Section 001 / Spring 2007 / Susan Tichy




susan tichy
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Tues/Thurs 1:30-2:45 / West 108
Office: Robinson A-455A / 703-993-1191 / stichy@gmu.edu
Office Hours: T/R 3:00-4:00 & by appointment

Welcome to the workshop. In the next few months we will read and discuss a variety of poems and poetic forms while also giving close attention to the poems you are writing. You will be asked to read widely, to try your hand (and ear) at a variety of poems, and to give and receive criticism in a spirit of exploration and good will. Requirements include two portfolios, an annotated anthology of poems from our reading, written critiques of manuscripts by two of your classmates, active classroom participation, and attendance at poetry readings.

books  /  class format  /  grading & policies  /  assignments  /  schedule 


An Exaltation of Forms: Contemporary Poets Celebrate the Diversity of Their Art. Ed. Annie Finch & Kathrine Varnes. University of Michigan Press, 2002. 0-472-06725-7. $24.95  (Used copies are about half that.)

Oxford Anthology of Modern American Poetry. Ed. Cary Nelson. Oxford, 2000.
0-19-512271-2  $59.95  (Some used copies are less than half.)

Poetic Meter and Poetic Form. Paul Fussell. McGraw-Hill, 1988. 0-07-553606-4.  $31.88 (An outrageous price: they get away with it because this book is a classic, widely read and assigned. Try to find it used.)

The Poetry Dictionary. John Drury. Story Press 1-884910-04-1  $14.99

Most class sessions will be divided between discussion of poems you have read and discussion of poems you have written. 

Reading: Each week I will assign readings related to a particular form or an aspect of poetic craft. Some of these readings will be discussed in detail; others may come up during workshop discussion. Several times during the semester you will be asked to lead a short discussion of a particular poem, concept, or aspect of craft. 

Writing & Workshop: Each week for most of the semester I will ask you to write a poem employing a particular aspect of craft. Each of these poems should be taken through at least a couple of drafts, making it as presentable as possible in a few days’ time, then turned in to me and e-mailed or photocopied for your classmates. 

In the first half of the semester, you will write one or two poems each week in response to these assignments. In the second half, only a few poems are specifically assigned, so the rest of your writing time can be spent on other poems and on revision.

Please read these guidelines on workshop mechanics.


Grading will be based on three aspects of your work in the course:

1) Your writing: 

Portfolio #1 : 20%
Portfolio #2 : 20%
2) Your engagement with the reading:
Annotated Anthology : 15%
Participation in class discussion of readings : 10%
Leading class discussions : 10%
3) Your engagement with your classmates’ writing:
Participation in workshop discussions : 15%
(this includes reading & writing comments on poems ahead of time) 

Final portfolio critiques : 10% 
(you will choose or be assigned two classmates to critique

You are also required to attend two poetry readings during the semester. Readings on campus will be announced. Others can be found via newspapers and web sites. One reading may be a slam or performance. 
For each reading, turn in a single typed page describing and commenting on the reading. Please identify the poet(s) with some biographical & publication information, and include time and place of the reading, as well as the sponsoring organization or venue. These will not be graded, but must be handed in by the last due date on the schedule in order to receive credit for the course.


Absence: University policy prohibits grading based simply on attendance record, but please keep in mind that you cannot participate if you are not present, and participation is part of your grade. Thus, excessive absence will reduce your participation grade. Please note that "present" means present for the full class session. If you are absent on a day you were scheduled to have a poem discussed, you may or may not be rescheduled for the next workshop session, depending on our time constraints. In other words, you run the risk of missing your turn entirely.

Late assignments: Portfolios and anthologies will be accepted late in cases of incapacitating illness or personal emergency. If turning work in late for one of these reasons, you must provide a  written explanation and may be asked for documentation. Other late work will be accepted up to one week after the due date but will be reduced by a full letter grade. Except in the most dire of circumstances, no work will be accepted more than one week late. If you expect to be out of town when an assignment is due, you must turn it in before leaving.


<>1) Late critiques of your classmates’ final portfolios will receive an F. However, they must be completed in order to receive a grade for the class.

2) If you are ill on a day you were scheduled to lead a discussion and must miss class send me your notes by e-mail by class time to avoid an F. You will be rescheduled to lead discussion on another day. (Sorry, you introverted poets who hate talking in class: you’ll have to do it eventually. Prepare well at home & read part of your presentation verbatum, if you wish.)

