Poetry Writing Exercise: “Don’t Be Afraid: Self-Elegy or Self-Celebration” for Master Class I Have Been a Pleasure: On the Self-Elegy and Celebration

William_Blake_An_Elegy_Set_to_Music_by_Thomas_Commins_J_Fentum_publ_Jul_1_1786_detail

Today, before a reading, I will teach a poetry master class at Warren County Community College called I Have Been a Pleasure: On the Self-Elegy and Celebration. With a handout, we will begin by considering and reconsidering the definitions of elegy, praise poems, and ode from Edward Hirsch’s A Poet’s Glossary, making connections between each of these forms and their motivations, and then reading the following poems:

  1. “Song of Myself” by Walt Whitman
  2. “For the Anniversary of My Death” by W.S. Merwin
  3. “On Leaving the Body to Science” by Claudia Emerson
  4. “Mummy of a Lady Named Jemutesonekh” by Thomas James
  5. “Elegy for My Sadness” by Chen Chen
  6. “Beyoncé Prepares a Will” by Morgan Parker
  7. “Someday I’ll Love Roger Reeves” by Roger Reeves
  8. “Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong” by Ocean Vuong

 

Writing Exercise: “Don’t Be Afraid: Self-Elegy or Self-Celebration”

  1. Title your poem “For the Anniversary of My Death (After Merwin),” “Elegy for My Sadness (After Chen),” “[Your Name] Prepares a Will (After Parker),” or “Someday I’ll Love [Your Name.”
  2. Free-write a poem borrowing the dramatic situation from one of the poems we have read today, using a similar title in homage to that poet. A couple of considerations:
    1. Will you write to yourself as a you or as an I?
    2. Are you lamenting or celebrating yourself?
    3. Is this a poem of greeting or goodbye?
    4. If you are writing a self-elegy, are you elegizing your whole self or only a part? A time period? A sense of self? A place? Another person?
    5. If you are writing a self-celebration, are you performing the act of Narcissus looking into the pool or is there something more potent beneath the surface at which you’re really looking?
  3. Share.
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Writing Poetry Final Reading Photos

My fifteen students in ENGL 305: Writing Poetry gave a final reading on my front porch yesterday morning. They each read one of their own poems and then a poem that they loved from our required texts. We all stood down on the sidewalk for each reading. Additional audience members included the mailman, pizza guy, and several passersby in cars and on foot. My hope is to continue to have my students do public poetry projects. The following students gave me written permission to share their photos here.

Kierra Collins reading poetry on December 12, 2014 in Richmond, Virginia

Kierra Collins reading poetry

Natalie Esch reading poetry on December 11, 2014 in Richmond, Virginia

Natalie Esch reading poetry on December 11, 2014 in Richmond, Virginia

Gagan Kaur  reading poetry on December 11, 2014 in Richmond, Virginia

Gagan Kaur reading poetry on December 11, 2014 in Richmond, Virginia

Colin McEligot  reading poetry on December 11, 2014 in Richmond, Virginia

Colin McEligot reading poetry on December 11, 2014 in Richmond, Virginia

Kelly-Jayne McGlynn  reading poetry on December 11, 2014 in Richmond, Virginia

Kelly-Jayne McGlynn reading poetry on December 11, 2014 in Richmond, Virginia

Mariah Monk reading poetry on December 11, 2014 in Richmond, Virginia

Mariah Monk reading poetry on December 11, 2014 in Richmond, Virginia

Auverin Morrow reading poetry on December 11, 2014 in Richmond, Virginia

Auverin Morrow reading poetry on December 11, 2014 in Richmond, Virginia

Tchakalla Romeo reading poetry on December 11, 2014 in Richmond, Virginia

Tchakalla Romeo reading poetry on December 11, 2014 in Richmond, Virginia

Alyssa Trop  reading poetry on December 11, 2014 in Richmond, Virginia

Alyssa Trop reading poetry on December 11, 2014 in Richmond, Virginia

Readings Lists and Course Descriptions for Fall 2014 Semester

With the fall semester starting at Virginia Commonwealth University this week, I have started to think about some new writing and reading exercises for my students. As these exercises will relate with our course goals and readings, I thought I would share my course descriptions and reading lists for my two classes, English 215: Textual Analysis and English 305: Writing Poetry.

ENGL 215: Textual Analysis

Course Description
“The Captive Body, The Body Captivating”—In order to investigate the means by which writers have control over textual bodies, we will examine a century’s worth of narratives about individuals’ control, or lack thereof, over their physical bodies. Beginning with Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis (1915) and working our way toward Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams: Essays (2014), we will explore through class discussion and written assignments the relationships between identity, form, and point of view. In doing so, students will hone their abilities as close readers and critical thinkers, analyzing the writers’ choices in presenting these narratives and their effects on the reader, as well as the historical significance of each text and its consequence in today’s debates about individuals’ rights over their own bodies. In addition to the following primary texts, we will also read criticism that reflects a diverse approach to these issues, including new criticism, feminist and queer theory.

