I taught English 2260 in Spring of 2012, and am teaching it currently. Prior to that, I had taught the course online. In that online iteration of the course, I took a forms approach to poetry, closely based on the structure and ideas of The Making of a Poem (Strand & Boland), a book I value very much and still use in the course. I wished that I had had a course in poetic forms at any time during my formation as a poet; to learn about forms, I had to read and figure things out for myself (not a bad way, actually, to learn how to write in fixed forms).

When I taught the class face to face in 2012, I found that my students didn’t necessarily respond as I thought they might. There was something a little too bootcamp about the march of forms, and this approach didn’t necessarily encourage good thinking about what poetry might be about, what it might be fore; my approach didn’t help them think about invention or to invent poems that were, ultimately, satisfying to them–or me.

So this time, I have put more emphasis on invention and on various ways into a poem. We’ll still look at form, and write in forms, but there will be many more ways in to the process of writing and executing a poetic impulse. So far, so good.

syllabus * English 2260, Introduction to Writing Poetry * spring 2014

Instructor: Lisa Bickmore
Contact: message via Canvas; ext. 4686
Office: IAB 165F
Hours: 9-10 a.m. TR, and by appointment

Required texts:

Course Overview & Objectives:

This course is designed to introduce the writer to a wide variety of poetic forms, and to give the writer the opportunity to write many new poems while getting formative feedback on those poems. At the end of the course, the writer will submit a portfolio of revised poems. 

1. Students will write a number of poems in a variety of forms.
2. Students will give and get constructive feedback to and from their peers and from the instructor on their writing.
3. Students will learn to revise their poems, using the feedback they have received.
4. Students will explore and attempt to understand the place of poetry in culture and in public life.
5. Students will write regularly in a writing journal and use this space to practice various methods of invention, record observations, and show evidence of their writing process.
6. Students will have practice using and analyzing the building blocks of poetic forms, such as meter and other rhythmic devices, the line, devices of sound, and poetic tropes.
7. Students will read and analyze a variety of poems.

What you’ll do in this course:

You will read lots of poetry from many traditions and eras, both contemporary and historic. As poets, you’ll be building a bigger, expanded sense of your art by means of this reading; I’ll help you learn more about how to read as a writer, so that this reading can help you build an aesthetic project and the tools to use as you build it. You’ll write a draft weekly, share the draft with your classmates to get feedback, and give feedback in return to them. You’ll write informally in a writer’s journal; we’ll talk about how to use this kind of informal daily writing in your poetic practice. You’ll do some other kinds of writing/thinking as well—a presentation of a poem to the class; an essay focusing on a topic related to poetry; and you’ll devise a “Poem as  Public Act” project (for more details on these projects, see below).

To be successful in this class, you should think of it as an opportunity: an opportunity to really focus on writing and learning about poetry; to create, if only temporarily, a writer’s community; to write a lot of new work; to try new things. This course is an elective course, which means you are not required to take it (although you can use it to fulfill the General Education requirement for Humanities). What this means to me is that I look for engagement and enthusiasm: you’ve chosen a course that focuses on poetry, what a fantastic opportunity that is! I urge you to treat this course this way: read with focus and intensity. Write with purpose, write regularly, write a lot. Come to class with ideas and things to say. Respond to your classmates’ work as if it were your own—give it that much care and attention. I promise you that if you do these things, you’ll find this class to be richly rewarding.

Assignment Points
Weekly drafts of poems (13) 200
Preparation/Participation/Peer Response 150
Poem Presentation 50
Poet’s Daybook/(Journal) 150
Essay 100
Poem as Public Act 100
ePortfolio posting (revised poems) + reflection 250
Total 100%

Weekly Drafts: I will assign prompts for weekly drafts. They’ll be drawn from the posted < list >.  You will be responsible for bringing three copies of your poem draft to class. From time to time, I will ask you to post your draft in Canvas for online peer review.

Preparation/Participation/Peer Response:

“Preparation” means “having read the assigned material, in order to be able to work with it in class.”

“Participation” means “sharing your thoughts, based on your preparation, in whole-class and small-group discussions.”

“Peer response” means “engaging in sometimes structured, sometimes more free form, reading and response activities with your peers, in order to give thoughtful feedback.”

I will look for and track evidence that you are coming to class prepared, that you are participating in the activities of the course, and that you are giving engaged, helpful peer response.

Poem Presentation:

You will sign up for a poem and present it to the class. You’ll have many options for this presentation: you can

  • Analyze and highlight the poem’s features, including form, figurative language, structure, sound patterns, etc.
  • Historicize the poem, to help us see how the poem’s aesthetic has a historic context.
  • Re-mediate the poem—make it a video or another genre or an audio piece, etc.
  • Other ideas? Run them by me.


You’ll keep a regular journal, to record details, ideas, transcribe bits of language, play with language, etc. You should strive to write this way a minimum of three to four times a week. I’ll check your journal at midterm and at the end of the course.


You’ll write a four to five page essay on a topic I assign (I will give you a few options). It will involve some research on your part, a synthesis of what you find, and an argument on the topic. You will document and format your essay in MLA style.

