"In this extraordinary collection, I found a letter written on the day my son was conceived. His moment to choose earth, ours to choose heaven. In the travel between dialogues, between the lessons in these letters, maybe our past gets revealed as students floating in the other's eye." — Edwin Torres

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Contemporary Poetry, Poetics, and Letters

"... I do wish to cause a flurry, to divert or subvert the poet's riveted attention away from the worship of any stylish cookie-cutter vocabulary or self-important drone that seems, too often of late, to precede or diminish a certain spirit of investigatory delight in doing what we do best."

— Kathleen Fraser, in her letter to Patrick Pritchett in Letters to Poets

Eugene Lang College Syllabus

Course Description:

In this course we will consider both the poet as an individual and poets as a community.

As we examine the poet as an individual we will explore questions such as: What does it mean to be a poet? How are one's aesthetics determined? What methodologies does one use to conceptualize and craft a poem? How might political/cultural/personal events inform one's work? What writers inform one's work? What poetic and other challenges confront contemporary poets?

In examining ideas about poetry communities, we will explore such questions as: What makes a poetry community? How do communities develop? What dialogues/activities occur there? How can a poetry community be inclusive of diverse and possibly conflicting cultures, ideas, aesthetics and politics? Should it be?

To further these inquiries, we will study Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet and the recent anthology, Letters to Poets: Conversations about Poetics, Politics and Community. Through discussion of the poems and letters of Rilke, and contemporary poets including Anne Waldman, Eileen Myles, Quincy Troupe, Victor Hernández Cruz and Wanda Coleman, we will look at their individual and communal struggles and concerns. These will include poetry as activism, the constructs of a mentoring relationship, the cultivation of poetry and poets within academia, and poetry in relation to race, class and gender. We will also create our own poems, poetics, letters and dialogues in response to this work.

Ultimately, this course will challenge, extend and further develop your techniques, processes and practices in order to better inform your writing. In addition, your critical and analytical thinking skills will be honed through the discussions and critiques of contemporary poems and poetics.

Attendance & Participation:

Attendance is mandatory. There will be a 1/3 grade reduction for each unexcused absence (A to A-, A- to B+, etc.) up to three, and an automatic failure at four. Three tardies will count as one absence. If you have an emergency, you should contact me prior to your absence.

Course Requirements:


  • Letter & Presentation


  • 3 Reviews of Poetry Readings


  • Reading Notebook


  • Portfolio


  • Facilitation


  • Participation



Plagiarism is the unacknowledged use of someone else's work as one's own in all forms of academic endeavor (such as essays, theses, examinations, research data, creative projects, etc), intentional or unintentional. Plagiarized material may be derived from a variety of sources, such as books, journals, internet postings, student or faculty papers, etc. This includes the purchase or "outsourcing" of written assignments for a course. A detailed definition of plagiarism in research and writing can be found in the fourth edition of the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, pages 26-29. Procedures concerning allegations of plagiarism and penalties are set forth in the Lang catalog.


In keeping with the University's policy of providing equal access for students with disabilities, any student requesting accommodations must first meet with Student Disability Services. Jason Luchs or a designee from that office will meet with students requesting accommodations and related services, and if appropriate, provide an Academic Adjustment Notice for the student to provide to his or her instructors. The instructor is required to review the letter with the student and discuss the accommodations, provided the student brings the letter to the attention of the instructor. This letter is necessary in order for classroom accommodations to be provided. Student Disability Services is located at 79 Fifth Avenue - 5th Floor. The phone number is (212) 229-5626. Students and faculty are expected to review the Student Disability Services webpage. The webpage can be found at http://www.newschool.edu/studentaffairs/disability and the office is available to answer any questions or concerns.


Week One
T 1/27: Introduction
Th 1/29: Rilke's "Duino Elegy One" / Presentation of Students' Poems

Poetry Experiment: After reading Rilke's poem, write your own elegy.

