ENGL 283 A: Beginning Verse Writing

Meeting Time: 
TTh 10:30am - 11:50am
* *

Syllabus Description:

English 283 - Beginning Verse Writing

“love,” “study,” “make,” “disturb.”

Instructor: Haines Whitacre · hainesw@uw.edu | Virtual Office Hours:  T,Th 12-1 PM please schedule in advance

Synchronous Meetings: T & TH 10:30 am - 11:50 am | Video Link: https://washington.zoom.us/j/97721518735

Course Website:  https://canvas.uw.edu/courses/1397668


“The quality of light by which we scrutinize our lives has direct bearing upon the product which we live, and upon the changes which we hope to bring about through those lives. It is within this light that we form those ideas by which we pursue our magic and make it realized. This is poetry as illumination, for it is through poetry that we give name to those ideas which are—until the poem—nameless and formless, about to be birthed, but already felt.”

Audre Lorde, “Poetry Is Not a Luxury”


Beloveds, if I love, 

what language will I 

love you in        If I see 

what language will I use to see


& if I love & if I see

you     Then strike lines across

the terrorful verbs, write: 


“love,” “study,” “make,” “disturb.” 

Aracelis Girmay, “The Black Maria”


Course Description

Welcome to ENGL 283 - Beginning Verse Writing! Many of us turn to poetry when we feel the limits of our expression, when the confines of our given language become apparent and we feel the need for new words, ones that can sustain our vitality and produce possibility where possibility was previously foreclosed. This is the language of “magic” as Audre Lorde describes it or, as Aracelis Girmay calls it, “love.”


This is not to say I have devised a course that is just Love Poems™ and which you were probably hoping not to write. Forgive me, this is different. So fun, and so free. This is a course meant for you to practice craft methods for speaking within and beyond the dominant modes of the ‘lyric’ and ‘lyric poetry’. In order to do so, we will look closely at the work of immigrant poets, queer poets, Black poets & Indigenous poets who use verse as a method for meaning-making and for future-making beyond the control of imperial power. We will look at how these poems see, how they address, how they build their wor[l]ds, and how they maneouver-through/pull-apart/pause/break/fold time. And we, as we read and analyze these works, we will write, write, write, write, write and write some more, to develop our own poetic practice. A practice that allows us to look obliquely at ourselves, our experiences, our relations, and through these, hopefully, witness love.


Course Goals

Our goal for the quarter will be to foster an appreciation for the beauty of verse and to better understand lyrical techniques (from a line break to an inherited form) poets use to make sense of their worlds and to enact material change. In this way, we will learn the material value of language as it operates within both our own work and the work of the poets we read. To this end, I hope that by the end of these ten weeks you are able to:


  • Recognize poets’ choices in craft (image, tone, meter, rhyme, diction, metaphor, form, and on and on) in order to create a meaningful reading with a poet’s work;
  • Approach your writing with a sense of experimentation and wonder;
  • Assess how attempts at meaning-making are received by an audience & discern when gaps between intent & reception may be fruitful; and,
  • Demonstrate a cursory understanding of how poets speak into ongoing political & historical conversations through their work.


I hope that by the end of this class you walk away with an appreciation for poetry as a practice to mediate experience and to express vitality. Over the course of the ten weeks, you will develop a reading practice, a writing process, and a short manuscript of revised work. I look forward to sharing with you in this work and seeing what beautiful experiments, what loving vitality, what magic may emerge from your writing!


Class Structure

I’ve designed this course to be taught in four units: Looking, Addressing, Building, and Time. I hope that we may, as a class, collectively work to garner an understanding of how poets use these various lyrical techniques in their work, and how we might use them in our own as well. Each of these units will include craft discussions, multiple generative writing activities, a poem prompt, required and supplemental reading, a reading journal entry, and twitter discussion posts.


