ENGLISH 483: ADVANCED VERSE WORKSHOP T –TH 1:30 – 2:50
Instructor: Richard Kenney
A poet’s syllabus is always the same. In school or out, it amounts to reading, writing, and conversation. Our syllabus in school mirrors what it will be out there in what’s often called Life.
Reading, of three kinds:
- From De/Compositions, details below.
- Reading for pleasure, daily, following your own nose. Strictly speaking, the assignment is to read something—at least one poem—every day. Liking it is part of the assignment, so find poems that elicit that effect. Keep a record of this self-directed reading on a page titled “Reading Log,” in your Portfolio. Feel free to draw from a “Recommended” file we’ll set up in the Anthology. We’ll all contribute to that as the term progresses.
- Memorization: this is the most intense way to know a poem. You should have one ready for recitation every other week, amounting to at least seventy lines by the end of the term. We’ll decorate each session with a few of these.
Writing, of three kinds:
- Pitches: that is, verses and sketches written to elastic prompt during the first (“Apprentice”) phase of the class.
- Original Poems, submitted for critical discussion during the second (“Journeyman”) phase of the class.
[N.B. To emphasize: all work submitted for class this term has to have been written this term. Old work, even major revisions of old work, is unlawful. I understand the inclination to use this class to get critical feedback on completed projects. It’s perfectly natural. But you’re on your honor not to do it.]
- Observatory Log: here, the assignment is simply to notice something every day, and jot it down.
Think of this as a perceptual exercise rather than a stylistic one. Try to catch the noticing before it becomes a thought. No meditations. The shorter the notation, the better. The point is to develop the habit of catching your mind in the act of interested attention, and recording that moment. Minimum of one per day; all entries dated; no back-dating.
[N.B. As is the case with the reading-for-pleasure assignment, this is a serious request. Call these the Habituation Suite: daily reading, daily jotting. The relentless dailiness is the point. No back-dating, no fabricated observations, on your honor. No 4.0 grade unless at term’s end you can raise your right hand and attest to having done and recorded these two things every day.]
Twenty meetings, in a manner of speaking, on Zoom. We’ll have to mince our way toward comfort with this dubious if not strictly Satanic instrument. Heaven knows, I’ll welcome any ideas anyone has about this.
Otherwise, general principles and rules of engagement same as ever: punctuality, generosity, good humor, pluck. Everybody contributes to discussion, every time. Scrupulous work as a First Critic, following protocols we’ll discuss.
“Shotgun Method” for discussion of assigned readings. That means the discussion leader is chosen by lot. Everyone shows up with notes, thoughts and questions, prepared to kick things off. Not required, but you may wish to keep an informal reading journal, in this interest.
Required: De/Compositions, by D. W. Snodgrass.
Optional: a little blank book, a Moleskine, or something like that, small enough to carry everywhere you go. It greatly eases and improves the Observatory.
Google Drive: Our online site, with folders titled
Hwaet!—class operations, syllabus, correspondence, etc.
Portfolios —all your work, compiled into a single GoogleDoc
Works & Days—sequential GoogleDocs, labeled for respective class sessions
We’ll use this method once we get to the Journeyman phase of the class. The critics will read the poems, and follow with prepared remarks. I’ll suggest guidelines as the class goes on.
Generally speaking, the critic’s job will be not to judge or evaluate, but to describe the poem. Final commentary should resolve in a few provisional thoughts and questions designed to frame subsequent round-table conversation.
My job is to engage you in a lively conversation about poetry, and be as useful to your own practice as I can. How?
- I’m almost certain that the memorization will prove a gift to your future. These poems will impress people at parties, come in handy in traffic jams and intensify intimate moments. If you choose well, they may also save your sanity and give you courage when you most need it, in bumpy times to come.
- I’m equally sure that the Observatory and Reading Log—our Habituation Suite—will prove useful in advancing your practice.
- As for critique—a thought I’ll repeat in class, with only a little elaboration—I have imperfect faith in our ability to be genuinely useful to one another in our critical workshop sessions, but we must try. With honesty and generosity in balance, avoiding certain predictable pitfalls, I’d say we have a fair chance. It will depend a good deal on our methods.
Your job is to trust those, and throw yourself into this work, learning all you can. If you have thoughts, problems, unmet needs—please take them up with me. I’ll respond to e-mail, and I’ll probably keep office hours on Zoom, by appointment.
Rules of Engagement:
Play for mortal stakes (Frost’s term), under the laws of courtesy. We’ll also need courage, generosity, honesty, and vocabulary. We’ll have to find the fourth as we go, with the help of the first three. Humor doesn’t hurt. The more we can lower the egotistical stakes, get ourselves out of the way, and regard this as a friendly apprentice-shop, a communal space in which anyone’s success is everyone’s success, the better off we’ll be.
Grades will be assigned on the basis of your performance in class, the quality of your Portfolio, and your responses to the questions posed in the Affidavit. The Affidavit is this syllabus recast in interrogatory form, to be signed on your word of honor and posted in your Portfolio at the end of term. Here are the questions you’ll be asked to answer:
- Did you do all the assigned reading, in time for the target class?
- Did you read, like, and log at least one poem of your own choice, every day?
- Did you do all assigned prompts and pitches, in time for the target class?
- Did you keep the Observatory Log on your own, faithfully, daily?
- Did you attend and participate in every class, and serve responsibly as First Critic when your turn came around?
- Did you successfully recite 70 lines of verse?
N.B. A simple “yes” is sufficient, if the case. If not, please elaborate in detail–ie, not “mostly,” but precisely which.