Creative Writing

Creative writing: Poetry as a thinking technology

If poetry is anything, it is diverse – indeed, the number of poetic forms alone can be dizzying, not to mention the figurative techniques poets have developed over centuries of innovation and imitation.  Yet, what does poetry do, for all its diversity?  What can, or should, it do?  In this course, we will attempt to answer these questions, focusing on how poets respond to their contemporary literary environments as they use poetry to think, articulating new visions of the world and themselves. As writers, you will apply this thinking technology to your own writing by practicing poetic skills in order to develop a sense of what effective poetry is – in other words, poetry which attempts wholeheartedly to pin down the ineffable but insistent experiences of life.

Specifically, we will read poetry with eyes towards both creative breadth and historical depth. Poetic forms emerge in time and change over the course of time; we’ll explore, for example, how the sonnet developed over the last 700 years, and how the resulting variations resonate together today as contemporaries. Poets also write for and against each other, whether that means coteries of poets writing in the same place and time, or poets addressing their poetic influences, who may be long in the past. In exploring poetry’s breadth and depth, we’ll utilize reading experiences as anchors for the writing experience, writing poems to understand poetry (among other purposes) and explore the possibilities of expression.

In addition to writing poems (lots of poems), you’ll learn how to formally analyze poetry, concentrating on what a poet is doing and how that doing is accomplished. We’ll discuss the differences between preference and quality: why you like a poem, vs. why that poem is or is not high quality relative to some standard. During the last month of the course we will put this thinking into practice in workshops that will help you and your classmates produce poetry portfolios.

Finally, we’ll explore several theoretical issues in poetry. Is poetry a genre? A set of techniques? Specific forms or formats? Traditions of creative behavior? We’ll consider these questions from a variety of positions, including the ways in which people interact with poetry. Is poetry an aural experience? A read experience? An improvised experience? An artistic experience? I hope these questions, and many, many, others, will help to guide you as you navigate your own relationship with poetry.


Major assignments

Poetry analyses (2: one on a poetic form, one on a poet)

Midterm exam

Workshop participation and self evaluations

Final poetry portfolio


Minor assignments

Poetry writing assignments (i.e., homework)

Practice analyses

Written reflections


Texts (provisional)

Reading Poetry, Peter Barry

Autobiography of Red, Anne Carson

The Crossed-Out Swastika, Cyrus Casells

Class reader available from MAPS (UH)