Poetry Digital Lectures

  MIXING IT UP (Panel): Marianne Boruch, Karen Brennan, Jeremy Gavron, Robin Romm, Alan Shapiro, David Shields (January 2014)
MIXING IT UP (Panel): Marianne Boruch, Karen Brennan, Jeremy Gavron, Robin Romm, Alan Shapiro, David Shields (January 2014)
What prompts a poet to write fiction, or poets/fiction writers to undertake a memoir? Is the impulse toward “another genre” purely a formal choice, or is it made necessary by the material to be served? Are valuable lessons brought back to one’s “primary” genre? Or, will some of us spend our writing lives happily alternating among poems, novels, stories, essays, memoir and admixtures that defy taxonomy? Six faculty members report from own their experiences crossing the genre divide.
ADCOCK, BETTY: Imperfect Wonders: A Look at Some Poems by James Dickey (January 2004)
ADCOCK, BETTY: Imperfect Wonders: A Look at Some Poems by James Dickey (January 2004)
Betty Adcock explores themes of death, survival, and guilt in the work of James Dickey, tracing these themes to biographical circumstances but arguing, too, that the poems should be considered in their own right. Adcock focuses on poems Dickey wrote before 1967, including “The Driver,” “The Lifeguard,” “Scarred Girl,” “Chenille,” “Reincarnation 1,” and “A Screened Porch in the Country,” considering how the sense of the mystical in them is rooted in the immediate and real.
ADCOCK, BETTY: The Double Axe of Robinson Jeffers, With an Aside on Bucking Trends (January 2000)
ADCOCK, BETTY: The Double Axe of Robinson Jeffers, With an Aside on Bucking Trends (January 2000)
Robinson Jeffers was once considered among the best poets of his generation, yet became isolated by the literary world for his dark view of humanity and for his pacifism in the face of World War II. What can we learn from this iconoclastic and controversial poet? In this lecture, Betty Adcock examines Jeffers’ life, work, and complicated legacy, suggesting that ultimately he was a kind of prophetic messenger whose lasting influence can be found in the work of William Stafford, W.S. Merwin, Gary Snyder, and others.
ALESHIRE, JOAN:  Out of Extremity: Emotion and Conscience (July 1989)
ALESHIRE, JOAN: Out of Extremity: Emotion and Conscience (July 1989)
Joan Aleshire considers how literature addressing extremes of human experience must establish a balance between the personal and the universal, the inner and the outer world. Looking at poems by Bishop, Kunitz, Lowell, Mandelstam, Olds and others, she warns against glorifying or overdramatizing the pain which is a fundamental part of life. At the same time, she argues, with Kafka, that the well-made work of literature wields the power of an ax “to break the frozen sea within us” and deliver us to ourselves.
ALESHIRE, JOAN: Breaking Apart: Emotion versus Sentimentality (July 1995)
ALESHIRE, JOAN: Breaking Apart: Emotion versus Sentimentality (July 1995)
Richard Hugo’s often-quoted remark that a writer must “risk sentimentality” may lead us to believe that the line between sentimentality and genuine emotion is a fine one. Yet in this lecture, Joan Aleshire shows how the two are radically different, and arise from two distinct stances a writer can take toward her material. In order to arrive at true feeling, Aleshire suggests, we must be willing to let go of what we think we know; she looks at work by Shakespeare, Sappho, Keats, Dickinson, Alice Munro and others for examples.
ALESHIRE, JOAN: Larry Levis: The Perfection of Solitude (July 2000)
ALESHIRE, JOAN: Larry Levis: The Perfection of Solitude (July 2000)
Joan Aleshire examines two of Larry Levis’ long poems, “The Perfection of Solitude” and “Caravaggio, Swirl and Vortex,” focusing on the relationship between “The Perfection of Solitude” and jazz music. Like the music it invokes, Aleshire argues, this poem explores cultural mythologies about the United States, as well as the impulse toward solitude and its consequences; and like the music, she suggests, it doesn’t find a way out of the “wilderness” that pain can be, but does find “a voice for it.”
