ENGL 243 A: Reading Poetry

Experimental Poetry

Meeting Time: 
MTWTh 10:30am - 11:20am
CMU 230
Patrick Milian photo
Patrick R. Milian

Syllabus Description:

English 243

Experimental Poetry


Instructor: Patrick Milian

Email: pmilian@uw.edu

Class Times: MTWTh: 10:30-11:20

Class Location: CMU 230     

Office Hours: M, T 11:30-12:30 (and by appt.)

Office Location: PDL B005-J


Course Description

Let’s start with a provisional definition: an experimental poem is an act of language that, through the innovative choosing and ordering of words, does two things. First, it invites risk into the process of composition by employing a renewed and expanded writing practice. Second, it places a demand on the reader for a renewed and expanded reading practice.

In the spirit of experimentation, this course will be guided by these same two principles. We’ll invite risk into our classroom by reading difficult texts and asking difficult questions, and we’ll collaborate and explore unconventional poetry together in order to build on what we already know about poetry toward a flexible and adventurous reading practice. The next ten weeks will focus primarily on books of contemporary American poetry, but we’ll pair these volumes with both essays about poetry and poetry from the last five-hundred years in an effort to understand how poets have strived for centuries to break from tradition and find unforeseen ways of making art out of language.

Instead of thinking of poetry as a kind of puzzle where the goal is to find out what the author “really means,” our goal will be to think of poetry as a field for raising important questions. The questions these poems ask will be the questions we’ll reckon with together, ones like: How are identity, memory, and history affected and effected by language? How does the artful arrangement of words help us re-imagine our place in the world? Is there such a thing as a language barrier and how can it be crossed? And, perhaps most importantly, what exactly does it mean to be experimental?


Course Outcomes

  1. To gain an understanding and appreciation of contemporary and experimental poetry—the styles, goals, and practices of the poetry of today and how they are informed by the experiments of the past.
  2. To expand and elaborate upon reading practices for texts that may resist or challenge previously suitable analytic strategies.
  3. To develop more sophisticated composition, discussion, and presentation skills in the interest of being better able to construct and defend arguments or interpretations.


“W” Credit

This course satisfies the university’s “W” requirement, which means that this course will emphasize writing as a means of engaging with the course material and to prepare you for a variety of future writing contexts.


Course Texts

Susan Howe: Singularities (1990)

Alice Notley: The Descent of Alette (1992)

Christian Hawkey: Ventrakl (2010)

Tommy Pico: Nature Poem (2017)

Additional poems, texts, and sources available on Canvas



In-Class Participation (30%): This isn’t a lecture course, but rather a discussion-based course that needs regular attendance, active engagement, and regular contributions from all of you in order to be a success. If you don’t come to class, aren’t prepared, or have your phone out during class time, you will not receive participation for that day. If you are here on time, are prepared, make thoughtful contributions, and stay engaged, you’ll receive full credit. If you miss class, email me and tell me what was covered on the day you’d like to make up, then we’ll find a way for you to earn credit.

Online Participation (20%): The online discussion board will serve as an extension of our in-class discussions. You’ll be tasked with posting initial thoughts supported by examples from the reading, responding to others’ posts with your own perspective, or synthesizing several of your classmates’ posts and coming to class with notes and ideas for making connections and raising new questions. Your role as a first reader, respondent, or synthesizer will be assigned each week. Thoughtful and thorough responses will earn you full credit.

First Paper (20%): This 4-6 page paper will be a critical analysis comparing an experimental poem from the last fifty years to a poem written before 1900. Use this comparison to generate readings of the two poems and elaborate on some point of contact between the two. Due at the end of week five. 

Second Paper (20%): This 4-6 page paper will accompany a selection of poems and make an argument about what their common goals are. Accompanying either your own mini-collection of poetry or a mini-anthology of poetry written by others, this paper is meant to function as an introduction and will explore what’s at stake in this selection and draw from the material we’ve looked at over the quarter. You’ll also design and create your own anthology and share it with your peers on the last day of the quarter. Final draft due at the end of week ten.

