1.Workshop Elegies For students who choose to write an elegy: You will be writing an elegy, though you may certainly use poetic license. What I mean is that this is not a free-for-all. You should certainly be thinking about the traditional that you are writing within, but some contemporary poets choose to write about a metaphorical “death” vs. a literal one. For example, there are elegiac poems about nostalgia (grieving a time that is “dead”) and about a relationship (many of Claudia Emerson’s “Late Wife” poems about a divorce play with the elegy tradition).

Guidelines: you will select one of the six forms studied in class (elegy, ode, sonnet, villanelle, sestina, narrative poem) and follow the necessary conventions of that form. See below for details about the form you have chosen:

1.Workshop Elegies For students who choose to write an elegy: You will be writing an elegy, though you may certainly use poetic license. What I mean is that this is not a free-for-all. You should certainly be thinking about the traditional that you are writing within, but some contemporary poets choose to write about a metaphorical “death” vs. a literal one. For example, there are elegiac poems about nostalgia (grieving a time that is “dead”) and about a relationship (many of Claudia Emerson’s “Late Wife” poems about a divorce play with the elegy tradition). My advice to you is if you are going to play around with / push against one aspect of the tradition, adhere to others. You want a critic/reader to say “yes, this poem is in dialogue with the elegy” and, of course, not all poems of loss are elegies. So, look at Marie Howe’s “What the Living Do,” which is much more conversational in tone, about the everydayness of her brother vs. a lofty, virtuous depiction, but she utilizes couplets. Heaney’s “Mid-Term Break,” which does not exalt the loved one to mythic status and is, in fact, notably muted in terms of emotion, but it is about a single speaker’s reaction to death: his observation of the body, etc. For our elegies: (1) The central dilemma should be grief/mourning (2) Single speaker going through the process of mourning (3) Consider the “work of mourning” (Peter Sacks’ phrase) and the stages of grief: where will the speaker end?

  1. Workshop Odes For students who choose to write an ode: Like we discussed for the elegy, I would suggest finding a balance between following the conventions of the traditional form and pushing against some of those conventions to see For our odes: (1) Focus on one particular topic or theme (usually presented in the title). (2) Present an exploration of that topic/theme. Think about mirroring thought process/contemplation. (3) Consider having the speaker speak directly to the subject. (4) Consider the three-part structure. Even if the poem is not divided into three stanzas, consider three “acts” and how they can mirror stages of thought/contemplation.
  2. Workshop Sonnets For students who choose to write a sonnet: Like we discussed for the elegy, I would suggest finding a balance between following the conventions of the traditional form and pushing against some of those conventions to see how you can make the form work for your particular subject matter and voice. For our sonnets: (1) 14 lines (2) Rhyme scheme—though this does not need to be strict, exact end rhyme (3) Consider the two sonnet forms in terms of stanza format and rhyme scheme, but you may want to do a combination (like “Hap”) or a variation (like “Thinking About the Past”) (4) Consider the “volta”—the turning point of the poem and where this will fall in the poem (5) Consider the tradition of “love” poem—but this does not have to be a strict interpretation of romantic love or religious devotion. Can you use the “love” connotation in other ways? For example, Justice’s “Thinking About the Past” is a love poem, but not to a person—rather, this is a “love” poem to the past, which the speaker cannot reclaim.
  3. Workshop Villanelles/Sestinas There is less room for “poetic license” in regard to the form of these due to the fact that both are defined—and recognized—by their formal qualities (number of lines, number of stanzas, what is repeated and where that repetition is located). However, there are still ways to get creative with these traditions. Some poets, such as Elizabeth Bishop in “One Art,” choose to use variations in the refrain of a villanelle, so that the main words are there, but the syntax is a bit different in different lines. Other poets, such as Carrie Jarrell in “A Country Western Singer’s Ex-Wife, Sober in Mendocino County, California,” vary the repeated words in a sestina in subtle ways (boots/to boot, cross/across, etc) or, less commonly, use a lot of poetic license to replace key words and phrases: Jarrell replaces the phrase “Willie Nelson song” with the titles of Willie Nelson songs to show that the speaker hears his songs all the time. For our sestinas and villanelles: (1) Adhere to line numbers, expected repetition locations, and what is repeated (although you can bend the rules a bit by using variation as long as there is a clear reason for this variation) that define that form.
  4. Workshop Narrative Poems Because the narrative poem is defined by content (it tells a story, there is action—something happens), there are a lot of ways to work with this form. For our narrative poems: (1) There must be a discernable story (something has to happen) and this story must be the main content of the poem. (2) The story shouldn’t be just for the story’s sake (i.e. entertainment), but should have embedded symbolism that makes a point/argument like any other kind of poem. (3) Consider narrative momentum and the created world of the story (simulacrum). You, the poet, are in charge of when information is presented and what emotions the reader feels.