ALESHIRE, JOAN: Rilke's Duino Elegies (July 1996)
ALESHIRE, JOAN: Rilke's Duino Elegies (July 1996)
Rilke considered The Duino Elegies his greatest achievement, poet Joan Aleshire tells us, the “work he’d waited for all his life.” In this lecture, Aleshire examines how the Duino Elegies are made, at a craft level—how they work both individually and as part of the whole; she invites us, too, to regard the Elegies as a record of the poet’s larger vision, his attempt, as he put it to his Polish translator, to “stamp this provisional, perishing earth [into himself]…that its being may rise again, ‘invisibly,’” in his poems.
ALESHIRE, JOAN: The Miner’s Lamp (July 2001)
ALESHIRE, JOAN: The Miner’s Lamp (July 2001)
“We write to understand,” poet Joan Aleshire argues in this lecture, which examines the work of writers who use their writing as a kind of “miner’s lamp,” a way to go deeper into their subject matter and draw something unexpected out of it. Focusing in particular on the fiction of Henry James, Aleshire also considers work by Shakespeare, Rilke, Stanley Kunitz and Louise Glück, tracing how such genuine insight can arise from sustained, close attention to the material at hand.
ALESHIRE, JOAN: Whose Universe Is It, Anyway? (July 1997)
ALESHIRE, JOAN: Whose Universe Is It, Anyway? (July 1997)
Acknowledging the problems with modernism’s claims to universality, but suggesting, too, that an exclusive focus on otherness can lead us to see the other as alien, Joan Aleshire asks us to consider alternative ways of negotiating difference and common ground. Through close readings of a passage from Hamlet and of poems by Carolyn Farrell and Elizabeth Bishop, Aleshire suggests that close attention to particularity can yield a “crossroads,” in the world we all share, where one imagination can meet another.
ALI, AGHA SHAHID:  Defense of the Canon: A Darkly Defense of Dead White Males (January 1998)
ALI, AGHA SHAHID: Defense of the Canon: A Darkly Defense of Dead White Males (January 1998)
Agha Shahid Ali examines the difference between subject matter and form, asserting that “the more realized the form, the deeper the content.” He tests his principle in the context of the English Canon formed in India to serve the purposes of colonialism. Quoting the provocative claim that “One shelf of English literature is superior to all the art in the history of the world,” Ali offers an historical and political understanding of the standards set by English literature and the effect of these standards on writers today. Among the texts considered are Paul Celan’s “Death Fugue,” Wallace Stevens’ “Snow Man,” and essays by T.S. Eliot, Salman Rushdie, John Ashbery, V.S. Naipaul and others.
ALI, AGHA SHAHID: Cross Cultural Influences (January 1997)
ALI, AGHA SHAHID: Cross Cultural Influences (January 1997)
Agha Shahid Ali describes his experience translating the Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz; Faiz is relatively unknown in the West, Ali notes, despite his stature as one of the most significant poets of Pakistan, and the ways in which he balanced his revolutionary politics with his “often stringently classical aesthetics.” Ali turns to translations of another Urdu poet, Ghalib, to consider the difficulties and possibilities of translation, and shows, through close readings of Faiz, the ways in which Faiz transformed the ghazal form.
ALI, AGHA SHAHID: In Defense of the Canon, or, A Darkly Defense of Dead White Males (January 1998)
ALI, AGHA SHAHID: In Defense of the Canon, or, A Darkly Defense of Dead White Males (January 1998)
Poet Agha Shahid Ali traces the relationship of the English literary canon to the colonization of India: that colonial subjects were forced to internalize English literary standards was, Ali points out, a critical part of the colonial project. How, then, should we relate to the canon now? Ali draws on writing by Paul Celan, Wallace Stevens, Salman Rushdie, and Edward Said to consider this question, and to offer a “subversive endorsement” of canonized writers.
