module 2

Module 2: Poetry Building Blocks


In this module you will:

  • identify your own ear’s tuning to metrical and rhythmic patterns
  • experiment with the complex possibilities in building a single-line in a poem (or a single-line poem)
  • identify some rhetorical figures in practice
  • play with rhetorical figures in your own writing


  • Read the introduction at the bottom of this page, and then read Robert Hass’s first chapter in A Little Book on Form: An Explanation into the Formal Imagination of Poetry. The line is our first poetry building block.
  • Preparatory Poems Assignment: Compose 8-10 single-line poems, experimenting with the techniques and effects Robert Hass lays out in his chapter on the single line, such as:
    • whether or not the line brings grammatical sense to completion
    • the three-part structure of the haiku with two images
    • your version of Ginsberg’s “American Sentences”
  • Preparatory Poems Assignment: Next, compose a short poem (or the first five lines of a longer poem) which uses a single-line stanza, what Robert Hass calls “one long breath, or pulse, sometimes of several sentences, followed by a pause.” Try to stay within the theme you’ve chosen for the class.
  • Read Miller Williams’s “Appendix B: Some Applications of Certain Devices of Structural Linguistics to Prosody” in Patterns of Poetry: An Encyclopedia of Forms. The takeaway I want you to get here is 1) that what’s happening in terms of rhythm in a poem is much more complicated than regular scansion lets on, and 2) one of the basic building blocks in writing poetry is sound.
  • Read the handout on rhetorical figures (bottom of page) and Anthony Anaxogorou’s “After the Formalities.”
  • Then complete the Architecture Workbook exercises for Module 2.
  • Preparatory Poems Assignment: Finally, re-read Anthony Anaxogorou’s “After the Formalities” and compose a poem using that inspiration. That is, try to compose with alternating stanzas: one that’s prose-like, or that’s found text, or that’s building on Robert Hass’s idea of a single-line stanza and a second that’s fragmented, narrative, and includes some rhetorical figures like epistrophe, epanalepsis, or polysyndeton. Hint: It may be easier for you to compose the two threads separately and then knit them together. Again, do your best to write toward or around your theme. This could take up to 40 minutes.


  • The architectural analogy in this module is pretty simple: in the same way an architect must understand the weight, heft, and flexibility of the materials they’re using to build, we writers must know the building blocks we’re using to construct our poems. There are many more ways to think about this than what we’ll cover in this module, but hopefully during class we can talk about what else we should add to this list: stresses, the line, and some rhetorical figures.
  • Anni Albers: “Civilization seems in general to estrange men from materials, from materials in their original form. The process of shaping these is so divided into separate steps that one person is rarely involved in the whole course of manufacture, often knowing only the finished product. But if we want to get from materials the sense of directness, the adventure of being close to the stuff the world is made of, we have to go back to the material itself, to its original state, and from there on partake in its stages of change.”
  • Anni Albers was a part of the Black Mountain College, a group of interdisciplinary artists who, having been a part of the Bauhaus school, fled Nazi Germany and settled in North Carolina. A show at the Black Mountain College describes their ethos as “Emerging in the aftermath of WWI and revolting against the consumerism of the Industrial Revolution, the Bauhaus was based upon the philosophy that good design, intentional design, the melding of function and art, can change the world.”
  • Josef Albers: “Every work of art is based on a thinking out of the material. Mexican plastics [i.e. sculptures] are done mainly in stone and clay.” Here he’s talking about pre-Columbian works, “But the respect the Mexican sculptor always had for his material never leaves us in doubt about his material. All the stonework is definitely stony, all clay work remains clay-like, every stone is obviously carved. Let us recognize again the great discipline of the Mexican sculptor. It teaches us: Be truthful with materials.”
  • Monica Youn: “I don’t think that I’m giving silence room to speak, I think that silence is giving me room to speak. You know if you’re a poet you’re always aware that the white space initially owned the page and you’re fighting against the white space and trying to make headway into it. Somebody who is not thinking about the line and not taking the line seriously will just be like, “Oh, a line is like a sentence, I’ll just splash it across the page.” If you were taking the line seriously, then you are treating it as a problem in engineering or architecture and you’re thinking, okay, if I’m starting with a vertical that is the left hand margin and I’m sort of cantilevering something out horizontally, the longer that line gets the more vulnerable it is to breakage, to bend, to sag of its own weight, to not be able to sustain its momentum until the end of the line. It’s easier to write a short, tight, well-constructed line. A long, well-constructed line is very difficult and few poets manage it well, one that really doesn’t have any weak points, one that should not necessarily be a shorter line, one that has enough energy to get it to the end of the line. I think taking that white space as if it is a gravitational field, as if it has real force, is the reason why we write in lines in the first place. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be writing in lines, we’d just be writing in blocks. The whole point of writing in lines to begin with is white space—that’s why we do it.”
  • Questions for you to consider in this module: What are the basic building blocks of your poems up to this point? What materials have you not experimented with yet but would like to?


During the discussion, we talked in the first hour about stresses and compared our answers to the numbering exercise for Anthony Anaxagorou’s poem. In the second hour we wrote (prompt below) and in the third hour we shared poems.


Option 1: Go back to your one-liners from the Architectural Workbook and see what you’d need to do to knit them into a single poem. Feel free to add or subtract anything.

Option 2: Take one of your single-line poems and try to expand it to a full page. (This is kind of like the inverse of the C.D. Wright detail exercise…)