Class will be held virtually with both synchronous and asynchronous options for completing all necessary course work. Each week I will hold two synchronous video meetings that are optional to attend, though recommended as the discussions that arise may likely be irreplicable. Each Tuesday, our class will discuss the craft concepts and critical reading skills covered by our course readings. Each Thursday, I will host a generative free-write session in which we will complete a low-stakes creative writing activity together and share our material with one another. These exercises are meant to be a starting point for you to generate material that you might later revise into a complete poem for one of our four main poem prompts. Lecture and class discussion material will not be available asynchronously, however some notes may be. All generative writing activities will be available as guided instructions to complete asynchronously.


Course Assignments

For this course, I ask you come to it with whatever energy you can bring. I have listed a set of “Required Assignments”. These are meant mostly as a benchmark for myself, so I can have set a standard of rigor for the course. However, if for WHATEVER reason you are struggling to complete the required material, please reach out. You do not need to offer an excuse or a reason for why you cannot complete an assignment; simply let me know whether or not you’ll complete it now or later, all with the understanding that it is not in my interest to hurt your GPA or grade you down. As we all know, we are living in a time of great upheaval. School may not be the most important thing for you right now! Accordingly, I will accommodate any and all student needs as best I can. I insist you prioritize you and your loved ones’ health and well-being, and then approach our class with whatever energy you can bring to it.


Required assignments include: 4 complete poems (prompts provided), 4 reading journal entries, completion of all guided writing exercises, two twitter reading responses each unit, and a complete writer’s portfolio at the end of the quarter.


Reading Packets: Each unit will include multiple reading packets that include craft essays, critical essays, and of course, poems. I’m including in each packet both ‘required’ and ‘supplemental’ readings that will be clearly labelled as such. Class discussion and generative writing activities will draw from required readings, so please come prepared as best you can. Supplemental readings will be just that, an opportunity for you to further explore the unit topic, and may be included to supplement any ideas or questions that arise during class. There is ABSOLUTELY NO EXPECTATION THAT STUDENTS WILL HAVE READ SUPPLEMENTAL MATERIAL.


Reading Journals: Reading journals are an opportunity for you to reflect on the topics we’ve discussed in class, any craft techniques you recognize in our reading, and to discuss how you might apply any skills you learn from readings in your own poetry. These can be written in any formal or informal manner you’d prefer and can include drawings, scribblings, half-ideas, outlines, and whatever else you may want. I recommend keeping these entries between 250-500 words. You must submit one reading journal entry per unit.


Twitter Responses: Twitter responses are meant as a way for students to carry on class discussions asynchronously and to engage readings beyond video-call classrooms. Complete twitter onboarding instructions are included on our Canvas page. I ask for everyone to tweet at least once per unit, though please carry on discussions as much as you’d like!


Generative Writing Exercises: Please submit your generative writing exercises to canvas for me to see, with it understood, I recognize everyone’s need for opacity, especially in creative practice. You may share only what you wish, even if that’s simply a note saying you’ve done the assignment. I only intend this as a means for me to glance into your writing process.


Poem Prompts: You will have four main poem prompts this quarter. These are designed to build off of unit discussions and generative writing exercises and will ideally allow you to write a complete poem that can be workshopped further in class and eventually be incorporated into your “Writer’s Portfolio.” Prompts themselves are meant as just that, something to initiate your poem. You are more than welcome to depart from the prompt as you see fit, with the understanding that feedback you receive may primarily focus on the craft topic from the prompt.


Writer’s Portfolio: The writer’s portfolio is meant as a capstone in which you can collate your work from the quarter, apply feedback in a revision process, and reflect on your intentions/commitments /knowledge as an artist. Each portfolio should include:

  • Two (significantly*) revised poems
  • Compendium: All complete poems and writing exercises from this quarter
  • Collection of four reading journal entries
  • An artist statement (1-2 pages)

*as in, you see in your poem a new significance


A Note on Late Work: I will include “Due Dates” with each assignment, however, these are meant more as a guideline so you can spread out the workload throughout the quarter. There will be NO PENALTY for submitting work after the “Due Date”, however, I may not offer feedback to assignments submitted after the due date is passed.