ALI, AGHA SHAHID: The Dramatic Monologue (January 1999)
ALI, AGHA SHAHID: The Dramatic Monologue (January 1999)
In this class, Agha Shahid Ali proposes the dramatic monologue as an alternative to the more conventional lyric poem; it provides, he argues, a way to speak out of the deepest parts of oneself by giving voice to an imagined character. Crucial to the dramatic monologue, Ali suggests, is its sense of theater—an other whom the speaker addresses, a scene in which that address occurs. Ali looks at poems by Browning, Arnold, Eliot, Plath and Merrill, and at a poem of his own, to explore the form’s challenges and possibilities.
ALLBERY, DEBRA: Learning to Read (January 2013)
ALLBERY, DEBRA: Learning to Read (January 2013)
“One cannot read a book,” Nabokov wrote, “one can only reread it.” Delivered as the opening talk of the January 2013 residency, this meditation on rereading explores how our ongoing and evolving relationships with signal texts mirror the development and re-vision of individual and cultural aesthetics.
ALLBERY, DEBRA: “Lives of the Artists”: Line, Landscape and the Poet’s Calling in the Work of Charles Wright (January 2000)
ALLBERY, DEBRA: “Lives of the Artists”: Line, Landscape and the Poet’s Calling in the Work of Charles Wright (January 2000)
Poet Debra Allbery examines Charles Wright’s work for its craft and for the ways in which it models a kind of poetic and spiritual vocation. Focusing on how visual artists such as Morandi and Cezanne, and Chinese landscape painters and poets such as Wang Wei, influenced Wright, Allbery argues that Wright’s poems show us how close attention to image and landscape can allow the poet, and the poem, to move beyond the restrictive bounds of the self and open a larger perspective.
ALLBERY, DEBRA: “My” Emily Dickinson (January 1996)
ALLBERY, DEBRA: “My” Emily Dickinson (January 1996)
Exploring how Emily Dickinson’s poetry can feel both intimate and unreachable, how it resists any single interpretation, Debra Allbery draws on Emily Dickinson’s correspondence and biography, and on contemporary poems that pay homage or “refract” her. Allbery then looks closely at Master Letters and at “My Life Had Stood a Loaded Gun,” offering a fresh reading of “master,” and showing how, through this amalgamation of readings over time, we get a sense of the lasting power and mystery of her work.
ANDREWS, TOM: Is Disinterestedness Possible? (January 2001)
ANDREWS, TOM: Is Disinterestedness Possible? (January 2001)
What do we lose when we only read those writers we love easily, passing over those we initially dislike? In this lecture, Tom Andrews looks at Eliot’s gradual appreciation of Hopkins and Yeats, and at his own experience with a Miroslav Holub poem he at first resisted, to argue for the benefit of reading “disinterestedly” or with “passionate detachment.” Such a reading, Andrews suggests, can over time enable “the self”—and the reader/writer—“to be changed and enlarged.”
ANDREWS, TOM: Via Negativa: Traveling in Contemporary Poetry (July 1997)
ANDREWS, TOM: Via Negativa: Traveling in Contemporary Poetry (July 1997)
In this lecture, Tom Andrews creates an imaginary symposium: four voices, each representing a different set of convictions in contemporary poetry, discuss books by Charles Wright, Jane Mead, Bill Knott, and Michael Palmer, and in doing so disclose the theoretical and political assumptions of their work. Andrews lets his imaginary voices argue, but leaves the argument unresolved; instead, he develops each position as fully as possible so we might better understand the terms of the argument, and what is at stake.
BAKER, DAVID: Daring, Drama, and Melodrama (July 2007)
BAKER, DAVID: Daring, Drama, and Melodrama (July 2007)
Writing teachers frequently urge students to “take a risk,” but what, asks David Baker, does taking a risk really mean? Through close readings of poems by Charles Wright, Carolyn Forché, Czeslaw Miłosz, Louise Glück, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Franz Wright, Linda Gregerson and others, Baker reflects on what makes a poem successfully daring as opposed to melodramatic; he argues that we substitute “drama” for “daring,” focusing on qualities of text rather than poet--the drama infused through narrative, rhetoric, and form.
