“To write good prose, read good poetry,” said F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of The Great Gatsby and other works written in good prose. What Fitzgerald may have meant was something like this.


The difference between prose and poetry isn’t just a matter of rhyming the words or spacing the lines on the page. It originates in two different ways of using language. For a writer of prose, a word is a label attached to a real thing. For a writer of poetry, a word is a real thing. It does its work of meaning all the way across its association with other words: not just the words listed before and after it in the dictionary but all the words that sound like it and all the words that evoke related emotions. It’s the difference between “Tomorrow, rainy with a high of 70” and “A damp, drizzly November in my soul” — which is a phrase from Moby-Dick, a work in prose written by a man with a head full of poetry.


So we’ll spend the semester learning how poets make words work. And you’ll see: even though this course isn’t writing-focus, the chances are pretty good that you’ll emerge from the experience a better writer yourself.


Course requirements

  • Attendance and participation
  • Three exams, 20% each
  • One five-page paper, 20%
  • Final exam, 20%
  • And a sonnet, graded pass-fail: pass if you do it right, fail if you don’t. “Right” means with accurate rhyme and meter, and you’ll get all the chances you need (until the end of the semester) to get those right.


Required text (at the university bookstore)

  • The Norton Anthology of Poetry