My workshops are animated by my belief that writing matters. I design courses with the goal of challenging students both intellectually and artistically. We read poems, stories, and essays with an interest in formal structure, conceptual creativity, and emotional urgency, and I encourage students to take themselves seriously as poets and thinkers — to cultivate not simply an passion for writing, but an enjoyment of it.
My introductory creative writing workshops are generative and driven by discovery. Assignments require both abstract and concrete thinking, and encourage the students to take risks and seek their own interpretative responses to the prompt. An assignment to write in traditional form, for example, is preceded not simply by listing the elements of the sonnet (rhyme-scheme, meter, etc.), but by first discussing “form” itself. I show images of formal dress and we discuss how, despite the variations in style and structure, even something as standard as a tuxedo can be compelling depending on how it is worn and in what context. From there, we turn to poems, first reading Petrarch and Shakespeare, before turning to cummings, David Wojahn, Kim Addonizio and Karen Volkman. The idea of convention animates the conversation, and students begin to see these strictures as opportunities and challenges rather than roadblocks. When I assign them a sonnet to write, they are not simply engaged in the creative invention of formal writing, but are consciously participating in an historical conversation.
Advanced workshops focus more on a writer developing and challenging his or her voice. In these classes, we look at full collections of poems to examine how a writer’s voice develops over a complete project. In an advanced workshop, we read collections like Robert Lowell’s Life Studies, Gwendolyn Brooks’ A Street in Bronzeville, Yusef Komunyakaa’s Dien Cai Dao, and Maggie Nelson’s Bluets, to discuss each writer’s persona, perspective, subtlety, and intentionality. At this level, I introduce more complex, theoretical readings such as Hart Crane’s essay, “General Aims and Theories,” or Lorca’s writings on duende, and encourage students to apply the concepts therein to their reading and even their own work. Advanced workshops emphasize revision as “re-envisioning” rather than simply line-editing or polishing a piece. I begin one exercise by distributing images of human figures in varying emotional states, then instruct students to recreate their own poems as though this figure was either the speaker or the intended audience. This requires a student to not only reconsider voice and perspective, but to re-discover the nerve center of his or her own work. Advanced students also produce self-reflective critical introductions for their final portfolios, discussing their respective aesthetics, motivations as writers, and literary lineages. Often this is the first time they’ve been asked to consider their own work seriously; the revelations that come are inspiring.