Spring 2007

“I would be willing to throw away everything else but that: enthusiasm tamed by metaphor.”

Robert Frost

Claudia Emerson
Combs 337

Office Hours: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 3:30-4:30; Wednesdays, 11-12; and by appointment.

(For the best chance of seeing me promptly, sign up for a slot during office hours.)

Required Texts
The Triggering Town
, Richard Hugo
(You are responsible for photocopying enough of your poems for each member of the workshop to have one. Plan to keep any handouts in a folder.)

Course Description, Objectives

This course offers you as poet and student of Creative Writing the opportunity to concentrate on the creation of verse. You will write some poems in assigned form as well as work toward building a portfolio of ten to twelve polished poems that may be grouped by theme, form, or voice.

The class is run as a workshop, which means you will listen quietly to a discussion of your poem and then have the opportunity to ask for clarification of any comments.

While an obvious objective of the workshop is that you become a better poet and reader of poetry, by the end of the semester you will have:

  • a greater awareness of what your “poetic concerns” are at this time in your writing life;
  • a sense of your poetic voice;
  • a solid understanding of some of the complexities and rewards of poetic meter and form, as well as a broader sense of “measure”;
  • a thorough introduction to many of the debates among poets and editors of poetry in 21st century America;
  • strong portfolio.

The Workshop Code of Manners

It is good to remember how much participation counts when you are evaluated. Depending on your performance when present, your final grade may be lowered as much as a whole letter when you miss two or more classes without a valid excuse. You cannot participate when you are not there!

Also, please be punctual. The opening of most classes will be devoted to reading someone’s poem aloud, so when you are late, you typically interrupt this vital part of workshopping.

Creative Work

You will be assigned three poems to write according to certain formal guidelines. These poems will be workshopped and revised.

You will also write and workshop your poems with an eye toward building a final portfolio of ten to twelve poems. You will be asked to write and revise more than you can workshop, so you will need to plan which poems to present to the class. You must schedule at least three conferences with me during the semester to discuss revisions and poems you will not workshop.


All poems should be single-spaced; use Times New Roman for your 12 point font.

Literary Events

You may be required to attend certain literary events and write a review of the reading. This attendance counts as part of your participation grade.


  1. Participation. The workshop dynamic relies on the interaction between members of the workshop and the professor each time the workshop meets. For this reason, participation is 25% of your grade. (This includes participation in “Ethershop”: more info to follow!)
  2. Experiments with form. You will be assigned three experiments with form. These poems—detailed on assignment sheets—will be workshopped, revised, and handed in with your final portfolio. 10%
  3. Reviews. You will, by the mid-term, have written three one-to-two page (single-spaced) book reviews of contemporary volumes—and published them on Ethershop. 10%
  4. Portfolio*. Your final portfolio will consist of ten to twelve polished poems linked by voice, theme, place, or form. You will all semester have the chance to workshop and/or conference these poems. The portfolio will also include an introduction to the group of poems. 50%
  5. Final Exam. 5%

Note: While the quality of the final portfolio is very important, the course is primarily about the work in progress—process as well as product.

The Honor Code

While the nature of the course encourages and even requires collaboration and others’ input, all work must be your own and written during the current semester. Plan to pledge your creative writing as you would your writing in any other class.

Portfolio Guidelines

The final portfolio is your opportunity to showcase your creative genius—your risks and your accomplishments.

In addition to the expected ten or twelve poems, the portfolio must include a prose introduction. Model this in part on the introduction you might read on the inside flap of a volume of poetry. Write the essay, however, in first person and be as precise as you can about the writing process; reflect on realizations you had while writing your poems; detail your successes and frustrations.

Perfection in poetry, as in any art, is subjective. Needless to say, no writing achieves excellence if disfigured in any way by poor control of the mechanics of Standard English—or the line of verse, or the extended metaphor. Experimentation is another issue; however, you must, particularly when experimenting, convince the reader of your mastery* of the language and genre in which you have chosen to create—and persuade the reader of the higher purpose of such experimentation.

  • “A”: Your portfolio consistently demonstrates both your creative genius and mastery of your craft. (Your poems are interesting, thought provoking, risky, surprising, beautiful.)
  • “B”: Your portfolio shows great promise and some real accomplishment, but the poems still need further development. (You probably did not take full advantage of feedback from workshop or conferences with me. Your poems are interesting, thought provoking in places, but inconsistent in quality of thought and execution.)
  • “C”: Your poems have not moved much from solid, compelling workshop drafts and still need substantive revision.
  • “D”: Your poems demonstrate some originality and talent, but they are poorly conceived—from the workshop stage to inclusion in the portfolio. (Clichés, immature subjects, lack of clarity, awkwardness, and even proofreading errors disfigure this portfolio.)

* What determines mastery? Here’s a partial list of things to consider as you revise.

I. Craft:

Line, stanza integrity

Effective enjambment

Believable and consistent voice

Appropriate tone, diction

Vivid, concrete imagery

Original, well-crafted metaphor, or other figure of speech

Careful, deliberate (if surprising) word choice

Rich sound

II. Poetic Conceit:

Compelling subject

Fruitful ambiguity

Clear, if complex purpose