Poem as a Public Act:

You choose your act of publication: a series of broadsides or postcards, done collaboratively with some peers, placed in public places. Submitting your work to a magazine or journal (Folio, anyone?). Organizing or taking part in a poetry reading or slam. Posting poems on a social media website, creating a podcast, etc. You define the public act, then you perform it.

ePortfolio post + reflection:

You will revise five to seven of your poems for the ePortfolio, your choice. In addition, you’ll write a reflective essay of about 600-800 words (or the equivalent in a multimedia or other piece). In this, you’ll consider questions like: what aesthetic principles do I currently exhibit in my work? what motivates me to write, and why poetry? who are my poetic antecedents? what are the principles that drive my revision practice? what do I hope to get better at, or try more of? and what are my poetic strengths?

Accommodation for Disabilities:

Students with medical, psychological, learning or other disabilities desiring accommodations or services under ADA, must contact the Disability Resource Center (DRC).  The DRC determines eligibility for and authorizes the provision of these accommodations and services for the college.   Please contact the DRC at the Student Center, Suite 244, Redwood Campus, 4600 So. Redwood Rd, 84123.  Phone: (801) 957-4659, TTY:  957-4646, Fax:  957- 4947 or by email: linda.bennett@slcc.edu

schedule * ENGLISH 2260 * spring 2014


date Topics: to read Drafts: to write Submit: what’s due
W1: T (Jan. 14) Hi! Let’s write poetry together! Proust Questionnaire
W1: R (Jan. 16) Read: Denise Levertov,
“Some Notes on Organic Form”

Read: Denise Levertov, “Uncertain Oneiromancy” (in TMoaP, p. 273)

 Writing Assignment #29: bring three copies. Find one poem (in our books or elsewhere) that you think exhibits something of Levertov’s organic form.

Bring the poem to class.

W2: T (Jan. 21)  The Image

Read: Bruce Bond, “The Unfinished Slave”

Read: Ezra Pound on the image

Bring a poem to class that has striking images (from our books or elsewhere).
W2: R (Jan. 23) Writing from images:

Mahmoud Darwish, “In her absence I created her image

Maureen Seaton, “Chelsea/Suicide” (in TBAP2013)

Writing Assignment #20 or #21: bring three copies
W3: T (Jan. 28) The Deep Image movement

Read: James Wright, “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota”

Read: Poems by Robert Bly (especially “Counting Small-Boned Bodies”)

Read: Harryette Mullen on Starting a Tanka Diary & a few tanka from Mullen’s book Urban Tumbleweed

think: what’s the difference between an image and a symbol? an image and a metaphor?
W3: R (Jan. 30)  Read: “Narrative of the Image: A correspondence” (Charles Wright & Charles Simic)

Read also: “Looking West from Laguna Beach at Night” (Charles Wright) AND “Miracle Glass Co.” (Charles Simic) (both inTMofaP)

Writing Assignment #31: bring three copies NOTE: I am unfortunately and unexpectedly required to testify at a hearing, and so our class will not meet face to face. Here is the discussion prompt, and here is the place for peer review.
W4: T (Feb. 4) The Figures

Jorie Graham, “Reading Plato” (in TMofaP)

View two short videos on figurative language; look at essay linked on same page, “The Great Figure: Figurative Language in Poetry”

find: lines or examples from poems to illustrate the figures
W4: R (Feb. 6) John Berryman, “Dream Song 324”

Read The Making of a Poem’s chapter on elegy (intro and sample poems, including “Lycidas” by John Milton)

Writing Assignment #22, 23, or 24: bring three copies
W5: T (Feb. 11) Thomas Hardy, “The Convergence of the Twain”

Thom Gunn, “The J Car”

W5: R (Feb. 13)  Gerard Manley Hopkins, “Carrion Comfort” Writing Assignment #27, 28, or 30: bring three copies
W6: T (Feb. 18) The Words

Donald Justice, “Pantoum of the Great Depression”

Mona Van Duyn, “Condemned Site”

W6: R (Feb. 20)  David St. John, “Iris”

Read: The Making of a Poem’s chapter on pastoral (intro & sample poems)


Writing Assignment #1 or 2: bring three copies
W7: T (Feb. 25) Galway Kinnell, “The Bear”

Lucie Brock-Broido, “Of the Finished World”

W7: R (Feb. 27) Writing Assignment #6 or 8: online peer review  Poem as a Public Act due
W8: T (Mar. 4) Music

John Keats, “To Autumn”

Marianne Moore, “The Paper Nautilus”

Read: The Making of a Poem’s chapter on ode


W8: R (Mar. 6) Sherman Alexie, “Pachyderm”


Writing Assignment #21 or 25: bring three copies  Journal check #1 due
S P R I N G * B R E A K * M A R CH 10-14
W9: T (Mar. 18) Campbell McGrath, “January 17”

Thomas Lux, “Outline for my Memoir”

On Voice

W9: R (Mar. 20) Major Jackson, “Why I Write Poetry”

