"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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University of San Francisco

Master of Fine Arts in Writing Program
Poetry Workshop I/III
MFA 612 04

Fall 2009
Tues. Aug. 25 - Tues. Dec. 8, 2009
6:15 – 9:00 p.m.

Instructor: Laura Walker
Office Hours: By Appointment

Course Description:

Our workshop will prioritize a collective, sympathetic investigation of our work-in-progress. We will create and continually refine a way of speaking about our work that simultaneously leads an author deeper into his/her own projects and allows us to learn from whatever work is under discussion—even, and perhaps especially, when that work is quite different from our own.

This kind of investigative, learning-oriented approach is quite different from a more traditional evaluative approach (I like this/ I don’t, This works well/ No it doesn’t.) We will assume that all work brought to the table is in flux, is the product of deep engagement, and is worthy of considered inquiry. And we will proceed from there first to register what we are noticing, and second, to talk about the various effects those choices (conscious or not) are having on the poem, and on us as readers. In this way we may begin to build ideas of what specific choices (short lines, fragmentation, assonance, rupture, traditional form, narrative, a centralized I, etc.) can do, cannot do, may do, and under what circumstances this shifts—again, whether or not the poem under consideration is immediately appealing to us or not.

This extension across aesthetic difference to build a reflective community is a continual challenge, but a very rewarding one. As we extend our own conversations, we will also turn to the new anthology Letters to Poets: Conversations about Poetics, Politics, and Community to read the conversations of other poets. The anthology collects the correspondence of 14 poet-pairs who wrote to each other over the course of a year, and their letters grapple with various ideas of community, influence, politics, institutional impact, the life of a writer, and, of course, poetry itself. We will read several pairs’ correspondence and a selection of their poetry, and we will discuss how we can apply their questions and ideas to our own work. Toward the end of the semester, one of the anthology’s editors and contributors, Dana Teen Lomax, will join us for a conversation about the making of the book and to answer any questions we may have.

Finally, we will also experiment with the ways written correspondence might deepen our collective inquiry inside the workshop. What can it mean, to be "in conversation" with each other? Each week, authors will write a set of working notes for their poem—not in any way an "explanation" of a poem, but rather a window into their creative process, into the ideas and questions which are under investigation and which are most pressing for them at the moment— a kind of brief, open letter to classmates. (We’ll talk more about our approach to working notes in class.) We will also write various kinds of letters to individual classmates during the semester, investigating how written inquiry and response might deepen our engagement, and culminating in an end-of-semester letter project, which we’ll discuss in class.

Learning Outcome:

Through writing, close discussion of our own texts, and examination of published work, students will hone their powers of poetic analysis and composition.

Required Texts:

Letters to Poets: Conversations about Poetics, Politics, and Community, Jennifer Firestone & Dana Teen Lomax, Editors, Saturnalia Books, 2008

There will also be a course reader.

Course Requirements:

Students will write weekly poems, either in response to suggested exercises or pursuing projects of their own, and will bring in class-sets of these poems for discussion. Students will complete weekly readings of published texts and of each other’s work-in-progress. Students will participate in close discussion of texts and issues arising from them. Students will provide each other with thoughtful written feedback.

Academic Honesty:

It is of course essential that you do your own work. Anything else is not in the spirit of our class and is also in violation of USF’s academic honesty policies.

Workshop Content:

"Because the workshop experience is based on collective trust, the Program recommends that you not include references to any MFA instructors or students in your writing. If you do, you should discuss this with your workshop instructor well before you submit the piece."

Grading:

Grading will be based upon

Attendance Policy:

Because this class builds on discussions and collective insights and engagements, it’s very important that you attend regularly and on time. If you know you’re going to be late, leave early, or miss a class, please let me know beforehand. More than two absences will seriously affect your grade. Check your handbook for details.

Weekly Schedule:

Note: There will be no class the week of Thanksgiving. We will choose a make-up date during our first meeting.

Note: As of March, 2009, Lone Mountain readings have not yet been scheduled and so are not indicated below. On one or two class nights, we will end class at 7:15 and attend the readings as a group. On those nights, we will discuss our own poems only.

Aug 25
Introductions: to each other, to our class and our approach to workshop, and to Letters to Poets and how we will use it

Sept 1
Letters to Poets discussion—Kathleen Fraser & Patrick Pritchett— correspondence
Discussion of our opening letters (introducing our work to each other)
Discussion of our poems

Sept 8
Letters to Poets discussion— Kathleen Fraser & Patrick Pritchett— individual work
Discussion of our poems

Sept 15
Letters to Poets discussion— Kathleen Fraser & Patrick Pritchett—wrap-up
Discussion of our poems

Sept 22
Letters to Poets discussion— Hajera Ghori and Alfred Arteaga — correspondence
Discussion of our poems

Sept 29
Letters to Poets discussion— Hajera Ghori and Alfred Arteaga — individual work
Discussion of our poems

Oct 6
Letters to Poets discussion— Jill Magi and Cecilia Vicuna — correspondence
Discussion of our poems

Oct 13
Fall break, no class scheduled (but this is a potential make-up date for our missed class the week of Thanksgiving.)

Make-up class, TBD

Oct 20
Letters to Poets discussion— Jill Magi and Cecilia Vicuna — individual work
Discussion of our poems

Oct 27
Letters to Poets discussion— Albert Flynn DeSilver and Paul Hoover — correspondence
Discussion of our poems

Nov 3
Letters to Poets discussion— Albert Flynn DeSilver and Paul Hoover — individual work
Discussion of our poems

Nov 10
Letters to Poets discussion— Dana Teen Lomax and Claire Braz-Valentine — correspondence
Discussion of our poems

Nov 17
Letters to Poets discussion— Dana Teen Lomax and Claire Braz-Valentine — individual work
Discussion of our poems

Nov 24
No class (Thanksgiving week)

Dec 1
Dana Teen Lomax, Letters to Poets co-editor and contributor, visits our class
Discussion of our poems

Dec 8
Sharing final letter projects, class reading, and class celebration

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