Cross-Pollination and the Hybrid Poetry Writing Course

Creating a hybrid version of WR 241 (Introduction to Poetry Writing) has given me a rich opportunity to reflect on how I’ve taught this course in the past, and what ideas about poetry and poetic creativity I most urgently want to convey. It’s also encouraged cross-pollination from other courses I’m teaching, perhaps because the format seems more porous, more flexible, and more communal in spirit. For example, in teaching a 100-level literature course on poetry using an international focus, I’ve become newly aware that, while poetry writing in the U.S. is commonly a private act, poetry is a communal activity in many parts of the world, and plays complex roles in social life. So, for my WR 241, I am building in more collaborative poetry projects to foster a collaborative ethos. Students will complete a linked haiku, or renku, for instance, to which they will each contribute several stanzas. During an early unit, we will read African riddles, and then write our own riddles; to extend this, students will collaborate on group-written riddles, and create a small anthology of them. Students will also form small group workshops on line, focusing on specific skills taught in the unit, to prepare for larger, face-to-face, holistic workshops later in the term. They will collaborate in their small face-to-face groups on exercises prompts, test drive them in class, refine them online, and create a menu from which their peers can select one to complete. Exercises will be displayed on line in a class gallery. Poems, too, will appear first in a class gallery, where they will be admired and responded to before being critiqued. The class will move from smaller and lower stakes activities (communal projects, exercises, gallery displays, small group discussions) to more invested and involved activities (whole-class workshops, evidencing their craft knowledge, and presenting their [finished] poems through a final reading/performance). I bracket this word intentionally. One of the messages I want to convey to my students is that a poem is never really finished. Every poem could be tweaked indefinitely, and the poems they write in this class could continue to evolve long after the course is over, enriched by new ideas and experiences.

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