The Ars Poetica

Writing Assignment #4 or 17: bring three copies
W10: T (Mar. 25) The line

Beckian Fritz Goldberg, “Henry’s Song”

Louise Gluck, “Afterword”

Read from James Longenbach, The Art of the Poetic Line

W10: R (Mar. 27) Jericho Brown, “Hustle”

Read: The Making of a Poem’s chapter on blank verse

Writing Assignment #9, 10, or 11: bring three copies
W11: T (Mar. 31) Paisley Rekdal, “Birthday Poem”

Adrienne Rich, “Endpapers”

Read: The Making of a Poem’s chapter on the heroic couplet

W11: R (Apr. 2) Vijay Seshadri, “Trailing Clouds of Glory” Essay: Prose About Poetry due
W12: T (Apr. 8) Some Forms

Stephanie Strickland, “Introductions”

Read: assorted ghazals (I will post)

Stephen Burt’s essay on Agha Shahid Ali’s ghazal “Tonight”

Agha Shahid Ali, “Tonight”

W12: R (Apr. 10) Wendy Xu, “Where the Hero Speaks to Others”

Read: The Making of a Poem chapter on the villanelle

Writing Assignment #12 or 14: bring three copies
W13: T (Apr. 15) Matthew Zapruder, “Albert Einstein”

Read: The Making of a Poem chapter on the sestina

W13: R (Apr. 17)  Read: The Making of a Poem chapter on the pantoum Writing Assignment #13 or 15: bring three copies
W14: T (Apr. 22)  Read: The Making of a Poem chapter on the sonnet
W14: R (Apr. 24) Read: The Making of a Poem chapter on the stanza Writing Assignment #18, 32 or 33: bring three copies
W15: T (Apr. 29) How to Revise (1) Bring one revision for peer review (3 copies)
W15: R (May 1) How to Revise (2) Bring one revision for peer review (3 copies)  Journal Final Check

Writing Assignments & Prompts

  1. Write a poem that defines something, using as little abstract language as possible.
  2. Choose ten words from the dictionary for which you don’t know the meaning. Assign each word a part of speech. Write a poem, using each word in the part of speech you’ve given it. Pay particular attention to sound.
  3. Write a poem in which each line is a complete sentence (i.e., no enjambments).
  4. Write a poem using nesting rhymes. (emotion/motion/ocean/shun). Make it 18 lines long, six three-line stanzas.
  5. Write a poem, the title of which is a line taken from Shakespeare, Milton, or Wordsworth. Make the poem speak in some way to the title.
  6. Write a persona or voice poem—a poem in which the speaker is decidedly not yourself.
  7. Take three entries from your journal. No two can be dated within four days of each other. Write a poem that explores how the three entries are connected.
  8. Write a poem in which you include one object and one action per line. Each individual line should make sense in and of itself, but don’t worry about connecting one line logically to the next.
  9. Write a poem in which every line is seven syllables or less
  10. Write a poem in which every line is more than seven syllables long.
  11. Write a poem that is all one sentence, at least thirty lines long.
  12. Write a villanelle.
  13. Write a pantoum.
  14. Write a ghazal.
  15. Write a sestina.
  16. Write a mirror poem, in which the second half of the poem repeats the first half of the poem, but in reverse. Try not to end-stop lines; use as much enjambment as possible.
  17. Write an eleven line poem where each line ends with a word (four or more letters) taken from the title. Example: the title is “bowling”—end words could be wing, bong, bowl, lion, glow, gown, bingo, glib, long, blow, boil…
  18. Write your own elegy.
  19. Write an ode to something ordinary, un-wonderful.
  20. Write a poem based on your own name.
  21. Write an anaphoric poem (where each line or stanza begins with the same word or phrase, such as “I remember” or “this was the day” or “I promise you” or “A curse be upon” or something like that.)
  22. Get up at 4:30 in the morning. Write a poem about the world at 4:30 in the morning.
  23. Write a poem about a specific place that you find yourself in, one with which you have intimate—personal—associations.
  24. Write a poem about a specific photograph.
  25. Write a poem that directly imitates one of the poems we’ve studied. Imitate syntax, line-breaks, theme, tone, sound, imagery—whatever you like about the poem, or whatever seems most essential to it.
  26. Write a poem made up only of questions.
  27. Write a poem that is a letter to someone or something.
  28. Write a poem with two disconnected memories in it. Let the poem, through juxtaposition, create connections or sparks between them.
  29. Write a poem that has the following in it: a piece of fruit or vegetable; a window, door, portal; a machine or mechanical device; a famous person, real or fictional (not the 20th c.); an exotic place; something from science—theory, principle, name, or idea; a means of transportation; a part of the body; an item, saying, event, etc. from another culture; an idea from philosophy or religion or belief system.
  30. Write a poem about a movie.
  31. Write a series of tanka.
  32. Write a sonnet, or series of sonnets.
  33. Write a prose poem.

Many of these ideas are taken from the following:

The Practice of Poetry, ed. Robin Behn & Chase Twichell (Harper Perennial, 1992)
The Working Poet, ed. Scott Minar (Autumn House Press, 2009)