Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing

Poetry: Presentation and Workshop Samples


I’ve Known Rivers: Speaking of the Unspoken Places in Poetry (S, T)

Martín Espada

There are “unspoken” places all around us, places we never see, or see but do not see. There are hidden histories, haunted landscapes, forgotten graves, secret worlds surrounded by high walls, places of pilgrimage where pilgrimage is impossible. Sometimes, these places are “unspoken” because the unspeakable happened or continues to happen there; sometimes, because the human beings dwelling in the land of the unspeakable find a way to resist, and their example is dangerous.

Speaking of the unspoken places means speaking of the people who live and die in those places. These are people and places condemned to silence, and so they become the provinces of poetry. The poet must speak, or enable other voices to speak through the poems. Indeed, poets continue to speak of such places in terms of history and mythology, memory and redemption. They pose difficult questions: Who benefits from silence and forgetting? Who benefits from speaking and remembering? How do we make the invisible visible? How do we sing of the world buried beneath us? How do we soak up the ghosts through the soles of our feet?

Required Reading:

Claribel Alegría, “The Rivers,” from Luisa in Realityland, translated by Darwin Flakoll

Sterling Brown, “Remembering Nat Turner,” from The Collected Poems of Sterling A. Brown

Roque Dalton, “The Certainty” from Clandestine Poems, translated by Jack Hirschman

Theodore Deppe, “Admission, Children’s Unit” from The Wanderer King

Carolyn Forché, “The Colonel,” from The Country Between Us

Diana Garciá, “When Living was a Labor Camp Called Montgomery,” from When Living was a Labor Camp 

Nazim Hikmet, “Some Advice to Those Who Will Serve Time in Prison,” translated by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk, from Poems of Nazim Hikmet, Revised and Expanded Edition

Everett Hoagland, “At the Access,” from Here: New and Selected Poems

Langston Hughes, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” from The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, edited by Arnold Rampersad and David Roessel

Etheridge Knight, “Hard Rock Returns to Prison from the Hospital for the Criminal Insane” from The Essential Etheridge Knight

Demetria Martínez, “Nativity” from Alicia Gaspar De Alba, María Herrera Sobekand, and Three Times a Woman

Pablo Neruda, “Canto XII” from The Heights of Macchu Picchu, translated by Nathaniel Tarn, from The Poetry of Pablo Neruda, edited by Ilan Stavans

Carl Sandburg, “Grass,” from The Complete Poems

Gary Soto, “A Red Palm” from Who Will Know Us?

Superheroes, Horror, Adventure, Sci Fi, and Fantasy in Poetry (C)
Tony Barnstone

A discussion of ways to adapt pulp genres, gothic fiction, comic books, and B movies to poetry.  The distinction between poetry and pulp fiction is a relatively recent one, having more to do with the alienation of fields of knowledge from each other in the academy than with historical practice.  The great epic poems of Homer, Dante, and Milton have plots that today would be labeled Action-Adventure or Horror, and poets from Shakespeare to Emily Dickinson to Charles Baudelaire have treated supernatural subjects from fairies to ghosts to vampires.  There have even been poets writing in the sci fi mode, notably Frederick Turner, in his blank verse epic Genesis. How can the contemporary poet retake this vital territory from the movies, television and comic books?  Topics of discussion might include: the question of form vs. free verse in the narrative poem; thinking archetypally and cracking the social and psychological encodings of pulp iconography and plot lines; deconstructing and reframing pulp genres; working from the genre poem to the multimedia object (graphic novel, radio play, etc.) 

