Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing

Poetry: Seminar and Workshop Samples


Can the Poetry Field Be Mapped?

Jeanne Marie Beaumont

In this session we will attempt the near impossible: to map out poetic territories, affinities, schools, and lineages among the rich and varied (and often contentious) contemporary poetry nation. Along the way, we will try to define some of the common terms that arise in the critical conversation, including “New York School,” “Language Poetry,” “Oulipo,” “Elliptical,” “Performance Poetry,” “Post-modern,” “Conceptual”—to cite only a few. What about those who fall between the cracks, who defy categorization? Is that a liability or a virtue? As poets, how do we figure out who our  poetic forebears are and locate where our most vital inspiration lies? If you had to put a “you are here” sticker on that map, where would it go? The readings will indicate how sticky a thicket the current poetry field has grown. As you read, take note of key defining terms of discourse and try to devise working definitions for them.

Required Reading:

Charles Harper Webb, “Apples and Orangutans: Competing Values in Contemporary Poetry,” The Writer’s Chronicle, vol. 27, no. 2. Please email instructor for the PDF or see Blackboard. Once you read this, select your seven top values from the list.

Marjorie Perloff, “Poetry on the Brink,” forum from Boston Review at (also read the responses from at least these four: Burt, Harrison, Shockley, Hong; then read others of your choosing).


I’ve Known Rivers: Speaking of the Unspoken Places in Poetry 

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?


Case Study: The Dream of a Common Language by Adrienne Rich

Stephen Motika

First published in 1978, Adrienne Rich’s The Dream of a Common Language has endured as a classic of contemporary American poetry. Cheryl Strayed described it's power in her book Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail: “I’d read The Dream of a Common Language so often that I’d practically memorized it. In the previous few years, certain lines had become like incantations to me, words I’d chanted to myself through my sorrow and confusion.” In this seminar, we'll read Rich’s book for it's emotional resonance, exemplified in the sequence “Twenty-One Love Poems,” while discussing the book's powerful lyricism and imagery. We’ll examine her use of historical figures/personas, from Marie Curie to Paula Becker and Claire Westhoff. Written when Rich was emerging as a major feminist and lesbian activist, the book wrestles with the more personal side of her political transformation and life's philosophical questions. We’ll talk about Rich’s views on women, gender, race, and class. We’ll examine how she put this remarkable work together and examine the structures she utilized: book sections, serial poems, and sequencing (especially helpful to poets compiling their thesis manuscript) Finally, we’ll spend some time looking at the way she reinvents the sonnet and other traditional forms to create poems that are alive in our own time. 

Required Reading:

Adrienne Rich, The Dream of Common Language 


Verse Versus Prose, Rhythm Versus Meter

Lewis Putnam Turco

In this seminar 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


Breathing in Circles: A Look at Coltrane and Césaire

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)


Words Held Tight in a Raised Fist—The Evolution of African-American Protest Poetry

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.