Course Catalog

Below is a catalog of courses offered at the Chicago School of Poetics. To see which courses are currently running please visit the schedule here. If a course you are interested in isn’t currently running, please email us to inquire.

A Step by Step to Publishing

Now that you’ve written hundreds of poems you’d like to see them in print or online. The instructor will share his insight gained after 12+ years of editing a respected online magazine, and publishing his own poetry in numerous magazines and in book form. Are contests really worth it? Should you have to help a publisher pay for print costs? What are some of the leading poetry publications and how should you follow up with them? Students will receive sound instructor advice and critique on specific methods for publishing.

Discover Your Personal Archeology

A close reading of confessional and investigative poems will lead to students applying those techniques to their own work. By reading poets such as Anne Sexton and Ed Sanders, students will dig deeper into their own personal history and incorporate secondary historical texts into their own poems to give their poems deeper dimensionality and to create poetry with more of an edge. In a friendly and collaborative environment, students will receive instructor critique and critique from those in the class on the poems written using these specific methods to investigate their own personal archeology.

Documentary Poetics

What is the relationship between public record and individual experience? How can poets claim and redeploy the text surrounding us every day? This course will explore a variety of methods American poets have used for working with pre-existing cultural documents— such as newspapers, family documents, advertising, archival material, and public testimony—as they produce poetry that intervenes in the textual construction of American “reality” by merging the social and the personal. As we work toward our own projects in documentary poetics, we will read selections from some of the following poets: Charles Reznikoff, Brenda Coultas, C.D. Wright, Claudia Rankine, Mary Ruefle, J. Hope Stein, Muriel Rukeyser, Walt Whitman, Allen Ginsberg, and William Carlos Williams.

Dream Journaling and Poetry

What Samuel Taylor Coleridge called the “ego nocturnos” or the night-self is a prime source of poetry—if you know how to map it. Students will be encouraged to begin and maintain a dream journal that will be used in the writing of their poetry. Judith Duerk, American psychotherapist and author has commented “sometimes dreams alter the course of an entire life.” The importance of paying attention to your own dream life will be emphasized and discussed during this salon, and concrete methods for incorporating some of the imagery from dreams into poetry will be the focus. Students will discuss with the instructor how an understanding of Carl Jung’s dream archetypes and of their own personal or recurring dream symbols can help them unleash a more creative unconscious mind, which results in more vivid poetic imagery. During the salon, students will write and present poetic work that incorporates their own dream imagery and discuss in a friendly and collaborative environment how keeping a dream journal benefits the writing of innovative poetry.

Erasure Poetry

This course will focus on erasure poetry, meaning poetry created by excising significant portions of a found text, which is then edited, shaped, and structured by the poet. Questions we will address in the class include: When may one take liberties with someone else’s text? How does one reconcile found texts with one’s own voice as a poet? How does one present erasure material from a visual standpoint (meaning its layout on the printed page)? In what ways have writers blended erasure poetry with procedural and constraint-based writing? Finally, what is the relationship between an erasure poem and the original source text (i.e., does the erasure always function as a critique, parody, or argument about the original text)? We will also discuss how one chooses a source text for an erasure poem, as well as strategies for editing, revising, and placing erasure poems with literary magazines and small presses. Every week students will receive feedback on erasure projects, with the option to work toward a book-length erasure manuscript or numerous shorter projects. Readings will include excerpts from Yedda Morrison’s Darkness (an erasure of Joseph Conrad’s classic work, Heart of Darkness), Ronald Johnson’s Radi Os (an erasure of John Milton’s Paradise Lost), Srikanth Reddy’s Voyager, and other texts to be assigned based on the students’ interests.

Poetics Level 1

Blending lecture, written exercises, and in-class feedback this course is designed to help you: view your poetry with the cold eyes that are necessary to make instinctual edits based on the many tools at your disposal; meld the inspiration behind a poem with the types of effective techniques that will really bring it across to the reader; and use a wide and varied set of tools to write poems that resonate with readers and to write poems that inhabit multiple zones or levels of meaning.