ASSIGNMENTS: leading discussions  /  annotated anthology

portfolio #1  /  portfolio #2  / critique of final portfolios

Leading Class Discussion:

Each of you will be called on several times during the semester to lead the discussion of a particular poem, set of poems, or other assigned reading. Ideally, your work on these little discussions will also help develop ideas for your Annotated Anthology. 

  • Please give some thought to both the content of what you want to present and the process by which you want the class to engage with that content.
  • Be sure your remarks focus primarily on the aspect of poetic craft under discussion. There are of course many other things to be said about poems, but we won't have time to include them all in every conversation.

  • After our discussion, turn in your notes to me. These may be in any form that makes clear the substance and process of your preparation, e.g. an outline, a few paragraphs, marginal notes on the poems, etc. It need not be a formal paper, though it may take that form if you so wish. Your notes will be especially important if a) you hate leading discussions and don’t reveal as much as you actually know on the topic, or b) your classmates are especially unhelpful that day and little useful discussion develops from your efforts. 

Portfolio #1

1) In the first half of the semester you will write 7 poems specified on the syllabus: two free verse poems using the line in different ways, a syllabic poem, an accentual poem, an unrhymed iambic pentameter or iambic tetrameter poem (stanzaic, couplets, or blank verse), a rhymed stanzaic poem (metrical or f.v.), and a poem using rhyme & repeated sound in some manner other than end-rhymed stanzas. 

So, assembling Section 1 of your portfolio will be collecting these 7 poems and giving them back to me, so I can see them all at once.

2) For the second part of your portfolio, choose three of the 7 poems which you find of most interest and continue to revise them. You needn’t turn in every step of revision, but be sure to turn in the poem as we first saw it, along with its newest version.

3) If you wish, you may turn in up to 3 additional poems if you have written or substantially revised them this semester. Call that Section 3.

4) All work must be typed. Use clear headers on every poem, so I know what I am looking at.

5) Place all the above in a large envelope or pocket folder (NOT a loose folder and NOT a heavy binder). Put your name, my name, and the course number on the outside. Please also provide a table of contents. 

Portfolio #2

Revision requirement: At least five poems included in this portfolio must have been substantially revised during the semester. This may mean a lot of revision before the class ever saw them or it may mean a lot of revision after the class saw them. 

  • If you want credit for revision you did on your own, before workshop or feedback from me, you must include the drafts to demonstrate your process. 

  • If you want credit for revision done after workshop or critique from me, you need only submit the poem as we first saw it and the current version. Drafts in between are optional.
  • The revised poems may be turned in only to me (in Section 1 or Section 3), or may be included in what you give your classmates (Section 2).
Make a Table of Contents for the portfolio. List the poems in each section and clearly mark the 5 poems (or more) you have substantially revised.

OK, here's how to organize the portfolio.

1) Section One: All new poems since your first portfolio. In the second half of the course you will be required to write only three new poems specified on the syllabus: a narrative, a poem representing a speaking voice, and a poem written by one of the collage techniques. You will of course write more than this, either by trying more than one option on the assigned poems or by pursuing your own interests. As always, these poems should be taken through a few drafts before we see them.

So, Section One of this portfolio should include copies of all the new poems you wrote in the second half of the semester for which you want credit or evaluation. Turn in at least five and no more than ten new poems.

2) Section Two: This section of your portfolio will be submitted for critique (and celebration) by your classmates

  • Select five poems which represent your best work of the semester. They may include poems from your first portfolio or new poems from recent weeks. Choose poems that show off your strengths, illustrate what you value most in your poems, and/or indicate how you hope to develop next. 

  • It is probable that most of these poems will have been substantially revised, but that is not required for inclusion in this section of your portfolio. (Just be sure you meet the revision requirement detailed above.)
  • Attach a short statement (500-1000 words) to introduce these 5 poems. Please tell us why you chose them, a little about the process of writing them, and what kinds of feedback would be most helpful to you now.

  • These 5 poems will be read by your classmates and discussed in one of our final meetings. 
  • In addition, two of your classmates will write short critiques of these poems in the context of other work (of yours) they have seen this semester. (And you will do the same for two of them.)

3) Section Three: any additional revised poems from the first portfolio (any not included in Section Two).

To turn in your portfolio, you will need to do two things.

1) Make six copies of the second section (5 for your classmates and 1 for me). Include your statement on the five poems, and clip, staple, or bind each set for distribution. This is due on April 26 (Thursday) at the start of class. Do not bring loose pages and do not bring heavy binders.

2) Prepare one complete copy of your portfolio to turn in to me, including all sections. Follow the packaging directions for Portfolio #1. This is due on or before May 3 (Thursday) at the start of class. No, you may not turn it in late.

