Groundbreaking Poets and Traditional Forms
Learn about sonnets, sestinas, villanelles, and other standards of the established canon as they are revitalized by the most celebrated poets working today. As we read and write in various meters and forms, we will also explore United States history. Phillis Wheatley Peters' address to George Washington will teach us iambic pentameter, as Terrance Hayes' broken villanelle will describe the pre-Civil War raid on Harper's Ferry, and Emma Lazarus's sonnet in the voice of the Statue of Liberty will reveal American immigration policy. Split between discussions and workshops so we can practice the prosody we study, the course will move between early and contemporary events that shape American identity: Claire Kageyama-Ramakrishnan's terzanelle about Japanese internment camps, Yusef Komenyakaa's ghazal about the Ferguson protests, Patricia Smith's sestinas about Hurricane Katrina, and Reginald Dwayne Betts's sonnets about mass incarceration. We will research sources of these older forms, and look at how they influence newer ones like the bop, the Golden Shovel, and the duplex. Poets we will read in depth include: Gwendolyn Brooks, Natasha Trethewey, Natalie Diaz, Jericho Brown, Agha Shahid Ali, Shirley Geok-lin Lim, Marilyn Nelson, and June Jordan. Assignments will include occasional short essays and more playful exercises on how to follow--and break--the shifting rules of meter and form.