EN-470/670:  Advanced Poetry Writing, Spring 2012

Dr. Susan Swartwout                             Office: GB 318-O; 651-2044, sswartwout@semo.edu

Three required texts: Vintage Book of Contemporary poetry; poetry chapbook (we'll talk about the latter in class); a book of poetry you chose, written by a very contemporary poet (a full-length book by one poet [48+ pp], not a chapbook, that was published in 2009, 2010, 2011, or 2012), which you will use for your Professional Review.

 Course Description:  Students will read and practice writing forms of poetry in a discussion-oriented workshop setting. Writing is a practice, a skill, so we'll be writing weekly. Reading informs our writing, so we'll be reading weekly as well.

Reading: We will read and discuss “traditional” forms as well as marginalized and experimental works. In addition, we will occasionally read essays by poets that impact both writer as creator and audience as market. It’s simple: To be a good writer, you must read. Contemporary poetry is often philosophical, image-driven, and not narrative. When you read, follow along as if the poet is telling you what to “see” or look at; let the images move across your mind like scenes in a film. If you don’t know a word or term, look it up! Online, you can use www.onelook.com to find definitions. I reserve the right to ask random class members for definitions of terms in our readings.

Poetry submissions:

At some time during the semester, I want each of you to submit a group of three to five poems to any online or in-print publisher. For those of you who haven’t submitted work before, this assignment will be either an introduction to rejection form-letters (we practicing writers all have those, regularly) or a fortunate acceptance letter.  But I hope that it will be only the first of many submissions you send out. It’s part of the “job”: writing, revising, communicating to an audience (and maybe revising some more).

Be sure to read each journal’s submission guidelines carefully. Address your cover letter to a person rather than “Poetry Editor,” if possible. And remember that the editors don’t ever see you, they don’t ever advertise your rejection, they are a steppingstone, since it usually takes several attempts to find a publisher. A submission's rejection doesn’t signify failure; it means that you’re doing your job as a writer. Regroup, revise, resend.

Here are a few places at which you may find poetry forums that are requesting new work. You’ll have to do your research by reading the journal’s preferences.

       New Pages call for submissions at: http://www.newpages.com/literary/submissions.htm

       Poets & Writers (back section)

       Writers Chronicle (back section)

       Poets & Writers database at http://www.pw.org/literary_magazines?perpage=* 

       Online poetry journals that accept email submissions:   http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/pbonline.html

When you have sent off your work, please give me a copy of your cover letter, which will show me which poems you sent and where.  

 Professional review: You will each “adopt” a very contemporary poet

 1) read one of her or his full-length collections, published in 2009 or after (no chapbooks; they’re too short)

 2) write a review of the writer’s work (min. 750 words, at least three pages, doublespaced!!)

            WRITING A REVIEW:  Examples of good review format are available at

Contemporary Poetry Review at http://www.cprw.com/

Boxcar Poetry Review at http://www.boxcarpoetry.com/reviews.html

Boston Review (right side of webpage) at http://bostonreview.net/poetry/

NewPages at http://www.newpages.com/bookreviews/

Rain Taxi at http://raintaxi.com/archives/

Browse through several books (you can use Amazon.com’s “Search Inside the Book” feature or camp out with coffee at Barnes and Noble) to find a writer whose work piques your interest. Or let’s talk about your interests, and I’ll make a few suggestions. The review is due the week after Spring Break (Week 9).

 • Writing: Writing for the course will focus on poetry, both free-form (free verse) and traditional patterns. A portfolio of your work will be developed during the semester. Revisions are a necessary part of any writing course, and the amount of work you invest in your revisions and portfolio will be considered in your grade as well as the final draft of the work. Attach all first drafts (not all copies of all drafts) to the back of each final draft of any poem that is included in your portfolio. All pieces included in the final portfolio must have been reviewed by your associates in our workshops or discussed in conference and revised.


The poems you turn in to workshop will be new work, at least 14 lines long, and free verse or one of the patterns required for the portfolio. Contemporary poetry seldom has rhyming couplets or quatrains unless it’s a parody or an attempt at humor. This is an Advanced Poetry course, and we are not writing greeting cards for grades, so end-rhymed poems are not considered as regular classwork. If you have an end-rhymed poem that you feel you absolutely must have workshopped, please turn it in at the same time as a free-verse poem that you wrote. The free-verse poem will be workshopped, and you will receive written comments on the rhymed poem.