Paper Prep (10%): Each paper will be preceded by a series of low-stakes writing assignments that build toward your paper. These will be graded solely on completion and timely submission.


Course Policies

In-Class Etiquette: Because this class is discussion-based and deals with challenging texts, we will inevitably run into moments of disagreement. In order for us to accomplish the collaborative goals of this class, it’s important we approach these moments with careful attention, patience, and courtesy.

Late Work and Page Limits: If you do not post on the discussion board by the deadline, you will not receive credit for that week’s online participation. In terms of the papers submitted late, I’ll deduct half of a point (on a 4.0 scale) from the total grade for each day past the deadline. If a paper falls outside of the 4-6 page limit, I’ll treat it as late and deduct points accordingly. If there’s an emergency and you won’t be able to meet the deadline, email me and we can work something out.

Technology: Laptops and tablets are allowed in this classroom as long as they are used responsibly. That said, if your screen has something on it other than notes or a course text, then you won’t receive participation for that day. Phones should be put away and kept on silent. If you bring out your phone, you won’t receive participation for that day. There will be no warnings regarding these policies.


Campus-Wide and Departmental Policies

Writing Resources: I encourage you to take advantage of the following writing resources available to you at no charge.

  • The CLUE Writing Center in Mary Gates Hall is open Sunday to Thursday from 7:00 pm to midnight. The graduate tutors can help you with your claims, organization, and grammar. You don’t need to make an appointment; arrive early and be prepared to wait.
  • The Odegaard Writing and Research Center is open Sunday to Thursday from 1:30 pm to 4:30 pm and 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm. This writing center provides a research-integrated approach to writing instruction. Make an appointment on the website: www.depts.washington.edu/owrc.

Student Advising: If you have questions about credit requirements and broader UW policies, please contact the Undergraduate Advising Center in Mary Gates Hall (https://www.washington. edu/uaa/advising/), the English Department Advising Office in Padelford (https://english. washington.edu/advising), or speak to the advisors in your current or intended major.

Plagiarism: Plagiarism, or academic dishonesty, is presenting someone else’s ideas or writing as your own. In your writing for this class, you are encouraged to refer to other people’s thoughts and writing as long as you cite them. As a matter of policy, any student found to have plagiarized any piece of writing in this class will be immediately reported to the College of Arts and Sciences for review. 

Concerns: If you have any concerns about the course or your instructor, please let me know as soon as possible. If you are not comfortable talking with me or not satisfied with the response that you receive, you may contact the Director of Undergraduate Programs: Jesse Oak Taylor, (206) 543-2298, jot8@uw.edu.

Accommodations: If you need accommodation of any sort, please let me know so that I can work with the UW Disability Resources for Students Office (DRS) to provide what you require. This syllabus is available in large print, as are other class materials. More information about accommodation may be found at http://www.washington.edu/students/drs/. 

Zero Tolerance Policy: Racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination and bias are hurtful and unacceptable. There is no tolerance for words, speech, behavior, actions, or clothing/possessions that insult, diminish, demean, or belittle any individual or group of persons based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual preference, ability, economic class, national origin, language, or age. Academic freedom, freedom of speech, and freedom of discourse DO NOT protect racism or other acts of harassment and hate. Violations of this Zero Tolerance Policy may result in removal from the classroom and actions governed by the student code of conduct will be taken. 

Campus Safety: Preventing violence is everyone’s responsibility. If you’re concerned, tell someone.

  • Always call 911 if you or others may be in danger.
  • Call 206-685-SAFE (7233) to report non-urgent threats of violence and for referrals to UW counseling and/or safety resources.
  • Don’t walk alone. Campus safety guards can walk with you on campus after dark. Call Husky NightWalk 206-685-WALK (9255).
  • Stay connected in an emergency with UW Alert. Register your mobile number to receive instant notification of campus emergencies via text and voice messaging. Sign up online at www.washington.edu/alert.

For more information visit the SafeCampus website: www.washington.edu/safecampus

Catalog Description: 
Critical interpretation and meaning in poems, representing a variety of types and periods.
GE Requirements: 
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Writing (W)
Last updated: 
August 2, 2019 - 9:04pm