Advanced Poetry Workshop
a home for manuscripts
syllabus & news


Syllabus / Manuscripts / Late Policy / Manuscript Statements / Critiques /

Papers on book structure / Grading / Dates to Remember



This is an intensive workshop designed for students in the mid to later stages of the MFA degree in poetry. Though close-reading will occupy some of our class time, we will emphasize assessment of each poet's direction and development. Those of you in the third year will be working toward a thesis manuscript. Those in the second year may be working on a sequence or group of related poems, or simply learning to see your poems as a body of work. In addition to your own poems, written requirements will include peer manuscript critique and analysis of the sequence and organization of two published books of poems.

Manuscripts In the course of the semester each of you will submit two manuscripts for discussion, and most nights two manuscripts will be discussed. If you are in your third year of the MFA, your first manuscript should be 8-12 pages of your thesis (or proto-thesis) which may be a single poem, a group of related poems, or a representative sampling of several aspects of the collection. If you are in your second year, you may submit 8-12 pages of a single long poem, a group of related poems, or a selection representative of your best work to date. Your second manuscript will most likely be a revision or extension of the first manuscript, though some of you may choose to submit new poems. Manuscripts must be submitted on paper, no later than the beginning of class on the meeting preceding your discussion date, and must be accompanied by a 500-1000 word statement.

Each week you will read the manuscripts submitted and write a 500-1000 word critique-and-advice statement for each poet. Bring a second copy for me. In our first round, the person whose last name follows the poet’s name on the alphabetical class list will initiate the discussion. and share responsibility with me for its structure.

Late Manuscripts: Since your classmates need adequate time to read and critique your work responsibly, late manuscripts will not be accepted for discussion. If you miss your place in the schedule, you will be rescheduled as time permits.

Manuscript Statements: Your first manuscript must be accompanied by a 500-1000 word statement describing the nature and the ambition of the work included. For example, if you were submitting 12 pages of related poems, you might state your concept for the group, what you hope it aspires to when it is finished, and a few words on what is not yet there. Please also indicate what kinds of critique you are most interested in receiving—for example, assessment of your thematic scope, tracing of related images and concepts, formal analysis, sequence of poems, etc. Your second manuscript statement (same length) should include something about your revisions, what you think you have achieved, plus an evaluation of how class critique did or did not benefit this process. If you are specific about what you want from us, we will be more likely to deliver it. In each case, the statement is due with the manuscript and not accepted after manuscript has been turned in.

Critique and Advice Statements: Please remember that these statements, though short and perhaps not rhetorically polished, are serious critiques, not off-the-cuff impressions. “I like this, I don’t like that” is insufficient: if it’s “great”, explain why; if it’s “weak” explain why. Also insufficient is an out-of-hand dismissal of work that does not conform to your personal aesthetic preferences. If you are encountering a work whose values and assumptions differ from your own, you are free to say so; you are not free to excuse yourself from serious analysis of the work. If you have not yet learned to distinguish between expression of personal taste and the analysis and assessment of a group of poems on their own terms, now is the time to do it. Imagine yourself as a critic asked to illuminate the strengths and weaknesses of this work for a sophisticated and serious-minded audience—an audience which includes the poet. Or imagine yourself in a job interview, asked to comment on a disparate group of poems such as might be turned in in your workshop.

I strongly recommend that each critique begin not with evaluation, but with description. What are the poems' predominant forms? subjects? themes? What aesthetic values do they represent? What is the concept of poetic voice? the relative weight of poem-as-speech to poem-as-artifact? Do the poems seem finished? Do they work together toward a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts? Are there untapped strengths in this poet that these poems suggest but have not developed? Your answers to these questions will determine your advice. Do these poems represent a direction that interests you as a reader? Do you recommend revision to individual poems? further development of some aspect you enjoyed here? pursuit of a different direction? a change of sequence? If you have difficulty with a group of poems, try mirroring back to the poet your reading process, pinpointing the places that cause the trouble.

All critiques must be completed in order to receive a grade for this course. And: just as manuscripts must be submitted on time to receive your critique, so your critique must be submitted on time to be of use to the poet. Each of you is allowed one late critique (up to one week late) “free”—that is, without grade penalty. Subsequent late critiques will be accepted up to one week after discussion of the manuscript with a penalty equal to a full letter grade. Critiques submitted more than one week late will not be graded; however, they must be completed and given to the poet or you will receive an Incomplete for the course. Critiques will be graded as A, B, or Unsatisfactory. Unsatisfactory critiques will have to be revised to receive credit.

My power to assign grades, however, pales in comparison with the importance of your commitment to each other. The 750 workshop is potentially the most intense and important workshop you will be part of at GMU, but it only reaches that potential when everyone involved is committed to a process of intellectually rigorous but personally supportive critique. Uncivil, dismissive, or poorly thought-out, off-the-cuff critiques, whether written or oral, will poison this process.

Class Participation: You are expected to be present for the full length of all class sessions, to take part in discussion of all manuscripts, and to engage in analysis and discussion of a variety of poetic values and strategies.

One Last Requirement: Two 500-1000 word papers, each analyzing the sequence and structure of a single book of poems. These papers must be copied and distributed to your classmates no later than October 19 & November 16. At the top of the first page include full publication information for the book and a brief list or one paragraph description of what you take to be the most important organizational features / problems / solutions / triumphs / failures of this book’s structure. Keep these analyses when you receive them, to accompany your reading both now and in the future. I will not grade these papers (Why? because it could mean analyzing the structure of 30 different books in order to assess how brilliantly you have already done so.) They must be satisfactorily completed to receive a grade for the course, but you are doing this work for yourself and for your classmates, not for me.


Manuscripts, including statements 50%
Written critiques 30%
Participation, including your willingness to engage with writing unlike your own 20%

Dates to Remember:

Sept 21: No class: Fall for the Book
Sept 23: Don Bogan 699 Master Class
Oct 12: No class: Fall Break: Mon classes meet on Tues

Structure/sequence analyses due October 19 & November 16

English 750: 001: Advanced Poetry Workshop
a home for manuscripts

Susan Tichy

George Mason University

Fall 2010



English 750:001

Fall 2010

English Dept
Room (447)

Susan Tichy

Robinson A 455A


T 3:00-4:00

3:00-4:00 &
by appointment

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