Introduction to Poetry

Course Description

The poet doesn’t invent. He listens. —Jean Cocteau

If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.

–Emily Dickinson

The words of poetry should express what the eye sees,

what the ear hears, and what the heart understands.

–Lucille Clifton

One of your objectives for this course is to decide for yourself what poets do, what poetry is, and how it might be useful to you, and you’ll do so by reading and writing a great deal of it. This course is an introduction to the pleasures and challenges of reading and writing poetry.  You will work to hone your skills by studying the poems of more accomplished writers, developing a vocabulary with which to talk about those poems, and identifying your own material for poetry.

No poet works in a vacuum; they read others’ work and think about it, and they read books about writing. To write poetry is to join the conversation all writers are having with each other and the world. To better understand poetry, you have to read it, and join in the conversation yourself. To that end, we will read several recent books of poetry, as well as a book about writing, and many, many handouts.

This is an introductory course, and therefore doesn’t require you to have a great deal of knowledge already about poetry. What it does require is a willingness to learn and to engage with poetry, both of the published authors we will read and of your classmates in workshop. You will be required to revise your poems based on workshop feedback, and to submit a portfolio at the end of the semester of all the work you have done in class. You need to hold on to the original copies of your poems—the ones with my comments. You’ll be required to turn them in at the end.

Course Requirements

  • You will write and turn in five poems, plus more for specific assignments
  • You will workshop at least four of those poems in class, and respond to your classmates’ poems both in writing and during class discussion.
  • You will create an anthology of about 20 poems that speak to you in some way, as well as keeping a notebook/journal
  • You will memorize and recite a poem by a contemporary poet
  • You will write short response papers on several of the books and/or handouts you’ll be reading this semester
  • There will also be a quiz on poetic terms and language
  • At the end of the semester, you will submit a portfolio including revised work and several class assignments


Kim Addonizio, Ordinary Genius

Tom Andrews, The Hemophiliac’s Motorcyle.

Matthew Dickman, All-American Poem

Lynn Emanuel, Noose and Hook

Matthea Harvey, Modern Life

Kevin Young, Dear Darkness

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

Introduction to the class, syllabus.

Chapters 1-5 of Ordinary Genius

creating notebooks

Week 2

Chapters 6-10 of Ordinary Genius.

Week 3

Chapters 11-15 of Ordinary Genius.

Week 4

Chapters 16-18 of Ordinary Genius.

Week 5

Hemophiliac’s Motorcycle

quiz on poetic terms

Week 6

Chapters 19-21 of Ordinary Genius.

Week 7

All-American Poem.

Week 8

Chapters 22-27 of Ordinary Genius.

Week 9

Modern Life

Week 10

Chapters 28-30 of Ordinary Genius.

Week 11


Week 12

Chapters 21-33 of Ordinary Genius.

Week 13

Chapters 34-36 of Ordinary Genius

recitations due.

Week 14

Noose and Hook

Anthologies due

Week 15

Chapters 28-30 of Ordinary Genius.

Week 16

Final portfolios due


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