BAKER, DAVID: Ecstasy and Irony (January 2001)
BAKER, DAVID: Ecstasy and Irony (January 2001)
David Baker considers the opposing rhetorical stances of ecstasy and irony in two famous lyric poems: James Wright’s “A Blessing” and Mark Strand’s “Eating Poetry.” While we might be inclined to think of these two stances as mutually exclusive, Baker shows how in each poem the dominant stance—whether ecstatic or ironic—works in productive tension with “its buried opposite,” suppressed and then released; it is this tension, he argues, that produces the dramatic “impurity,” and thus the power, of these poems.
BAKER, DAVID: The Figure of Grief (January 2004)
BAKER, DAVID: The Figure of Grief (January 2004)
Elegy, David Baker suggests, typically contains two figures—the grieving poet or speaker, and the beloved departed. What happens, then, when an elegy makes use of a kind of triangulation in which death too is figured, even praised? Baker examines how Walt Whitman’s “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed” and Emily Dickinson’s “Because I could not stop for Death” convey a kind of embrace of death, and, in doing so, transform and eroticize the elegiac form.
BAROT, RICK: Poems and the Impure (January 2006)
BAROT, RICK: Poems and the Impure (January 2006)
Neruda described the “poetry we are seeking” as “corroded as if by acid…a poetry as impure as a suit or a body.” In this lecture, Rick Barot examines the categories of the pure and impure in poetry, and reflects on how a poem might inhabit the “brilliant threshold between these two energies.” Drawing on examples by Petrarch, Susan Stewart, Marianne Moore and Campbell McGrath, Barot argues that it is precisely their thematic and formal “impurities” that make the best poems what they are.
BAROT, RICK: The First Herbert (January 2007)
BAROT, RICK: The First Herbert (January 2007)
Through close attention to the “ingenious formal strategies” in poems by George Herbert, Rick Barot argues both the importance and modernity of this early 17th century Metaphysical poet, showing how Herbert navigates the dialectic between faith and doubt through “intricate craft.” Barot reflects on how this dialectic runs “in the bloodstream” of poetry now, and looks at the ways in which Herbert’s lineage is apparent in contemporary poets from Louise Glück to Paul Tillick to Olena Kalytiak Davis.
BAROT, RICK: The Sea and the Zebra: Visual Effects in Poems (January 2011)
BAROT, RICK: The Sea and the Zebra: Visual Effects in Poems (January 2011)
Rick Barot explores the differences between description and image and examines the ways in which images in poetry are arranged, presented, or withheld. While description is often used to clarify, Barot points out that the most effective images rely on distortion. Through close readings of Philip Larkin’s “As Bad As a Mile,” Elaine Scarry’s “Dreaming by the Book”, Philip Larkin’s “As Bad as a Mile,” Robert Creeley’s “Something,” Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73, Robert Frost’s “Out, Out—,” Laura Jensen’s “As the Window Darkens,” C.K. Williams’ “Droplets” and others, Barot demonstrates how poets can manipulate images to communicate more than what mere description can.
BAROT, RICK: The Voice In Question (January 2012)
BAROT, RICK: The Voice In Question (January 2012)
How does a writer craft a voice which is able to compel a reader’s belief as well as surprise her? Investigating works as diverse as Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot,” Thomas McGuane’s “War and Peace,” and Adrienne Rich’s “The Trees,” Barot demonstrates the ways in which tone, conveyed through a poem’s syntax, diction, and formal elements, is crucial to creating a truly individualized voice rather than one of mere caricature.
