Ira Sadoff
Dana Professor of Poetry
Department of English
office hours: Tuesday & Thurs. 9-10:45; Wed. 3-4:30 PM

Advanced Poetry Writing

Text: Berg, Bonnano & Vogelsang, THE BODY ELECTRIC (Norton 2000)

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1. Each student will write one new poem (not a revision) each week of his or her own choosing; additionally, students will occasionally be asked to submit an assigned imaginative exercise.

2. Before the last class of the semester, students will submit a portfolio of six reasonably finished poems (multiple drafts). Revisions in process will be discussed in conference during the semester. At mid-semester, students will hand in revisions in process of at least three poems for critical comments.

3. Poems will be due Monday before noon in the English secretary’s office.E-mail me a copy by noon as well.Poems will be collated and stapled for our workshop and you may pick up these poems late Monday afternoons in front of the English Seminar room in Miller Library. NO LATE POEMS WILL BE INCLUDED IN THE PACKETS.

4. We will discuss work of published writers for the first forty-five minutes of class. Take notes on the poets: your likes, dislikes, discoveries, questions, craft issues you don't understand. READ THIS WORK CAREFULLY BEFORE COMING TO CLASS. Don't embarrass yourself by not being prepared. You'll learn as much from your reading as you will from your writing.

5. I have made a list of fifty collections of contemporary (mostly American), poetry I believe essential for serious students of poetry. Students should read at least two books of poetry a week. Every two weeks, for the first eight weeks, four times during the semester, I'll ask students to write a review (three or four page long) of a collection which helps them as writers. These reviews are due in class. If you're working with a New and Selected Poems, choose one volume of work inside it (you might want to check with me about what's considered the strongest work). I include a portion of a model review, one that makes some generalizations about the work, and gives examples to support assertions about it. In all cases reviews should be considered from the point of view of a writer (meaning evaluative and craft-centered, not an analytic (thematic) reader of literature.

6. Advanced poetry writing has two essential functions: to learn revision and to create a structure for writing poems after undergraduate workshops, which means working independently, establishing a community of writers and a regular, ritualized process of writing. To this end, after the first week of class, every Friday before 5 p.m., students will e-mail copies of drafts of their poems to another student (on a rotating basis) in the class. By Sunday at 6 p.m. students will return by e-mail comments on those poems to the author, so the writer has the opportunity to revise the work before submitting to the workshop. These readers will initiate discussion of poems in class. E.G. Student A mails poem to student B on Friday (the next week student C); student B returns comments by Sunday at 6 p.m. Student A revises and submits poem Monday before noon for workshop on Wednesday.

Conferences: think of conferences as ways to stretch, to get feedback on a body of work, to get started when you're stuck, to answer a particular craft problem, to find people to read, to clarify concepts or vocabulary.  Conferences are not mandatory: I expect people who love poetry to take responsibility and figure out how I can be helpful to their work. But if you're having trouble writing, you might find conferences particularly helpful.


Attendance: workshops are run for a community of writers. You will be allowed ONE unexcused absence (the equivalent of three classes); after that you'll be penalized for missing class. Remember, others in the class are as interested in your opinions of their work as you are in theirs. Take other students seriously.

Class participation: Speak up. To be a member of a community is to participate in its rituals. Class discussions are not geared to choose the best writer in the class: they're geared to help each writer write the best poem he or she can write. Class participation counts as part of your class grade.

Be Prepared: Make sure you read and write on the poems carefully in ADVANCE of class. Take notes on the strengths and problems, checking passages of interest, and bring them to class. 

ALWAYS bring your worksheets to class: we will refer to them often.

For the first few weeks I’ll collect student comments to ascertain critical and editorial skills. After the first two weeks, students hand their comments on other student poems to the authors of the poems in class.

Don't fall behind: Don't hand in first drafts. If you're having difficulty writing, bring in drafts to conference and show me where you're stuck. If you can't get started, come to conference to trigger work. Reading contemporary poets also helps. Try and create a writing ritual for yourself, some times during the week where you have quiet and can be attentive. REMEMBER: creative writing is a process, learning is cumulative: if you write several poems in a week, expect them to suffer from the same problems. You'll be permitted to fall behind one week. After that you'll be hurting your work and your grade.

Finally, poetry writing is not a competitive sport. Our job is to help each writer become the best writer he or she can be. Since writing is process, I'm interested in how each writer develops over the semester. Everyone has something to contribute. Everyone should be taken seriously, which means everyone should take him/herself seriously.

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