Poetics Level 2

Blending lecture, written exercises, and feedback. Brief discussions of experiments that help start the writing process followed by the writing of original work in friendly and supportive environment.

In a supportive and collaborative environment students begin to draft original poems based on the fundamental concepts already learned and use those concepts to revise old work if necessary.

Less isn’t more at the beginning of this process. Poets should use techniques such as automatic writing, random effect, shifts in writing method and even location, personal archeology, access to a wide variety of secondary source texts, found language, investigative poetry techniques, journal keeping, experiments/or understanding of the basics of all traditional form, list poems, etymological research to expand areas of a work, turning a popular prose work into a poetic work of your own, ekphrastic poetry, bestiaries, abecedarians, autobiography, and so forth. Students should generate a copious amount of writing from which to work, edit, and revise and exhaust all resources in the writing of poetry.

Poetics Level 3

Blending lecture, written exercises, and feedback in a friendly and collaborative environment. Continue to use the previously-learned techniques, not writing prompts, to start the writing process. Advanced students will continue to apply the previous critiques to their own writing and continue to generate new work. The goal will be for each student to have written and/or polished 20 pages of poetry in total. These poems can build on works created in Poetics: Level I and Poetics: Level II.

Poetry and Feminist Theory

This class will consider the ways that poets can use form and technique to comment on existing debates in feminist theory. We will focus particular attention on theorists who have revolutionized the style of academic writing, particularly Luce Irigiray, Julia Kristeva, and Helene Cixous. Questions we will address in class include: Where does the boundary between critical and creative writing exist, if at all? Who gets to decide what is “critical” and what is “creative” writing? How can one use the resources of poetry to question these manifestations of power and authority within the academy? We will interrogate (and subvert) the larger social structures that inform our writing practices. With that in mind, the theoretical texts for each class will be paired with weekly writing prompts and texts by contemporary poets (Sarah Vap, Joanna Ruocco, Kristy Bowen, Simone Muench, Khadijah Queen, Jenny Boully, and others).

Pulse Poem Pulse

Ponder melodic/percussive/sensual/intrusive attributes of words, syllabic noise, silences, and other sounds that come out of our mouths. We visit Stein, Poe, Dada, Italian/Russian Futurism, Bebop/Beats, buzzing swamps, chattering rainforests, chairs in the desert, the dark-rumped petrel, dogs in jazz quartets, barking humans, rusted bomber wombs, Earth’s magnetosphere, black holes, India, Africa, and Arkansas in search of fresh rhythmic, tonal, textural, and vocal strategies for poems. Good class for performance poets, songwriters, and poets. “For the Greeks, O King, who make logical demonstrations, use words emptied of power, and this very activity is what constitutes their philosophy, a mere noise of words. But we [Egyptians] do not use words (logoi) but sounds (phōnai) which are full of effects” (Corpus Hermeticum. 1954-1960, CH xvi 2, Nock and Festugière 1972-1983, ii 232)

Queer Poetics

Students will examine the poetry of Walt Whitman, Gertrude Stein, Frank O’Hara, Eileen Myles, and Essex Hemphill and discuss how their efforts have challenged cultural mythologies and stereotypes about sexuality. In a friendly and collaborative environment, students will also discuss how cultural mythologies about sexuality are perpetuated, how poetry can bridge gaps among communities and provide an important historical record, and then incorporate specific details from these discussions into new poems written for the class.

Red-Headed Stepchild: The Unholy Spawn of Poetry and Story

How can using ideas and techniques from 16th century China, 17th century Japan and 19th century France infuse your work with new, exciting dynamics? You’d be surprised! In this workshop we’ll first look at some very early examples of what we now think of as “hybrid” writing, then blend the hallmarks of those early models (brevity, spontaneity, tightly-focused imagery) with contemporary ideas and techniques (collage, appropriation) to heighten your language, expand your subject matter, and provide you with a whole new toolbox for further experimentation. During each class meeting we’ll read and discuss one or two model texts, and those texts will be paired with a related prompt for at least fifteen minutes of “in-conference” writing, which you can work on during the week and present in the next class session. Readings include “hsaio-p’in” vignettes from late Ming-era China, excerpts from Matsuo Basho’s The Narrow Road to the Interior, and Rimbaud’s Illuminations (to give the French prose poem its props!). Modern and contemporary works serving as model texts will be Yasunari Kawabata’s Palm of the Hand Stories, which blends the shortest form (haiku) with the longest form (the novel), Alice Notley’s revelatory epic The Descent of Alette and Nelson Algren’s “prose poem essay” (his term), Chicago: City on the Make.