Week Two
T 2/3: Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet / Workshop One
Th 2/5: Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet / Workshop Two

Poetry Experiment: Write an epistle to a poet about his/her work, describing how it has influenced you. If you like you can respond directly to a specific poem by this poet.

Week Three
T 2/10: Berrigan's & Yau's Poems / Workshop Three
Th 2/12: Letters to Poets—Berrigan's & Yau's Letters / Workshop Four

Poetry Experiment: Write a poem that is destabilized by its shifting speakers and subjects–a journey of sorts that teeters on the bizarre. Review John Yau's poems and consider this statement from his letters: "... It might be that one is trying to write a poem addressed to all the voices (manifestations) one hears in one's head."

Weblinks to Berrigan's and Yau's Poetry:
http://www.coconutpoetry.org/aberrigan1.htm (read "To K")
Killer Wig Out
Russian Letter
Lost Love Song of The Ice Cream Truck

Week Four
T 2/17: Coultas' & Cruz' Poems / Workshop Five
Th 2/19: Letters to Poets— Coultas' & Cruz's Letters

Poetry Experiment:  After reading the poems of Victor Hernández Cruz and Brenda Coultas, write a poem about place referring to as many specific aspects about this place as possible.  Consider incorporating colloquialisms, overheard dialogue, adages, folklore and myths about this place. In addition, you might want to include specific details about the physical landscape, the local politics and the religions and cultures within this place.

Weblinks to Coultas' and Cruz's Poetry:
http://www.kickingwind.com/71906.html (Read "Born Eye," the poem listed below the interview)
http://www.fascicle.com/issue02/poems/coultas1.htm (There are four poems here, you need to turn the pages)
The Lower East Side of Manhattan
Problems with Hurricanes

Cruz's Website:

Week Five
2/24: Tran's & Coleman's Poems / Workshop Six
2/26: Letters to Poets—Tran's & Coleman's Letters

Poetry Experiment: Write a poem that interrogates the concept of identity while simultaneously using a formal constraint (e.g. See the "jazz sonnets" by Wanda Coleman, or Truong Tran's poem "eight margins.").  Think about how your interrogation around identity might relate to the formal constraint you choose.

Weblinks to Tran's and Coleman's Poetry:
Eight Margins
From Perceptions
American Sonnet (10)
American Sonnet (35)
In That Other Fantasy Where We Live Forever

Week Six
T 3/3: Pritchett's & Fraser's Poems / Workshop Seven
Th 3/5: Letters to Poets— Pritchett's & Fraser's Letters

Poetry Experiment: Write your own exphrasis poem using an image that you find compelling. See Kathleen Fraser's description of a photograph in the beginning of her first letter.

Weblinks to Prtichett's and Fraser's Poetry:
A Song of Degrees (The Union of the Tablets)
The Real Real

Week Seven
T 3/10: Ghori's & Arteaga's Poems / Group Workshop One
Th 3/12: Letters to Poets— Ghori's & Arteaga's Letters

Poetry Experiment: In response to Hajera Ghori's and Alfred Arteaga's poetry, write a speculative poem about faith, religion and/or spirituality.

Weblinks to Arteaga's and Ghori's Poetry:
Illumination Mine
Canto Primero. Arrival

Out to Sea

Week Eight
T 3/24: Firestone's & Myles' Poems & Letters / Group Workshop Two
Th 3/26: Guest Speaker: Eileen Myles

Poetry Experiment: Write a poem that travels musically and tonally down the page in a fluid and organic manner (think of Eileen Myles' poems), yet allow for rifts, tensions, transitions, transformations, entanglements, fragments, surprises and detours to unfold as the poem progresses.

Weblinks to Firestone's and Myles' Poetry:

Myles' Website:

Week Nine
T 3/31: Weiser's & Waldman's Poems / Group Workshop Three
Th 4/2: Letters to Poets— Weiser's & Waldman's Letters

Poetry Experiment: Considering the poems of Karen Weiser and Anne Waldman, observe and research the animal world, and write from or about animals' perspectives. Think about how your diction, imagery, and rhythm might adapt to shaping an animal's perspective.