Critiques of Final Portfolios

You are responsible for taking part in oral critique of all final portfolios presented to the class. In addition, you will be assigned to write critiques for two of your classmates. Here are the guidelines for written critiques. You may use these, as well, to help you prepare what you want to say in oral critique for portfolios you won't be writing on.

  • For each portfolio, your critique should be at least 750 words long, not counting lines you quote from the poems you are discussing. Please include a word count on the copy you turn in to me. You may also make marginal notes on the poems, of course, as you usually do.

  • Each portfolio will be prefaced by a short statement from the poet explaining why these poems were selected and what kinds of feedback he or she most wants right now. You should try to respond to questions the poets ask of us, but you need not limit your comments to those issues.

  • You will not have time (or words enough) to do a close reading/response to all five poems in each portfolio. You may choose to write in detail about one or more of the poems, but your remarks should also address the poems as a group.

  • In all your comments, please remember that not all poets and not all poems have the same goals. That you are a fan of clear narrative, for example, doesn't mean that a nonnarrative poem is a failure. Try to figure out what the poems are trying to do before you begin a discussion of what they ought to do. This may be as simple as stating what kind of poem you think you have before you, e.g. "I read the first three poems as personal narratives," or "This poem has an impersonal voice and depends on its images."

  • Your critique should be designed to help the poets do two things -- assess and appreciate their own poems and improve their poems. 

    • Toward the first goal, please describe what you think works best in the poems, what you as a reader most appreciate in them. This does not mean merely laying on the encouraging adjectives. Put yourself in the poet's position and assume that you need to know exactly how and why a poem or a passage is "great" or "good." Young poets with talent often work from the gut and don't understand very well exactly why a thing is or isn't a successful poem. Is it vivid imagery? original metaphor? rhythm? sound? line breaks? humor? a speaker who seems particularly strong? an effective stanza structure? Do the poems surprise you? move you? unsettle you?

    • Toward the second goal, again be as specific as you can. Are the same problems showing up in several poems? Or do the poems vary in quality, with strengths and problems unique to each? You might consider these questions: Are the images dull or vague or absent? is the metaphor tired? are the lines lacking rhythm? is the rhyme too obvious? or would a little rhyme and sound play improve the poems? do you know who is speaking? are the poems too predictable? too wordy? too compressed? too private, so a reader just isn't let in on what it's about? And then, is there a direction you wish this poet would take? More poems of a certain type? More development of something the poet has just begun to explore?

  • If there are poets you think your peers should read, please make note of them.
  • And, please show off what you know about poems and the terminology used to describe them. As in your annotations, I will be looking for evidence that you recognize formal features and know their names. Use your poetry dictionary to clarify your terms.

Annotated Anthology

In this project you will select ten poems from our readings and briefly discuss the relationship between form and meaning in each poem. You will turn these in in increments throughout the semester.

Choose possible poems and make notes on them as the weeks go by.  You should accumulate more possibilities than you will need, and the sophistication of your notes should rise as you encounter more poems and more ideas about poems. If you lead class discussion on some of your chosen poems, this may also help develop your ideas. As each due date approaches, make your selection based on your preferences, my guidelines for selection (#5 below), and which poems have yielded the most interesting ideas.

This assignment is meant to work like a funnel: the end product is relatively small but to arrive at that product you need to compress a lot of thought into very few words. Keep this in mind as you work and don’t be fooled by the short format of each discussion. Simply filling a couple of paragraphs with general statements or off-the-cuff responses won’t satisfy the assignment’s purpose.

You do not have to use outside resources in preparing your annotations, but if you choose to do so, you must use MLA format to acknowledge them. This link will take you to a helpful site on MLA format. And this link will take you to definition of plagiarism. If you have questions on these matters, don't hesitate to ask.

Here’s the anthology format. Please read this carefully

1) Type the poem (or a portion of it, if it’s very long). This is required because physically reproducing a poem, letter by letter, teaches you a lot about how it’s made. It makes you a good observer. You are on your honor, here. 

2) Write one or two paragraphs explaining some specific ways form creates meaning in the poem. "Form" in this case can mean a basic formal choice, such as iambic pentameter, sonnet, enjambed free verse, etc. It can also mean a specific use of form, such as alternating slant rhyme or hyphenating words across a line-break to preserve a pattern. 

Your discussion can begin with the implications of a basic formal choice and move to specific moments, or vice versa. In most cases it will be best to focus on one or two aspects of the poem, rather than trying to include everything that might be said about it.

