ENG 326 Writing Poetry: Intermediate
University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Note: My intermediate poetry class is wrapping up workshop on their third poems and they are getting ready to turn in their fourth workshop poems this Saturday. This exercise is meant to allow them time and space to try something new (some have wondered aloud about if there can be “happy” poems) and draft something they can develop into their workshop piece. I always allow my students to revise in-class writing into their workshop poems, as this gives the class (optional) scaffolding of their assignments and helps to alleviate pressure surrounding “writer’s block.” (Side note: I don’t believe in writer’s block, as it often boils down to students second guessing themselves before they even begin, but they believe in it, so I want to help them overcome that fear in whatever way I can.)
9/28 Writing Exercise: “Praise House”
- Read “Praise House: The New Economy” by Gabrielle Calvocoressi and “To a Fig Tree on 9th and Christian” by Ross Gay.
- Freewrite a poem in which you praise a moment or a whole lot of things that you love or for which you are grateful.
- Note: This exercise introduces you to a new form, the praise poem, while also giving you the option of continuing to cultivate your skills at using a poetic catalog (i.e., a list) in your poems.
Purpose: To consider how persona, point of view, voice, argument, and empathy can support and/or complicate one another
Readings: “Skinhead” by Patricia Smith
- Watch Patricia Smith perform “Skinhead”: https://youtu.be/Klb5TniRGao. Discuss.
- Jot down some notes about a situation in which you found yourself in direct opposition with someone else. Perhaps it’s as extreme as the violent racism in Smith’s poem or as routine as having the same seat number assignment as another person on a flight. The best situation is one in which the conflict was never or not easily resolved. (2–5 min.)
- Describe the diction that person uses and provide some examples. (1–2 min.)
- Now freewrite in the voice of that person as if he or she is addressing you. What would they say? How would they defend themselves against complaints about their actions toward you. (5–7 min.)
- Share your efforts. Did the exercise of writing in their voices change your opinions of your adversaries? What does this reveal about poetry’s ability to engage in empathy? Do your opinions carry into your rendering of their voice?
I haven’t had a chance yet to give this exercise to my Writing Poetry students, but I hope to give this to them by the end of the semester. A “cadenza” is a soloist’s improvisation that later gets written into a piece of music. It’s my hope that this exercise will produce in-class improvisation that later becomes a revised poem.
Class: Writing Poetry (Virginia Commonwealth University)
Purpose: To consider how pace and sound relates to emotion, tone, and intensity.
Readings: One might provide the students with musical examples in lieu of readings.
- Provide students with a glossary of musical terms, such as http://www.classicalworks.com/html/glossary.html, or a selected list. (Italianate terms preferable.)
- Each student should select a term, study its definition, and then conceive of a poem that demonstrates the qualities of the term. The poem could embody these qualities with form, syntax, diction, sound, prosody, or any combination thereof. This term must serve as the title of the poem. For instance, “Sonata” might produce a poem in four parts that each differ in tone and pace. (30+ minutes)
- Students should share their results with the class for feedback on whether or not they embodied the musical terms in their poems. Open up a discussion about how line breaks, forms, and syntax/diction create a kind of music in poems and how these can be manipulated to produce certain tonal/emotional effects in addition to those implicit in dramatic situations. (10–15 minutes)
- The students will then take home the poem and revise it. Share again at a later date.