A workshop designed by Jennifer Scappettone at the University of Chicago, Spring 2016

In this course, we will examine a range of formal, theoretical, and sociopolitical currents in contemporary poetry as a means of provoking and informing our own creative work. The class will provide a laboratory for new creative tactics, not simply a revision workshop—offering up a range of prompts designed to defamiliarize ourselves from our own habits, as well as ample space to continue developing in-progress writings. On the premise that creative work is also social, and that writing aimed at self-expression is never conducted in a vacuum, we will also be reading expansively, while trying our hands at responses to the texts of others. We will examine a range of contemporary poems and essays on poetics by writers with varying and intense commitments to the art. Occasional intervention by visiting and local writers will further enable us to immerse ourselves in questions surrounding contemporary poetics being debated today, and to ask ourselves what it means to found, as well as to participate in, a writing community. Throughout the semester, we will read one another’s writing within the broad context of contemporary American poetics, while making room for the vagaries and tripwires of developing an individual practice. Attendance at readings and/or poetics lectures will be essential.

Books for purchase at the Seminary Co-op:

Tan Lin, Blipsoak01

Bernadette Mayer, The Bernadette Mayer Reader


Fred Moten, The Feel Trio


Drafted schedule of readings and assignments: a work in progress, subject to revision in concert with student interests and needs.


Week 1: 3/30 Introduction: Poems as Procedures, Poems as Questions

Lyn Hejinian, “The Rejection of Closure

Emily Dickinson, “You’re right—‘the way is narrow’

Ezra Pound, “In a Station of the Metro

Jackson Mac Low, “Thanks: A Simultaneity for the People

In-class writing assignment: 1) compose instructions for writing the poem you have been given (example: “In a Station of the Metro.” 2) Instructions will then be shuffled around the class. 3) Write a poem according to the instructions you have been handed.

Week 2: W 4/6 Poetry and/as Data

Visit with Tan Lin

Tan Lin, Blipsoak01

Tan Lin, “Eleven Minute Painting” and “Dub Version” at http://writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/x/Lin-Video.html

Note: I ask that everyone remain for this: Poem Present Reading by Tan Lin, 6pm in Logan 801; Alternative: Lecture by Tan Lin Thursday, April 7 at 1 pm in Logan 801

Assignment: Write a poem in which all language is sampled from web pages or, if you prefer, another information source (an encyclopedia, a dictionary). Experiment with revealing your sources within the body of the poem.

OR: Write a “nature poem” in which the environment described is a web page, or the internet at large.

OR: Use the meaning eater at http://www.crummy.com/software/eater/ to deform a web page, and harvest its language to produce a new poem.


Week 3: W 4/13 Form and its Ghosts

Giorgio Agamben on “verse,” from Idea of Prose (Chalk)

Barbara Guest, “Invisible Architecture

Raymond Queneau, sonnets from 1014 Poems at http://www.bevrowe.info/Queneau/QueneauRandom_v4.html

& http://www.growndodo.com/wordplay/oulipo/10%5E14sonnets.html

Bernadette Mayer, The Bernadette Mayer Reader: Sonnets section

Juliana Spahr, Blood Sonnets and new versions in Well Then There Now (Chalk documents tab and reserves)

Jen Bervin, Excerpts from Nets (Chalk) and more at http://www.conjunctions.com/webcon/bervin.htm

Jen Bervin and Emily Dickinson, The Gorgeous Nothings

Nikki Wallschlaeger, “Sonnet (59)” and “Sonnets (31), (33), (35)”

Elizabeth Bishop, “Sestina

John Ashbery, “Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape

Assignment: Try your hand at a classical poetic form you’ve either never used or never been satisfied with before. Consult this, an excellent resource: http://www.webexhibits.org/poetry/explore_overview.html

If you are prone to working with rhyme, do NOT use rhyme. If you have never used rhyme, experiment with doing so in a way that feels fresh to you—or use it satirically.

For an example of a sestina generator, see http://dilute.net/sestinas/ —rewrite to suit!

You are free to distress the form or bend the rules!

Week 4: W 4/20 Poetry and/as Memory

Bernadette Mayer, The Bernadette Mayer Reader, remainder

Bernadette Mayer, Memory—text is partially reprinted in the Reader; see exhibition at the Poetry Foundation sometime prior to class: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/programs/exhibits

Joe Brainard, “I Remember”

Lyn Hejinian, Preface to Writing is an Aid to Memory (Chalk)

Anne Boyer, “This Imaginary Half-Nothing, Time

Note: I ask that everyone remain for this: we will end class at 5:30 and walk together: Reading by Bernadette Mayer, Regenstein Library 122, 6 PM

Assignment: Invent a constraint for writing that will occupy some part of every day for the week, aiming to provide a document of the fugitive substance of that day. At the end of the week, gather and manipulate the results to produce a serial poem.