Required Readings:

Compilation of Pulp-Monster-B Movie Poems (PDF – available on Blackboard)

Suggested Readings:

“Jack Logan, Fighting Airman: The Case of the Red Bordello” (Radio

Play): online at

“The Werewolf of Green Knolls” and “The Bent Adventures of India Rubber

Man”: online at

Poetry, Music, Improvisation, Synergies of the Subconscious (CC )

Gil Helmick and The 86 Ensemble

The 86 Ensemble is a multimedia performing arts ensemble. The 86 Ensemble ignite spoken word, piano, and cello improvisations sparked from thoughtful, challenging and periodically disruptive juxtapositions of image, metaphor, meaning and sound. The 86 Ensemble explore realms unfolding from spontaneous interaction of poetry with freshly emerging sonic landscapes. These landscapes evolve and erupt from a process of conversational improvisation between musicians and poet. 86 Ensemble poetry is energetic and articulate, adventuresome, lyrical and cradled in black humor. The music invokes and fuses as many styles as the musicians can identify within the moment. The audience is illuminated by line by line, note by note epiphanies.

The 86 Ensemble presentation will embrace the Stonecoast writers within a realm where their expressions are inspired and informed by the galloping horses of synergy and intuition. Following a brief improvisational spoken word / music introduction, the 86 Ensemble musicians will improvise as the Stonecoast writers compose. Immediately following, the writers will improvise those narratives with the musicians. Near the conclusion, one of the 86 Ensemble narratives is selected. Gil rejoins the ensemble to improvise the selected narrative with the musicians. The entire session will be recorded and copies of the recording will be provided to each writer.

A key insight into improvisation is stated simply. To improvise with others assumes that each artist has refined their art and their ability to perform. Therefore, the most important element to improvisation, on this or the larger stage of existence, is the ability to listen.

Required Listening and Required Reading.

1. Listen to the Miles Davis Album: Kind of Blue. Every track is superb yet each track differs in content and nuance.

From Shakespeare’s MacBeth, locate the “tomorrow, tomorrow and tomorrow” speech. Read that speech with various tracks from Kind of Blue. Select two or more tracks that resonate with you and your collaborative reading. Continue reading the speech with these tracks. Notice how rhythm and tone affect your delivery of Shakespeare’s lines. Invite the music to inspire changes in the pacing of your delivery. As the collaboration continues, drop words, phrases or entire lines from the speech if you are so inspired.

2. Listen to the Miles Davis Album: Kind of Blue.

From your writing, locate two pieces of poetry and/or prose. Read those pieces with various tracks from Kind of Blue. Select two or more tracks that resonate with your work and your collaborative reading. Continue reading the work with these tracks. Notice how rhythm and tone affect your delivery of your lines. Invite the music to inspire changes in the pacing of your delivery. As the collaboration continues, drop words, phrases or entire lines if you are so inspired.

If you have questions or require further indications, please email:

Verse Versus Prose, Rhythm Versus Meter (C)

Lewis Putnam Turco

In this presentation we will look at the differences between “measured language,” that is to say, “verse,” and “unmeasured language,” or “prose,” and we will ask ourselves, where does “free verse” come into the picture? Given the definitions of verse and prose, how does one define free verse? What is the difference between “prose and poetry,” or between “poetry and verse”?

Required Readings:

Poems example to read in The Book of Forms: A Handbook of Poetics, Third Edition, Lewis Putnam Turco

Kenneth Fearing, “Dirge” pp. 10-12 (includes analysis)

Walt Whitman, “I Hear America Singing” pp. 13-14

Carl Sandburg, “Chicago” by, beginning and ending, on p. 14 (students may look up the rest of the poem in many anthologies)

E. E. Cummings, “l(a” pp. 16-17 

Russell Salamon, “She” pp. 17-19 (includes analysis)

Vito Hannibal Acconci, “Re” pp. 19-20 (includes analysis)

William Carlos Williams,“On Gay Wallpaper” pp. 31-32 (includes analysis)

William Carlos Williams, “Marriage,” pp. 188-189 (includes analysis)

Carl Sandburg,“Cool Tombs” including description of “polyphonic prose,” pp. 225-226 

The beginning of “Kindly Unhitch that Star, Buddy,” by Ogden Nash, including definition of “wrenched rhyme,” pp. 88-89

Lewis Turco, “The Death of the Astronaut,” by, pp. 292-296

Words Held Tight in a Raised Fist—The Evolution of African-American Protest Poetry (C, S, LT)

Patricia Smith

Given the social and political status of African-Americans throughout their history, it can be said that all black poetry is protest poetry. Protest literature is intended to shine a widening light on inequalities among races and socio-economic groups, and to urge a shift in the society that allows such inequalities. For African-Americans the questions sparking protest began with slavery. This presentation will take a look at protest poetry during that time, during the time of Jim Crow and segregation, and after the dawning of a supposed “post-racial” America.