Grading Breakdown:

  • 15% Participation Grade
    • active engagement in class or twitter discussions (5%)
    • completion of all generative writing exercises (10%)
  • 35% Completion of Assignments
    • Poem prompts (25%)
    • Reading Journals (10%)
  • 50% Writer’s Portfolio
    • Poem Revisions (20%)
    • Compendium (5%)
    • Reading Journals (10%)
    • Artist Statement (15%)


Tentative Schedule**




Thur, October 1


Mad Lib Introductions

Generate Group Agreements

Reading Packet: “Witnessing Vitality”


Unit 1 - Looking: Witness, Documentation and Imag(in)ing

Tue, October 6

Poetics of Ordinary Witness

Group Agreements

Reading Packet: “lists”

Thur, October 8

Grounding Senses Free Write

Image Generation

List Poems

Read “Poetry is Not a Luxury” by Audre Lorde and “From Woe to Wonder” by Aracelis Girmay

(SUPPLEMENTARY) Reading Packet: “politics of witness”


Tue, October 13

Looking, Languaging and the Stakes of Witness

Reading Packet: “oblique observations”

Thur, October 15

Write Like a Crab

Between the Personal and the Political

End Unit 1:

  • Prompt 1 “study”
  • Submit Reading Journal 1
  • 2 twitter responses

Reading Packet: “addressing & reaching”


Unit 2 - Addressing: You & Other Words to Situate

Tue, October 20

[Asynchronous Class Time]:

  • Lecture video “‘It is you’: Directing Attention & the Possibilities of Apostrophe”

  • Asynchronous group worksheet (see Canvas)

Reading Packet: “nesting doll”

Thur, October 22

[Asynchronous Class Time]:

  • Nesting Doll writing activity

  • A Spatial Spiral writing activity

Reading Packet: “writing in space”


Tue October 27

Writing in Space: Poetics of Place & Relation

Reading Packet: “lonesome beloveds”

Thur October 29

Relating a Self: Language to Locate the Slippery ‘I’

Writing Activities:

  • Group Cento
  • Persona free write

End Unit 2:

  • Prompt 2: “love”
  • Submit Reading Journal 2
  • 2 twitter responses

Reading Packet: “built of syllables”


Unit 3 - Building: Making Meaning & the Gaps of Metaphor

Tue, November 3

Class Discussion & Lecture

Reading Packet “TBD”

Thur, November 5

Group Generative Writing

Reading Packet “TBD”


Tue, November 10

Class Discussion & Lecture

Reading Packet “TBD”

Thur, November 13

Group Generative Writing & Small Group Workshop

End Unit 3:

  • Prompt 3: “create”
  • Submit Reading Journal 3
  • 2 twitter responses

Reading Packet “TBD”


Unit 4 - Time: Poetics for Disrupting Linearity

Tue, November 18

Class Discussion & Lecture

Reading Packet “TBD”

Thur, November 20

Group Generative Writing & Small Group Workshop

Reading Packet “TBD”


Tue, November 25

Group Generative Writing & Small Group Workshop

Reading Packet “TBD”

Thur, November 27

No Class, University Holiday Observed

End Unit 4:

  • Prompt 4: “disturb”
  • Submit Reading Journal 4
  • 2 twitter responses


Closing Unit: Collating and Revising


Tue, December 1

Writer’s Portfolio Overview

Small Group Workshop

Begin Preparing Final Portfolio

Thur, December 3

Class Reading


Tue, December 8

Class Reading

Thur, December 10

Class Reading

Finish Preparing Final Portfolio: Due Tuesday, December 15 (No Final Exam)

**Please note that pedagogy requires flexibility. This schedule is meant to be dynamic and may need to change depending on any number of factors. Any changes made to the course schedule will be made with clear advance notice.


Land Acknowledgement

Though we are learning from various geographical and physical locations, it is imperative to acknowledge the land from which I will be teaching this material. I encourage you as well to take time to learn the histories of the land from which you write, how they came to be controlled as they are, and who are the ancestral stewards of those lands. 


I am teaching from the ancestral and unceded lands of the Duwamish and Coast Salish people. I have access to this land due to the legacies and histories of settler colonialism, the enslavement of Black people, and the genocide of Indigenous peoples across Turtle Island. I recognize the continued presence of Indigenous people, particularly Duwamish and Coast Salish nations within this land, and the various stewards who have continued to cultivate and care for this land since time immemorial. This acknowledgement is only a small step, and should be accompanied with material action that returns this land to its stewards, provides reparations for the material harm of both slavery and Indigenous genocide, and the honoring of the many ways people know and are present in this land.


