Intermediate Poetry: Using Source Material

Poetry Workshop: Source Material

Course Description

Welcome to poetry workshop! This course assumes you have some understanding and familiarity with contemporary poetry and the workshop model, and that you want more. We will consider ideas of craft, and the age-old question of where ideas come from—that is, what source material is and how we as poets use it.

Poetic craft is best learned by reading poetry; we will be reading a lot of books this semester, and discussing them as writers. In other words, we will be exploring others’ poems as possible maps to creating our own. We will discuss line, metaphor, imagery, technique and style, and a host of other poetic devices and ideas.

One of the best things a poet can be is curious about the world. Knowing about poetry is good and necessary, but it isn’t enough. There’s a whole world of information and interesting ideas and facts that can make its way into our writing, either directly or indirectly. Almost all poets use something outside themselves (science, advertising, the encyclopedia, nature, etc.) as source material for poems, either directly or indirectly, even when they’re writing personal lyric poems. To that end, in addition to talking about how poems are written, we’ll talk about how poems happen—where the spark comes from that gets poets writing. We’ll read one book of nonfiction as a class, and I hope you’ll read others on your own as you look for new and interesting ideas for your own writing.

Course Requirements

  • You will be expected to write and workshop seven (7) poems through the course of the semester, and to revise these for a final portfolio at the end of the course.
  • Each student will get a private assignment (to be determined), which he or she will have two weeks to complete. These will be shared, but not workshopped.
  • You will be expected to respond in some way to each book we read, either with a critical response, a short explication, or some form of imitation (specific assignments to be determined as the course progresses).
  • In keeping with the idea of source material, you will need to choose something outside poetry/literature t(history, science,art, music, math, etc) to learn about. Ideally, you will read at least one book on your topic. Near the end of the semester, you will give a short presentation and turn in 3-5 poems inspired by your subject (these can also be turned in for workshop), with a short (1-2 page) critical preface explaining how the topic influenced your poems.
  • As always in a workshop, you will be expected to comment on your classmates’ poems for each workshop, both in writing and during discussion.


Rae Armantrout, Money Shot

Anne Carson, Autobiography of Red

Amy Gerstler, Dearest Creature

Christopher Logue, War Music

Lawrence Weschler, Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder

Kevin Young, Ardency

Course Schedule

The basic outline of major assignments and readings is here. Beyond that, I’d like to keep specific assignments fluid until we determine how much time workshop will take and what exercises will be the most helpful. If you miss class, you are responsible for finding out about homework given that day.

Week 1


Week 2

Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder

Week 3

Autobiography of Red


Week 4

War Music

Sign up for conferences, choose a topic


Week 5

conferences during office hours

poet show & tell


Week 6

Dearest Creature

Private assignments handed out


Week 7



Week 8

Private assignments due


Week 9


Week 10

Money Shot


Week 11


Week 12

Presentations due

Week 13


Week 14


Week 15

Final portfolios due


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