Weblinks to Weiser's and Waldman's Poetry:
Four Poems

Week Ten
T 4/7: Magi's & Vicuña's Poems / Workshop One
Th 4/9: Letters to Poets— Magi's & Vicuna's Letters / Workshop Two

Poetry Experiment: After reviewing Cecilia Vicuña's poetry, research the origin of a word and use your research to write an exploratory poem about this word.

Weblinks to Magi's and Vicuña's Poetry:
Text andIimages
The Origin of Weaving
Origin of Weaving (Variation)

Magi's and Vicuña's Websites:

Week Eleven
T 4/14: Gourdine's & Troupe's Poems / Workshop Three
Th 4/16: Letters to Poets— Gourdine's & Troupe's Letters

Poetry Experiment: In their letters, Traci Gourdine and Quincy Troupe write extensively about the impact of music, particularly jazz, on their poetry. Choose any piece of music without lyrics and let the sounds influence both the form and content of a poem you write. Please bring a copy of your musical selection to class.

Weblinks to Gourdine's and Troupe's Poetry:
Traci Gourdine reads at the Multicultura
The Day Duke Raised: May 24th, 1974
After Hearing a Radio Announcement
Father Faith
We Went Home After This

Week Twelve
T 4/21: Scalapino's & Goldman's Poems / Workshop Four
Th 4/23: Letters to Poets— Scalapino's & Goldman's Letters / Workshop Five

Poetry Experiment: In Letters, Leslie Scalapino writes of "the relation of writing to events." In Scalapino's work, the actual event of writing and the events that one is writing about aren't separate entities. Using only found texts, piece together a poem in which you write the events of/in your world as you encounter them.

Weblinks to Goldman's and Scalapino's Poetry:
I am in Disguise
Krupskaya PDF
DeLay Rose

Week Thirteen
T 4/28: King's & Cortez's Poems & Letters / Workshop Six
Th 4/30: Class Project

Poetry Experiment: Jayne Cortez and Rosamond S. King are influenced by many art genres: the visual arts, dance, music, etc. Choose one art form and investigate a technique or element of the discipline to inform your approach and the development of a poem.

Weblinks to Cortez's Poetry:
Jayne Cortez: Online Poems
Jazz Fan Looks Back
Talking About New Orleans

Link to King's Poetry
By the Rivers of Babylon

King's and Cortez' Websites:

Week Fourteen
T 5/5: Retallack's & Iijima's Poems / Workshop Five
Th 5/7: Letters to Poets— Retallack's & Iijima's Letters / Workshop Six

Poetry Experiment: After reading Brenada Iijima's and Joan Retallack's poetry, write a poem blasted from/based on the worlds of technology, medicine and/or science.

Weblinks to Iijima's and Retallack's Poetry:
Family Guide to the Splendors of
Más Preguntas

Iijima's Website:

Week Fifteen
T 5/12: Lomax's & Braz-Valentine's Poems / Workshop Seven
Th 5/14: Letters to Poets— Lomax's & Braz-Valentine's Letters / Revision Workshop

Poetry Experiment: Using Claire Braz-Valentine's work as an example, write a political poem to a prominent public figure.

Weblinks to Lomax's and Valentine's Poetry:
An Open Letter to John Ashcroft, Attorney General of the United States

Braz-Valentine's Website:

Week Sixteen
T 5/19: DeSilver's & Hoover's Poems & Letters
Th 5/21: Class Reading

Poetry Experiment: Make up a false translation for a poem in another language using the sound or the look of the words to arrive at its new meaning in English.

Weblinks to DeSilver's and Hoover's Poetry:
See Albert's Armhole Feller in the Letters
Poem in Spanish
Paul Hoover's Poetry Blog

DeSilver's and Hoover's Websites:

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