BORUCH, MARIANNE: Decoys (July 1995)
BORUCH, MARIANNE: Decoys (July 1995)
Marianne Boruch draws on her experiences working at an albatross sanctuary in Hawaii to explore the idea of poems as decoys: like decoy albatross that freeze and exaggerate the features of the bird, drawing the real birds to safe nesting sites, poems can similarly use “decoys,” or imaginative, metaphorical means--suggestive images that protect by indirection what they call forth. Boruch explores both the pitfalls and powers of poetic decoys as she examines poems by Whitman, Eavan Boland, and Randall Jarrell.
BORUCH, MARIANNE: Heavy Lifting (January 2006)
BORUCH, MARIANNE: Heavy Lifting (January 2006)
“Let’s face it,” Marianne Boruch remarks, “a poem matters because it’s about eternal things: death, love, knowledge, time.” Using metaphors of lightness and weight, Boruch asks how poets can lift these heavy subjects and give them new life, how poems can manage “the problem of flying.” To consider this question, she turns to Leonardo Da Vinci’s journals, accounts of the Wright brothers, as well as poems by Adrien Stoutenburg, Robert Hayden, Philip Larkin, John Berryman, and Emily Dickinson.
BORUCH, MARIANNE: Is and Was (January 2007)
BORUCH, MARIANNE: Is and Was (January 2007)
If meaning, as George Oppen argued, is “the instant of meaning,” then, Marianne Boruch remarks, “that instant, that click, involves time.” It also, in our representation of it, involves verbs—a whole category of language that “we’ve invented to mime that click.” In this lecture, Boruch looks at poems by Eavan Boland, William Stafford, and Carl Phillips to consider how poems can manage shifts between the present and past tense as a way to open up into the “potentially infinite.”
BORUCH, MARIANNE: Line and Room (July 1996)
BORUCH, MARIANNE: Line and Room (July 1996)
Marianne Boruch examines the poetic line, seeking its source as a deeply private, embodied and mysterious phenomenon. Drawing on sources as diverse as biographical materials of Thomas Edison, the oeuvre of Roethke and Jorie Graham, and the theories of Charles Olson, Boruch explores the line, and the movement from one line to the next, as an enactment of thought unfolding, showing how the “deepest architecture” of our poems depends on the line, and on the “private room” out of which a line emerges.
BORUCH, MARIANNE: O'Connor and Bishop: Closely, at a Distance (July 2011)
BORUCH, MARIANNE: O'Connor and Bishop: Closely, at a Distance (July 2011)
Marianne Boruch examines tonal distance and imagistic precision in the work of two perhaps unlikely correspondents—Flannery O’Connor and Elizabeth Bishop. Drawing on O’Connor’s fiction, Bishop’s poetry, their visual art, and the letters they exchanged, Boruch explores the mutual influence and respect between the two writers.
BORUCH, MARIANNE: Plath's Bees (July 1990)
BORUCH, MARIANNE: Plath's Bees (July 1990)
Marianne Boruch traces the growth of Sylvia Plath’s bee sequence in Ariel from obsessive image to transcendent poetry. Using passages from early fiction as well as later letters and journal entries, Boruch shows us how Plath turned again and again to details of her actual experience of keeping a hive as she slowly developed her totemic image. Boruch argues that this lived experience of bee-keeping allowed Plath to ground her astonishing lyric sequence, “five poems written in one sleepless week,” in “the lucidity and vigor of narrative.”
BORUCH, MARIANNE: Poetry’s Over and Over (July 2000)
BORUCH, MARIANNE: Poetry’s Over and Over (July 2000)
Marianne Boruch draws on music and neuroscience to explore the different kinds of effects that repetition can have in poems—it serves, at times, as a voiced pause, a resting place; other times it creates a sense of increasing threat. Using jazz her base line, Boruch suggests the way repetition establishes a pattern from which crucial, expressive departures can occur; through a close reading of Bishop’s “One Art,” she shows how the relationship between repetition and variation gives this poem its power.