Remix the Poem

This course is designed to help turn off our internal editors and to open our writing to the strange/interesting juxtapositions of imagery and language that emerge from the use of experimental processes. Rather than looking closely at formal poetic conventions, we will explore writing that transgresses those boundaries and defies classifications. Building from the concepts and practices of music remixes/mash-ups, we will employ avant-garde writing strategies like Surrealist language games, chance operations, Oulipan writing constraints, erasure, homophonic translation, and radical revision to remix source language and transform it into original, poetic compositions of own.

Risk: Writing at the Edge

In Risk: Writing at the Edge, we will read several poets whose work exploits liminal spaces by virtue of form and content to put pressure on the poet, poem, reader, society, and even language. In the course, we will explore concepts like transgression, genre, difficulty, translation, identity, authenticity, and obscurity. These concepts in relation to the texts we study will serve as a springboard to examining and discussing our own writing in terms of its stakes, what we wager in making a poem, and how the writing affects us in relation to our expectations of the genre.

Shock the Monkey: Poetry and Mass Media

Marshall McLuhan’s statement that “Art is anything you can get away with” will be a stepping off point for an examination of how current or popular music, movies, and the cult of celebrity influences one’s world and therefore also one’s writing. Students will study the slings and arrows of the outrageous fortunes of present-day celebrities and use appropriation, investigative methods, parody, the conceptual, replacement methods, hybrid narrative, and ekphrasis to push the limits of what poetry can do—in its subject matter, as well as the form it assumes on the page. The instructor will share poems written that were informed by these topics from poets including Tyehimba Jess, David Trinidad, and James Pate. Film, music, and advertising copy will be source material for the writing of new poems that respond to and reclaim the language.

Strategizing Poetics

OULIPO, noulipo, Conceptual, flarf, post-flarf: the transformation of poetry and prose through deploying strategies of method, structure, content, intention and chance/change is a given now. In utilizing strategy in our own work, don’t we wonder how great a part control (or the absence of it) should play? How far back should writers stand from their works, making way for the (perhaps) foreign agent of “strategy”? What benefits accrue to the work? What do writers gain — or lose? We’ll look at and discuss Stéphane Mallarmé’s Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard (A throw of the dice will never abolish chance), selections from the anthologies OULIPO: A Primer of Potential Literature, The Consequence of Innovation: 21st Century Poetics, I’ll Drown My Book: Conceptual Writing by Women, and Postmodern American Poetry: A Norton Anthology, and other related documents. Three written assignments, to be discussed during class time, will be based on model texts from those works.

The Poetry of Cubism

In the early 20th century Guillaume Apollinaire, Blaise Cendrars, and Max Jacob used innovative disruptions in syntax to create shocking and memorable poetry that still has the power to awaken language and make it seem new. With fractured narratives and simultaneity, cubist poets used collage principles to breathe fresh life into stale metaphor and tired phrasing. Students will read cubist poetry and understand how less can be much more by using omission to draw the reader more closely into a poem and reassemble lines into more exciting constructions. Students will receive instructor critique and critique from those in the class on the poems written using these specific methods.

Working Poets: Outside Academia

Poets such as Langston Hughes, Frank Lima, and William Carlos Williams have written the kind of important work that has inspired countless other poets but did so for the most part completely outside academia. Students will write poems that focus on and incorporate specific details from their own work lives into new poems written for the class. Students will receive instructor critique and critique from those in the class on the poems written using these specific methods.