Syllabus: The Poem as a Built Environment


Course Description:

Using architecture as an analogy to writing, we will explore our own processes, design styles, and philosophies of making. Students will generate poems both in advance of workshop and during the residency days. These poems will build upon a theme or thematic network that you choose, in the spirit of architectural sketches or visual art line studies. We’ll use Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process to frame our workshop discussions, and each student will present a short talk on their influences. The class will culminate in a reflection letter and a selection of 10 pages of work which best reflect the your understanding of your design process and learning.

Required Book:

Kapil, Bhanu. Ban en Banlieue. Nightboat Books, 2015. ISBN: 978-1-937658-24-3

Other Materials Not Provided on this Site:

*Sketches of Frank Gehry, film available on streaming sites

*the first chapter of Robert Hass’s Little Book on Forms

*Miller Williams’s “Appendix B: Some Applications of Certain Devices of Structural Linguistics to Prosody” in Patterns of Poetry: An Encyclopedia of Forms

*Note: If buying multiple books produces a financial strain, you can consider a library card from your local university (UNReno’s card is $25 a year) or borrow the books through your public library using InterLibrary Loan (Reno’s libraries charge $3 per book for this service.)

Student Outcomes:

Upon successful completion of this course, students should be able to:

  1. Develop and manage longer-term writing projects through prototyping/iterative writing
  2. Use divergent thinking and creative problem-solving to envision new ways of engaging with poetic tradition
  3. Identify poetic building blocks in poems by others: line break choices, rhetorical devices, metrical and rhythmical patterns, contrapuntal and visual poems
  4. Articulate their own design-choices in writing and discuss the values that inform those choices
  5. Consciously revisit their concerns/themes across poems as a problem-solving effort
  6. Make connections between built environments and poems (in process and product)
  7. Use the online tools necessary for the delivery of instruction
  8. See their assessments of writing as coming out of their own traditions and lineages


  1. Architecture Workbook 10% (Outcomes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)

As you move through the prep work before the residency class begins, you’ll have rough brainstorms and exercises to complete. I’ve created a single document for you to collect your brainstorming and notes as you prepare for workshop.

The criteria for grading this assessment is completeness. Has the student turned in all the required work and does that work demonstrate an engagement with the learning goals of the class?

  1. Preparatory Poems 10% (Outcomes 1, 2, 5, 8)

These are the poems you write before the workshop begins. You’ll find writing prompts in almost every module. For each exercise, you’ll write for 30 minutes to an hour (minimum guideline).

The criteria for grading this assessment is completeness. Has the student turned in all the required work and does that work demonstrate an engagement with the learning goals of the class?

  1. Influences Talk 10% (Outcomes 3, 4, 7, 8)

As a part of your preparation before workshop begins, you’ll plan a five-minute presentation that discusses one specific examples of an influence on your work. You’ll want to make explicit connections between that example and your current body of work.

The criteria for grading this assessment is the ability to connect the influence to one’s own work. Are there specific examples and explanations made between the examples? (For example, I might read a prose poem by Rosmarie Waldrop and then talk about how the way she hinges sentences is an undercurrent in all my work, and then address why you don’t see it in “The Body’s Instinctive Hysteria.”) Does the presenter more or less stay within the five-minute time frame?

  1. Workshop 40% (Outcomes 1, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8)

This part of the assessment encompasses participation in the real-time classes more globally, but pays particular attention to the quality of attention you bring to the discussion of your peers’ work.

The criteria for grading this assessment is the quality of attention you bring to class: Is the student receptive to others work and open to the critical process (this doesn’t mean always accepting questions and suggestions while presenting, but it does mean generally being open to trying this new model.) Is the student participating in creating an inclusive, safe environment for all participants? Is the student engaging in discussion in ways that further and deepen the conversation?

  1. Final Portfolio 30% (Outcomes 1, 2, 4, 5, 8)

Your final portfolio will be a reflection letter thinking back on what you’ve learned in this course and in what ways you might continue the writing or thinking you’ve begun here. The reflection will be accompanied by 10 pages of poems that give evidence of the learning you detail in your letter.

The criteria for grading this assessment is the level of specificity in learning moments detailed in the reflection letter and they way those moments point toward specific events in class, or in the prep work, or in the attached poems as evidence of that learning. Is the student able to articulate some of the ways they’ve met the student outcomes? Can the student imagine how these outcomes might help inform (through positive or negative example) what they might do in future writing?