BORUCH, MARIANNE: The Cult of Development (January 2003)
BORUCH, MARIANNE: The Cult of Development (January 2003)
Questioning a contemporary assumption that writers must “transform themselves” over the course of their careers, Marianne Boruch asks what other kind of change artists might strive for. Boruch examines how the music of Brahms and the poems of Roethke, Hopkins, and Bishop changed—and didn’t—throughout their lives, proposing an alternative model of artistic development: rather than changing in a linear way, artists can delve more deeply into their given subjects, and in doing so become “more humane.”
BORUCH, MARIANNE: The Little Death of the Self (January 2010)
BORUCH, MARIANNE: The Little Death of the Self (January 2010)
Framed as a response to the contemporary impulse to “kill the ‘I’ in the poem,” Marianne Boruch’s lecture considers the possibilities of the lyric voice. What if, rather than narrowing the poem, the “I” opened it up to a wider perspective? Boruch looks at footage from the Hindenburg disaster and at poems by Perillo, Dickinson, Plath, Frost, Hopkins, and others to demonstrate ways in which the “I” can be both personal and more than personal.
BORUCH, MARIANNE: Three Blakes (January 2013)
BORUCH, MARIANNE: Three Blakes (January 2013)
To read Blake or to stare into his engravings and paintings is to be taken back to the source of what we do. Focusing on Songs of Innocence and Experience, Boruch’s lecture presents a triptych of Blakes, as she investigates his brilliant, quirky, often heroic way with image as artist and poet—as well as “the sound of it, song, in our time and his,” which she explores with the bravura accompaniment of William Bolcom’s settings of Blake’s work.
BORUCH, MARIANNE: Worlds Old and New (July 1997)
BORUCH, MARIANNE: Worlds Old and New (July 1997)
In this lecture, Marianne Boruch weaves together a consideration of Dvorak’s Symphony #9, also known as the New World Symphony, with reflections on Whitman’s poetry and life. Examining how in the work of each artist we can trace both a celebration of America and a “long abiding homesickness,” a loneliness and sorrow that provide a crucial counterbalance to that celebration, Boruch shows how both music and poetry can “still and darken,” even as they “give us the shining world.”
CALVOCORESSI, GABRIELLE: The Beams of Our House(s) Are Cedar(s): Erotic Specificity in the Song of Songs (July 2012)
CALVOCORESSI, GABRIELLE: The Beams of Our House(s) Are Cedar(s): Erotic Specificity in the Song of Songs (July 2012)
Gabrielle Calvocoressi leads a discussion on specificity in the Song of Songs, focusing on how use of detail creates narrative clarity and also deepens mystery. The class examines the language used to describe intense physical love and highlights the ways in which linguistic choices radically affect understanding of content.
CARSON, ANNE: Economy (July 1998)
CARSON, ANNE: Economy (July 1998)
In this lecture, poet and translator Anne Carson traces the concept of poetic economy to the early Greek poet Simonides, who was, Carson argues, economy’s first exponent; she then explores connections between Simonides and the modern Romanian poet Paul Celan who, she says, “took the principle to its logical extreme.” Exploring what both poets can teach us about the importance of using “as few words as possible,” Carson asks us to consider economy as both an aesthetic and ethical value.
DENNIS, CARL: Generosity (January 2002)
DENNIS, CARL: Generosity (January 2002)
What does it mean, Carl Dennis asks, for the speaker of a poem to be generous? And how might such generosity serve as an aesthetic as well as a moral virtue? Focusing on poems by Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, but turning, too, to work by Robert Lowell and Amy Gerstler, Dennis considers how generosity manifests at the level of craft, exploring its relationship to other elements of a poem such as irony, empathy, and narrative distance.
DENNIS, CARL: Mid-Course Corrections (January 1997)
DENNIS, CARL: Mid-Course Corrections (January 1997)
In this lecture on “poems that seem to change genre in mid-stream,” Carl Dennis explores how such changes reflect a shift that opens a poem up in unexpected directions. In close readings of Horace’s “Ode on Octavian’s Victory Over Cleopatra” and Lowell’s “For the Union Dead,” Dennis explores how these poems move between a more public mode and a more private, elegiac one; he closes with an investigation of Bishop’s “At the Fishhouses,” considering the power of this poem’s shift in perspective and vision.