University Policies

Statement of Commitment 

We at the English department are committed to valuing the lived experiences, embodied knowledges, and scholarship produced by people of color and Indigenous peoples; queer, trans, and disabled people; immigrants and refugees, and other targeted identities who have historically been excluded from sites of knowledge production; denied access to wealth, resources and power; and forced to negotiate multiple interlocking forms of structural and institutional oppression and violence. This commitment emerges from and reflects our shared vision for a just and equitable world that actively affirms and values the humanity of every individual and group. It is this vision that informs our pedagogical practices. 


Code of Conduct

We at the English department have a zero-tolerance rule for hate speech. According to the American Bar Association, hate speech is “any speech that offends, threatens, or insults groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other traits.” While this could and does apply to many groups, one of the tenants of this course is that hate speech is a violence, and that these violences do not impact everyone equally. Rather, the force of their impacts is dependent on systems of power. Marginalized communities and people are vulnerable to and impacted by such speech in ways that groups or individuals in power are not. With this in mind, I will specify that I interpret “hate speech” to be any forms of speech that targets already vulnerable people/communities. Racism and xenophobia will not be tolerated in this course, nor will transphobia, homophobia, ableism, classism, or other statements or practices that uphold white supremacy.


Academic Integrity

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.



If you have any concerns about the course or your instructor, please see the instructor about these concerns as soon as possible. If you are not comfortable talking with the instructor or not satisfied with the response that you receive, you may contact the following Expository Writing Program staff in Padelford A-11: Director Candice Rai, (206) 543-2190 or crai@uw.edu or Associate Director of Writing Programs, Michelle Liu, msmliu@uw.edu. If, after speaking with the Director of the EWP, you are still not satisfied with the response you receive, you may contact English Department Chair, Anis Bawarshi; bawarshi@uw.edu, (206) 543-2690.


University of Washington Resources for Students


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/.


Religious Accommodations Clause

Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Faculty Syllabus Guidelines and Resources. Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form available at https://registrar.washington.edu/students/religious-accommodations-request/.


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. TTY or VP callers, please call through your preferred relay service.
  • 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 at www.washington.edu/safecampus.


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 (141 suite, CUADSS lobby) is open Sunday to Thursday from 7pm to midnight. The graduate tutors can help you with your claims, organization, and grammar. You do not need to make an appointment, so arrive early and be prepared to wait. 
  • The Odegaard Writing and Research Center is open in Odegaard Library Monday - Thursday 9am to 9pm, Friday 9am to 4:30pm, and Sunday 12pm to 9pm. This writing center provides a research-integrated approach to writing instruction. Find more information and/or make an appointment on the website: www.depts.washington.edu/owrc


Counseling Center 

UW Counseling Center workshops include a wide range of issues including study skills, thinking about coming out, international students and culture shock, and much more. Check out available resources and workshops at: https://www.washington.edu/counseling/ 


Q Center

The University of Washington Q Center builds and facilitates queer (gay, lesbian, bisexual, two-spirit, trans, intersex, questioning, same-gender-loving, allies) academic and social community through education, advocacy, and support services to achieve a socially-just campus in which all people are valued. For more information, visit http://depts.washington.edu/qcenter/.



Foundation for International Understanding through Students: FIUTS is an example of a campus organization that can bring together your social and academic learning. "FIUTS is an independent non-profit organization which provides cross-cultural leadership and social programming for UW's international and globally minded domestic students. FIUTS is local connections and global community!" FIUTS also offers a free international lunch on the last Wednesday of every month beginning with a lunch on September 28 from 11:30-1:30 in the Kane Hall Walker-Ames room. Consult FIUTS' web site for a detailed calendar of events and links to many resources http://www.fiuts.washington.edu.

Catalog Description: 
Intensive study of the ways and means of making a poem.
GE Requirements: 
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Last updated: 
August 28, 2020 - 11:00pm