Required Texts

  • Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale. Knopf Doubleday, 1998. ISBN: 978-0385490818.
  • Carson, Anne. Autobiography of Red. Vintage, 1999. ISBN: 978-0375701290.
  • Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. HarperCollins, 2006. ISBN: 978-0060850524.
  • Jamison, Leslie. The Empathy Exams: Exams. Graywolf, 2014. ISBN: 978-1555976712.
  • Kafka, Franz. The Metamorphosis, In The Penal Colony, and Other Stories. Touchstone, 2000. ISBN: 978-0684800707.
  • Morrison, Toni. Beloved. Vintage, 2004. ISBN: 978-1400033416.
  • Nabokov, Vladimir. The Annotated Lolita: Revised and Updated. Vintage, 1991. ISBN: 978-0679727293.
  • Ward, Jesmyn. Salvage the Bones. Bloomsbury, 2012. ISBN: 978-1608196265.

 

ENGL 305 Writing Poetry

Course Description

American poet C.D. Wright once wrote: “If I wanted to understand a culture, my own for instance . . . I would turn to poetry first. For it is my confirmed bias that the poets remain the most ‘stunned by existence,’ the most determined to redeem the world in words.” In this course, we will hold poetry to this noble standard, as an amplifier for the voices in our culture and an invocatory rendering of our world. In doing so, I’ll ask you to not only read and write poetry but begin to look at your surroundings as a poet would. This requires close examination of images, scrutiny of your thoughts and feelings about subject matter, and consideration for other points of view. Additionally, you will be asked to think deeply about language, in terms of its meanings, its sounds, and its rhythms. You should bring to this class a hard work ethic supported by curiosity and generosity. As a means of introduction to the craft of poetry, students will submit original poems for workshop, a collaborative discussion about writing techniques and their effects on readers. In addition to workshop, you will be asked to engage with the writing of contemporary poets, to read like a writer would. I’ve chosen seven contemporary poetry collections and Poetry magazine so that you will have a lens through which to examine the current landscape of American poetry and to see that even today poets are still trying to “redeem the world in words.”

Required Texts

  • Bendorf, Oliver. The Spectral Wilderness. Kent State University Press, 2014. ISBN: 978-1606352113.
  • Diaz, Natalie. When My Brother Was an Aztec. Copper Canyon Press, 2012. ISBN: 978-1556593833.
  • Emerson, Claudia. Secure the Shadow. Louisiana State University Press, 2012. ISBN: 978-0807143032.
  • Faizullah, Tarfia. Seam. Southern Illinois University Press, 2014. ISBN: 978-0809333257.
  • Reeves, Roger. King Me. Copper Canyon Press, 2013. ISBN: 978-1556594489.
  • Smith, Carmen Giménez. Milk and Filth. University of Arizona Press, 2013. ISBN: 978-0816521166.
  • Trethewey, Natasha. Native Guard. Mariner Books, 2007. ISBN: 978-0618872657.

Poetry Analysis Exercise

Détail de la carte de Montréal de 1859 faisant ressortir Pointe Saint-Charles.


Class: Intro to Creative Writing
Genre: Poetry
Readings: A poetry packet featuring the poems listed below
Time: 30 minutes

Group 1: “Wherever My Dead Go When I’m Not Remembering Them” (Shapiro) and “In the Waiting Room” (Bishop)
Group 2: “Perpetually Attempting to Soar” (Ruefle) and “The Lovers of the Poor” (Brooks)
Group 3: “Your Wild Domesticated Inner Life” (Banias) and “Dorothy’s Trash:” (Johnson)
Group 4: “My Story in a Late Style of Fire” (Levis) and “The Day Lady Died” (O’Hara)
Group 5: “The Mare of Money” (Reeves) and “In Colorado My Father Scoured and Stacked Dishes” (Corral)
Group 6: “Scrabble with Matthews” (Wojahn) and “Ode to Browsing the Web” (Wicker)
Group 7: “The streetlamp above me darkens” (Faizullah) and “A Pornography” (Rekdal)
Group 8: “To a Fig Tree on 9th and Christian” (Gay) and “Animals Are Passing From Our Lives” (Levine)

Read each poem assigned to your group. Answer these questions:

  1. What’s the dramatic situation of the poem? Meaning, what’s going on? What’s the scene or the conflict? (Ex. For Matthew Olzmann’s “Notes Regarding Happiness,” the speaker is attempting to post a happy birthday message on a friend’s Facebook wall.)
  2. How does each poem get from its beginning to its end? Is it narrative (a story) and therefore moves in a linear fashion? Are there associative connections between images? Examine the relationship between images in these poems.
  3. Describe the tone. Is the poet sincere?
  4. Describe the style of this poem. Is the language conversational or esoteric? What does the poem sound like?
  5. Describe the form of this poem. Is it in couplets? A single stanza? Etcetera? How long are the lines? Why do you think the poet chose this form?
  6. Do these two poets have anything in common in terms of their style, strategies, or motivation for writing?
  7. If you were going to write an imitation of one of these poets, who would you pick? How would you begin? Start drafting a few lines using the strategies you described above.