Required Reading:

A packet to be emailed before the residency to those who request, with a limited number available at the residency. Packet will include the work of poets such as Amiri Baraka, Yusef Komunyakaa, Phillis Wheatley, Gwen Brooks, Langston Hughes, Francis Ellen Watkins Harper, Sterling A. Brown, Margaret Walker, Robert Hayden, Sonia Sanchez, Wanda Coleman, Haki Madhubuti and others.

Breathing in Circles: A Look at Coltrane and Césaire (C, CC)

Patrick Rosal

John Coltrane and Aimé Césaire were born a little more than a decade apart, each making significant contributions to mid-century music and poetry. Both Coltrane and Césaire drew their influences from widely ranging sources. They were both influenced by the West, of course, but also by world cultures, just as colonized nations around the globe, particularly in Africa, neared and achieved their political independence. With an eye toward our own writing, we’ll take a look at Coltrane’s music and Césaire’s poetry, drawing comparisons and contrasts regarding their relationship to Western traditions, the intense lyricism of each, their use of syncresis, and their sense of rhythm and breath. 

Required Reading/Viewing:

Aimé Césaire, Notebook of a Return to My Native Land

John Coltrane,

Optional Listening:

John Coltrane, “Giant Steps” (Atlantic, 1960), “A Love Supreme” (Impulse!, 1965)

“Ascension” (Impulse!, 1965)

What is Experimental Poetry & Why Do We Need It? (C, LT, T)

Joan Retallack

There’s always something playful about an experiment with language. Beginning with a very basic question that must be asked lightly but answered methodically—What  happens if I do X in the course of composing this text?—the writer carries through on consequences the question has set in motion in such a way that the answer becomes the poem. Radically playful approaches to vocabularies and compositional methods can take a text (and us with it) in unpredictable directions, generating unforeseen perspectives that can be pleasing, unsettling, humorous or grave, but almost always illuminating about the nature of poetic meaning. There turn out to be many ways in which novel constructions and unconventional logics can make interesting, even quite moving sense.  This presentation will be a talk with projected examples and with some work produced by the participants.

Required Reading:

Joan Retallack, The Poethical Wager

1. Introduction: Essay as Wager, pp.1-19

2. The Poethical Wager, pp. 21-46

3. The Difficulties of Gertrude Stein, I & II, pp. 145-171.

Structuring the Book of Poems (C)

Tony Barnstone

This presentation will focus on readings of several very successful, mainly contemporary, books of poetry and will be a lecture/discussion of ways in which the authors choose to organize the books as a book instead of as an anthology of disparate poems: the book as a building made of architectural parts, as a sequence of ekphrastic poems; as a series of recurrent symbol-systems; as thematic sections; or as a series of riffs upon a set pattern.  Other issues to be explored: intertextuality between discrete poems in the book, creating a sense of continuation through regularity of formal appearance, and novelistic narrative weaving within the book of poems.  This is a presentation that won't work if the students don't do the reading in advance, and as we are assigning full books each student is expected to purchase the books or to get them through their library.

Required Reading:

George Herbert, The Temple

William Blake, Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience

James Wright, The Branch Will Not Break

Li-Young Lee, Rose

Sharon Olds, The Dead and the Living

B.K. Fischer, Mutiny Gallery

Barbara Hamby, The Alphabet of Desire

Recommended Reading:

Tony Hoagland, Sweet Ruin

Marie Howe, What the Living Do

Jack Gilbert, Monolithos

William Carlos Williams, Journey to Love