN: 978-1555976903.
  • Rekdal, Paisley. Imaginary Vessels. Copper Canyon Press, 2016. ISBN: 978-1556594977.
  • Sharif, Solmaz. Look. Graywolf Press, 2016. ISBN: 978-1555977443.
  • Online Course Reader
  • A bound writing journal and writing utensil, required in every class*

*If you have accommodations for the use of a computer at all times, you may complete your writing journal electronically and will not need the bound writing journal. Please be sure that you provide me with your accommodation letter as soon as possible.

A Note About Ordering Books

If you choose not to order from the university bookstore, I encourage you to consider ordering books directly from the publisher. Cutting out the middleman helps ensure that publishers and authors are treated fairly in the transaction. Here are the links to our books on their publishers’ websites:

You can also make a difference with your book purchase by placing a special order with a local or regional bookstore, like Labyrinth Books in Princeton or Black Dog Books in Newton; an independent bookstore with online ordering, like Powell’s or Strand Bookstore; or a philanthropic independent seller like Better World Books.

Poetry Workshop Readings and Writing Exercise: “Befriend Me: Poems of Social Media & Technological Engagement”

When I am out of town on November 30th, my colleague will be discussing the poems from the “Befriend Me: Poems of Social Media & Technological Engagement” packet and then leading the Poetry Workshop in the “Befriend Me” writing exercise. I hope to do this again with my spring Craft of Poetry course, and go more in depth with the exercise and the class’s engagement. Thanks to all of those on social media who suggested additional poems for inclusion in this reading packet.

One Motivation, Five Poems Exercise

Minerva by Elihu Vedder (1897)

Minerva by Elihu Vedder (1897)

Class: Beginning Poetry (Tinker Mountain Writers’ Workshop)
Genre: Poetry
Readings: A tailored poetry packet
Time: 50+ minutes

Think about a poem that you’ve been wanting to write for a long time but haven’t been able to successfully accomplish. It works best if this is a personal memory or other narrative.

Discuss each of the following approaches and the read their respective suggested poems:

  1. Anecdotal: A simple story in one setting, usually in plain speech. See “Black” by Alan Shapiro.
  2. Imperative: A second person address with instructions, based on an extended metaphor or literal. See “How to Live in a Trap” by Eleanor Ross Taylor.
  3. Meta: A response to an event that takes into account writing’s inability to fully capture the event. See “Photograph of September 11th” by Wislawa Szymborska and “The streetlamp above me darkens” by Tarfia Faizullah.
  4. Figurative: A characterization of an event or action through metaphor. See “Boy Breaking Glass” by Gwendolyn Brooks.
  5. Collage: A poem that uses multiple of these approaches and usually isn’t afraid to associate away from and back again to the original motivation. See “My Story In a Late Style of Fire” by Larry Levis of “Across the Sea” by Dana Levin.

After discussing each approach, take ten minutes to write your narrative using only that approach. Move on to the next one and repeat.

At the end, ask yourself: How did the poem change? Did the poem become more or less imaginative? Which one do I like the most? Why? Share.