DENNIS, CARL: Using Myth (January 2000)
DENNIS, CARL: Using Myth (January 2000)
How can we use myth to enlarge our poems? When does doing so run the risk of making the poem (or poet) seem overly self-important? And what strategies are available to poets to manage this risk? In this lecture, poet Carl Dennis looks at poems by Whitman, Yeats, Eliot, Jack Gilbert, Yehuda Amichai, Amy Gerstler and Linda Gregg to explore how poets can effectively use myths to deepen the resonance and reach of their poems.
DISCHELL, STUART: State of Alert (July 2006)
DISCHELL, STUART: State of Alert (July 2006)
Stuart Dischell weaves together autobiography and Parisian history in this lecture about the surrealist poet Robert Desnos, who participated in the French resistance to the Nazi occupation. Focusing on Desnos’ collection State of Alert, written during and in response to the occupation, Dischell offers a window into this crucial moment in French political and literary history.
DOBYNS, STEPHEN:  Aspects of the Lyric  (July 2016)
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: Aspects of the Lyric (July 2016)
What is the practice of the lyric? What is needed in form and content to make it successful? Stephen Dobyns’s lecture investigates the use and implementation of lyric elements in poetry by Apollinaire, Baudelaire, Whitman, Yeats, and Zbigniew Herbert and discusses how those elements give credibility to the emotion the writer is attempting to express.
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: A Sense of Space (January 2010)
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: A Sense of Space (January 2010)
Stephen Dobyns conducts close readings of the first paragraph of Henry James’ The Middle Years and William Butler Yeats’ poem “Her Praise” to examine how both writers create a sense of spaciousness in a small amount of text. Drawing on Yeats’ biography and on information about his writing process, Dobyns shows how James and Yeats use a range of craft strategies to imply the larger world.
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: Baudelaire (January 2012)
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: Baudelaire (January 2012)
Stephen Dobyns provides an introduction to the life, poetic project, and influence of Charles Baudelaire, often called the first modern poet. Drawing on biographical material as well as some of the poet’s essays, Dobyns offers close readings of poems from The Flowers of Evil, tracing in them an inherent tension between passionate love and the spiritual life, as well as early and influential gestures of Symbolism.
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: Context and Causality (January 2009)
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: Context and Causality (January 2009)
Stephen Dobyns examines how we read poems that rely on outside context, such as Berryman’s “Dream Song 18, A Strut for Roethke” and W.B. Yeats’ “Leda and the Swan.” Our reading of Berryman’s poem, for example, is shaped by knowledge of Roethke’s death and of the elegiac tradition. Arguing that such knowledge can help us understand the writer’s intention, Dobyns proposes ways in which the poet can establish context for the reader, regardless of the poem’s subject.
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: Economy, Intensity, and Ferocity: Poems by R.S. Thomas (July 2011)
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: Economy, Intensity, and Ferocity: Poems by R.S. Thomas (July 2011)
Stephen Dobyns investigates Welsh poet R.S. Thomas’s uses of elements of form, in particular sonic qualities, to create tension, energy and emotion within his poems. Drawing on work from throughout Thomas’ career, Dobyns examines how his methods changed over a fifty-year period.
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: Linebreaks (July 2008)
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: Linebreaks (July 2008)
In this lecture, Stephen Dobyns considers the function of linebreaks in metered and non-metered poetry, focusing on how they can be used to convey nuance. Drawing on poems by Walt Whitman, William Shakespeare, John Milton, Matthew Arnold, Emily Dickinson, William Blake, W.H. Auden, T.S. Eliot, James Wright and Louise Glück, Dobyns explores a variety of types of line breaks and examines how they work, in the context of each particular poem, to create rhythm and meaning.
