English 4021: Poetry Workshop

This course is best seen as a journey.

I know that sounds corny, but work with me for a second, and imagine you are setting out on a steamer ship, your suitcases marked for poetry. You plan to see the sights and monuments, immerse yourself in local culture and language, dance with beautiful strangers, and savor the cuisine. You want to pick up souvenirs, of course, and somewhere inside you lies the hope that this trip will change your life. You want to take this trip, to make this trip, more than anything. You are prepared to spend all your money, lose yourself on foreign streets, and relish even your smallest triumphs (you found the museum all by yourself!). Think of this class in this way. Further, imagine me as your guide for special, off-the-beaten-path tours.

Ideally, you will leave the class not with souvenirs, things which help you remember the experience, but with experience itself. And, of course, with poems. These ought not to sit inside some unopened album or upon some dusty shelf; they should surround you, steal your breath and thought, and live in your hands. Some of your poems will be all grown up and ready to be sent on voyages of their own; others you may need to poke and prod a while until they realize who they are and know enough to know that they want to be more. First, though, we have to understand just what poems are, just where the voyage begins and ends. We’ll decide this together, for each of you. I am most concerned with process, how poems come to be grown-up, and this will also be your concern as we work through the semester. Yes, work. This is a workshop, after all, not a Carnival Cruise.

Poems are work. There is our first definition. If you are not willing to work, you’d best disembark.

Process begins with invention, with inspiration, and much of our class will be devoted to ways we can invite poems onto paper. The workshop itself will focus on revision and editing, steps your poems should go through long before you bring them to your classmates for consideration; workshop is best described, I suppose, as the place to gather new ideas and feedback. More on that in a moment. We will also concern ourselves with formal matters, poetics, and the habit of reading poetry as poets rather than English majors. Through all this (and much more), you should end up with rough drafts, revisions, more revisions, workshop commentary (both for your poems and for others) and a much broader and better knowledge of the strange territories where poets seek to dwell. Perhaps you’ll want to move there.

Georgia College & State University, Fall 2007

Syllabus and Course Schedule