You might take inspiration from Bernadette Mayer’s ideas for journals of * dreams * food * finances * writing ideas * love * ideas for architects * city design ideas * beautiful and/or ugly sights * a history of one’s own writing life, written daily * reading/music/art, etc. encountered each day * rooms * elaborations on weather * people one sees-description * subway, bus, car or other trips (e.g., the same bus trip written about every day) * pleasures and/or pain * life’s everyday machinery: phones, stoves, computers, etc. * answering machine messages * round or rectangular things, other shapes * color * light * daily changes, e.g., a journal of one’s desk, table, etc. * the body and its parts * clocks/time-keeping * tenant-landlord situations * telephone calls (taped?) * skies * dangers * mail * sounds * coincidences & connections * times of solitude   OR * Write once a day in minute detail about one thing * Write every day at the same time, e.g. lunch poems, waking ideas, etc. * Write minimally: one line or sentence per day * Create a collaborative journal: musical notation and poetry; two writers alternating days; two writing about the same subject each day, etc. * Instead of using a book, write on paper and put it up on the wall (public journal). * and so on …

Week 5: W 4/27 Poetry and/as the City

Visit with David Buuck


Note: I ask that everyone remain for this: Performance by David Buuck, 6 PM, Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry

Assignment: Choose a specific site in Chicago that you would like to explore further, preferably one outside campus bounds. Gather data on the site; gather language, either printed/graffitied, solicited (as through interviews), or overheard, from the site itself. Construct a poem using these materials, either constraining yourself to one type of input or culling them together.

Week 6: W 5/4 Soundscapes and Shapes

Luigi Russolo, “The Art of Noises” (Chalk)

F.T. Marinetti, Dune, visual score and sound file at http://www.ubu.com/sound/marinetti.html

Alice Notley, from The Descent of Alette: “[I walked into]”

Fred Moten, The Feel Trio

Note: I ask that you attend one of the following: Sherry Poet Lecture by Fred Moten, May 3, 6pm in Logan 801 or

Sherry Poet Reading by Fred Moten, May 5, 6pm in Logan 801

Assignment: Identify an external soundscape that you would like to document (the library, a favorite café, a museum, a part of the quad, a park, etc.). It need not contain language. Gather language and/or sound from this environment with pen and paper (as recording people without their consent is illegal in Chicago). Produce a poem that scores this environment. Pay attention to the way language and phonemes are shaped on the page.

Week 7: W 5/11 Poetry and/as Music

Jaap Blonk performing Kurt Schwitters’s Ursonate: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rs0yapSIRmM

Christian Bök performing Dada sound poetry: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/features/audioitem/1608

Kamau Brathwaite, selected poems (Chalk), “Calypso,” and interview on Cross-Cultural Poetics: https://media.sas.upenn.edu/pennsound/groups/XCP/XCP_16_Braithwaite_2-2-04.mp3 (+ optional section from History of the Voice on Chalk)

Tracie Morris, “Chain Gang,” “It All Started,” and “Slave Sho to Video (a.k.a. Black but Beautiful)”

Assignment: Write a poem that responds to a favorite (or unfavorite!) piece of music. This does not necessarily mean narrating the music or the musician(s) involved: instead, consider making the poem the equivalent of the music, or the score of the music. At least part of your poem should not be constructed in sentences.

Week 8: W 5/18 Poetry and/as Translation

Louis and Celia Zukofsky, Catullus (Chalk)

Anne Carson, excerpts from If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho (Chalk)

Anne Carson, Nox (an object: look at it in person on reserve at the Regenstein Library)

Steve McCaffery, translation of the Communist Manifesto in West Riding of Yorkshire dialect: audio, text.)

Antena, A Manifesto for Ultratranslation

Joyelle McSweeney and Johannes Göransson, Deformation Zone: On Translation

Asymptote Experimental Translation feature, January 2016: http://www.asymptotejournal.com/

Using your foreign-language skills or one of the techniques below, produce a translation of a poem you admire, or “translate” your own poem into another linguistic system.

1) Homolinguistic translation: Translate a poem “English to English” by substituting word for word, phrase for phrase, line for line, or “free” translation as response to each phrase or sentence. Or translate the poem into another literary style or a different diction, for example into a slang or vernacular. Do several different types of homolinguistic translation of a single source poem. (Cf. Chain: try this with a group, sending the poem on for “translation” from person to another until you get back to the first author.

2) Homophonic translation: Take a poem in a foreign language that you can pronounce and translate the sound of the poem into English (e.g., French “blanc” to blank or “toute” to toot).

3) Lexical translation:  Take a poem in a foreign language that you can pronounce but not necessarily understand and translate it word for word with the help of a bilingual dictionary. Rewrite to suit?

Week 9: W 5/25 Poetry as Score

F.T. Marinetti and Tullio D’Albisola (designer), Parole in libertà futuriste: Tattili—Termiche—Olfattive

Dick Higgins, Great Bear Pamphlets

La Monte Young, An Anthology of Chance Operations

CA Conrad, Somatic Poetry Exercises (Chalk)

Anne Boyer, “The Revolt of the Peasant Girls

Bhanu Kapil, “Handwritten Preface to Reverse the Book

Danny Snelson & Mashinka Firunts, Present Tense Pamphlets (in progress)

Assignment: Produce a score for an impossible poem.

If you are stuck: Choose a Bernadette Mayer experiment from this list instead: http://www.writing.upenn.edu/library/Mayer-Bernadette_Experiments.html

Week 10: W 6/1 Final Chapbook Distribution/Installation/Performance: A Total Workshop

Adriano Spatola, from Zeroglyphics

Adriano Spatola, from Zeroglyphics