introduction to the course

Introduction

“Most people think an idea is a square. It’s not. An idea is a cube.”

-Terrance Hayes

We’re going to use the lens of architecture—or built environments—to think about art-making. I hope looking at another creative discipline will do a few things: first, help you adopt new methods of structuring your poems. Second, I hope it will challenge you to experiment with your writing process. Third, I hope you’ll begin to see poetry in the environment around you.

This workshop is designed for you to carry a single idea, or theme, or subject through every assignment. This is a workshop for iterative writing. Why? First, some of you may already be writing a fairly thematic series of poems. (Richard Hugo would argue that we’re always writing the same poem over and over again.) You might have a project in mind for your thesis, or you might notice that you follow the same set of obsessions in your work, and this workshop’s iterative method is one way of diversifying your approaches to the same subject. Second, even if you prefer to write manuscripts that are thematically wide-ranging, the practice of iterative writing can help you weave themes through the book to give it more cohesion. You’ll see an example of this from C.D. Wright in a moment. Third, I think of this iterative method of writing as a way of problem-solving. Perhaps you have a idea in mind for a poem or for a series of poems, but you don’t quite know how to write it yet. What do you do when you’ve got a hunch, or you’ve got a question, but you don’t yet have a clear vision of the poem or the book? How do you get from a hunch to a book? The divergent thinking in this class encourages you to approach your writing with “design thinking” rather than thinking about “drafting” in a writing sense. Instead of working on the same poem over and over, here you’ll be prototyping, or, to borrow a term from visual art, you’ll create multiple line studies or figure studies toward your eventual masterpiece. You can imagine your writing in this class as case studies toward future poems.

You and your work are the center of this class, so think of the instructions as suggestions you can adapt to fit what best works for you and your practice. For example, if you find that you can’t yet write the poem you’ve got in your head, you can also bring the problem to the class for workshop. In the spirit of interdisciplinary thinking, we’ll be using Liz Lerman’s workshop method. We’ll get into the details of this method in Module 8, but for now I’ll say that this method allows the artist to talk through their own process and values behind the artistic decisions, and you might rather bring something to the group that’s really raw, or that feels impossible, and ask the class to help you think through it. In the same way that there’s conceptual architecture, meaning plans and sketches for buildings that will never (or cannot) be made, you can bring a blueprint for a poem to the class and talk it out with us.

What you’ll find here are 8 modules; each begins with some reading and ends with some writing. You can go at your own pace, but in general, you should consider setting aside about 2 hours per module, that is, an hour for reading and an hour for writing. The work in the modules should be completed by the time we have our first real-time class in August. In module 7 you’ll be reading Bhanu Kapil’s book Ban en Banlieue, so I recommend you order it now. You can order it directly from the publisher or find it on Bookshop.org .