If you have any problem writing free verse, or would like some help, please do make an appointment to see me prior to the poem’s due date. I can help you write your poem (I’m good at it; I promise! It won’t be painful.).

The poetry that you submit to the workshop should not be a first draft, but a revised and thought-out structure.  The following Wednesday, we will talk about the work we received the prior week. You are expected to have read each poem and to have made comments in both the margins, showing your response as you are reading, and at the end of the poem, showing your overall impression. End comments should include your response to the poem overall, such as the mood and meaning that you felt was conveyed. These marked copies will be handed back to the author. Be sure to put your name at the bottom to acknowledge your comments.

Pattern or Form poems: You will write and turn in for workshopping (at any time during the semester) the following form poems:

a sestina,

a sonnet, English or Italian,

a form of your choice from the Williams book, with the name of the form indicated at the top of the paper.

Use your Patterns of Poetry to guide you in format and in selection. No "blank verse" poems or "haiku.” These forms are lovely, deceptively easy, and scathingly abused.

Journal: Keep a journal in which you will write at least half a page at least three times a week (39 to 42 entries or more). I have some good prompts, if you’d like to try them. Just ask for a copy. Journals are a history of your life as well as a goldmine for poem ideas. The journals will be included in your portfolio. Do not recycle a journal from another class or another period in your history, riveting though that journal may have been. I consider that Narcissistic Plagiarism.

Discussion: Participation in workshop discussion is essential. We’ll review our vocabulary of terms, identify audience(s), and help each other to address our work clearly and imaginatively to that audience.

Format of workshop: The class is large, so I’ll assign you to one of two workshop groups. Each group will workshop poems each week, so you will be drafting, revising, and turning in a poem every week to be workshopped the following week. You will need to bring enough copies of your work for each class member. 

Portfolio:  Your final portfolio will consist of following:

 • at least 6 poems in any form, consisting of more than 14 lines each, revised

 • at least 1 more poems in any traditional form, revised

 • & your journal

The poetry portfolio will consist of well-developed work(s), typed. You will be turning in 7 poems, but you will be writing more than this over the semester. The pages that you turn in with your portfolio should be your best work overall.

 Basis for Student Evaluation: 

• quality of final portfolio - 40% 

• participation - 20%

 • oral presentation and written review - 10% each

• daily assignments (your poems) and any quizzes- 20%

 Absences: Missing one day of class is equivalent to missing 3 classroom hours, and I strongly oppose absences. Participation, quizzes, and turning in work comprise 40% of your grade. Ignore attendance and assignments at your grade’s peril.

 Graduate Students: Graduate students will complete a project in addition to the regular syllabus:

Write a minimum-three-page line explication of any one of the poems that you've written this semester. This analysis, rather than being organized around your theme, will discuss each line of your poem chronologically. Some of you may find this exercise painful, but keep in mind that, in the lines, you're seeing the actual heartbeats of your poem, rather than only its thematic corpus. It’s due with your portfolio.

 Students are responsible for upholding the principles of both academic honesty and classroom civility in accordance with the "University Statement of Student Rights" found in the STUDENT HANDBOOK.

 Weekly Schedule: (read what’s listed for that week)

Note: Poems should be read at least twice. Slowly. The poem-read-twice is a different poem the second time. Your assignment is to bring that Twice-Read Poem to class for discussion, not the briefly read-once poem. Starting with Week 2, bring a poem each week with copies for each member of your group, plus an extra copy for me, whether I’m in your group that week or not.

Week 1 (01/18): Intro and group assignments.

Week 2  (01/25): Read                                     (always read the intro to the poet’s work). Look up any terms you don’t know. Bring your first poem with copies for each class member, plus an extra copy for me)

Week 3 (02/01): Read

Week 4: (02/08) Read

Week 5: (02/15) Read handout of Kevin Stein poems. Illinois poet-laureate Kevin Stein will be reading at Wordsfair, February 17, 12:00 noon, in the UC Ballroom.

Week 6 (02/22): Read

Week 7 (02/29): Read

Week 8 (03/07):  Read


Week 10 (03/21): Read

Week 11 (03/28): Read

Week 12 (04/04): Read

Week 13 (04/11): Read

Week 14 (04/18): Read

Week 15 (04/25) Read

Week 16 (05/02) Presentations on the poetry book that you reviewed.  Final workshop.


Your portfolio is due by 4 pm on May 9. A collection box will be outside my door at GB 318-O.