For example, suppose you are interested in formal tactics and the creation of voice. More specifically, you are interested in formal tactics in the creation of voice in poems by African Americans. 

In a Claude McKay sonnet you might begin with the general effects of form by briefly discussing the use of the sonnet for an angry poem about race, in which a black man addresses whites. You could then move to the specific by pointing out a couple of locations in the poem where form is part of meaning, such as the way lines move at a different pace in different quatrains, accelerating the voice and creating a mounting emotion; or the way meter jams two images together, thus creating a closer relationship between them; or how enjambment creates two simultaneous meanings within a sentence, one safe and conventional and one more angry or threatening. 

In a Lucille Clifton poem you might begin with particulars by pointing out how repetition, line and line break are used to create apparently simple but cumulatively complex meanings, then relate these techniques to the lack of capital letters and the minimal use of punctuation, arriving at an idea of how all the above techniques position the speaker in relation to her subject and her audience.

Yup, you can do all that in a few sentences if you’ve thought it through clearly before you begin.

3) You may want to include marginal notes or diagrams on the poem. This is often the most efficient way to point up formal features or thematic motifs. 

If you mark the rhyme scheme, for example, then you needn’t spell it out in your prose paragraphs, but can proceed directly to whatever comments you have on how the rhyme scheme contributes to the poem’s meaning. Similarly, if you underline several words and write ‘death images’ in the margin, your prose can begin with the assumption that you and I have both noticed that the poem is full of death images.

4) However you choose to combine prose with marginalia, your aim should be concision and specificity

For example, if you want to write about rhyme & meaning do not waste space stating that "the rhyme scheme contributes to the meaning." This is too general to be useful, and though in a longer paper it might stand as an introduction to more specific comments, in this format it is just taking up space. You might say instead something like "the rhyme words underscore a connection between death and passion," or "the slant rhymes make it impossible for a reader to feel that death is restful," or "the rhyme words seem arbitrary, which makes this death feel meaningless."

Poetic terms, though sometimes tedious to learn, greatly advance the cause of concision and specificity.  "Anaphora" written in the margin takes up a lot less space than a sentence explaining that several lines begin with the same phrase.

**The format of this assignment is short: you won’t need to turn in a large number of words. However, the grading standard will be high in terms of how much substance you present. Simply filling up a couple of paragraphs with general comments or personal responses won’t satisfy the requirement.

5) In making your selections, keep in mind that your anthology will be strongest if it addresses a variety of formal problems or ideas. I won’t specify that each poem must address a specific aspect of form off a check list, but I will be looking for a range of forms and for an engagement with several kinds of poems. 

Here are the minimum guidelines for selection:

  • at least 4 poems we did not discuss in detail in class
  • at least 3 metrical poems: one must be iambic or trochaic, the others can be iambic, trochaic, syllabic, or accentual
  • at least 3 free verse poems
  • in the course of the semester, you should be sure to include EITHER one pair of poems in similar form, in which form is used in notably different ways to create meaning OR one pair of poems on similar subjects or themes, but in quite different forms. Examples--
    • a traditional and an experimental sonnet
    • a free verse poem in which open form is celebrated and a free verse poem in which open form seems to express fragmentation or loss

    • a poem in which rhyme reinforces stops and conclusions and a poem in which rhyme creates surprise and a feeling of being off-balance

    • a poem in which meter creates a feeling of order, safety, and full expression and a poem in which meter creates a feeling of enclosure, a sense of mockery, or some other negative or parodic idea
    • two poems whose metrical scansion is similar or identical, but whose pace and spoken rhythm differ markedly

    • a poem that uses collage at the level of the phrase, and a poem that uses collage at the level of the stanza or paragraph

    • two nature poems, elegies, or ekphrastic poems in different forms
    • two dramatic monologues in different forms

    • two poems about a childhood experience
    • two poems about dogs
    • two war poems

    • two poems examining an inanimate object
6) No unifying theme is required. However, if you prefer to construct your anthology around a unifying idea, such as "how stanzas work" or "poems about childhood," or "how voice is created in African American poems," you should be able to do so while still meeting these guidelines. Feel free to talk over your ideas with me as they take shape.

7) I will collect your annotations in three installments, as noted on the schedule. For each of the first two I will assign an in-progress grade and provide feedback on how you can develop or improve your work. In some cases I may ask you to revise or expand an annotation and turn it in again. In assigning a final grade for the anthology I will take improvement and/or revision into consideration. However, that last sentence should not be interpreted to mean that you can throw together slap-dash work early in the semester and then make up for it in the last installment.

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