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: Metaphysical Counterpoint (July 2005)
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: Metaphysical Counterpoint (July 2005)
Drawing on the musical idea of counterpoint, in which two melodies exist at the same time, Stephen Dobyns suggests that departures from prescribed forms create a kind of metaphysical counterpoint between an ideal and an actual world. Looking at examples by authors as diverse as Flaubert, Yuri Trifinov, Flannery O’Conner, T.S. Eliot, Zbigniew Herbert and Jane Kenyon, Dobyns suggests that these writers provide perspective on this counterpoint through strategic release of specific sensual details.
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: On Structure (January 1990)
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: On Structure (January 1990)
Offering close readings of Philip Larkin’s “The Explosion” and Lon Otto’s “A Very Short Story,” Stephen Dobyns argues that structure is both the means by which information is released and the information itself. He states that structure, whether in poetry or prose, represents the means by which formal elements (language, texture, pacing, and tone) may be imposed upon informal elements (action, emotion, setting and idea). In conclusion, Dobyns cautions that a work’s structure can only be determined when the writer has fully understood its purpose.
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: Poetic Closure (July 2009)
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: Poetic Closure (July 2009)
“Closure,” Stephen Dobyns remarks, “usually means putting something behind us.” But in a good poem, he argues, “it means something ahead.” Through close readings of poems by Billy Collins, Philip Larkin, Kay Ryan, W.S. Merwin, Charles Simic, Carol Ann Duffy and Miroslav Holub, Dobyns examines different types of poetic closure that, by suggesting other levels of meaning, can pull the reader back into the poem again.
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: Rimbaud (July 2012)
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: Rimbaud (July 2012)
Stephen Dobyns meditates on the nature and extent of Arthur Rimbaud’s influence on 20th century poetry. Examining Rimbaud’s biography, aesthetic theories, and poetry, Dobyns observes the genius and complexity of Rimbaud’s work and to this end offers a close reading of The Drunken Boat.
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: The Advent of the Romantic Lyric (January 2015)
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: The Advent of the Romantic Lyric (January 2015)
Beginning with Pope and the Enlightenment, this lecture traces how the modern lyric rose out of Romanticism, discussing early and continuing tropes and the nature of the lyric or affective element in form as well as content. Among the poems explored are works by Baudelaire, Lord Byron, Apollinaire, and Trakl.
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: The Poetic Development of James Wright (July 2013)
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: The Poetic Development of James Wright (July 2013)
The lecture looks at the change in James Wright's poetry from the formal verse of The Green Wall and Saint Judas through the free verse poetry of The Branch Will Not Break, focusing on Wrights' early years in Martins Ferry, Ohio, through his time in the army, Kenyon College and his year in Vienna on a Fulbright where he discovered the poetry of Georg Trakl, which showed him a path his own poetry could take and led a few years later with his friendship with Robert Bly. Biographical information is drawn from letters and six interviews with Wright.
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: The Syllable in Love and War (July 2004)
DOBYNS, STEPHEN: The Syllable in Love and War (July 2004)
A reader’s investment in a poem depends, Stephen Dobyns argues, “not just [on] the subject matter, but also the ordering of information,” including the ordering of individual syllables. Arguing that meaning and feeling can be conveyed at the level of the syllable through stress, duration, pitch and timbre, Dobyns explores how each of these sonic qualities are at work in poems by William Barnes, Philip Larkin, Thomas Wyatt, Janet Lewis, John Keats and Robert Lowell.
FORHAN, CHRIS: The Sense of Sound (July 2000)
FORHAN, CHRIS: The Sense of Sound (July 2000)
Inverting Frost’s phrase “the sound of sense,” Chris Forhan explores what he calls “the sense of sound,” or the meaning a poem’s music conveys. Through close readings of poems by Shakespeare, Blake, and Keats, and drawing, too, on prose about poetry by Shelley, Stevens, and Strand, Forhan examines how poems can use rhythm and other aspects of sound to produce tension between resolution and the delay of resolution, and, ultimately, shape solitude into song, finding a music for truths that are “unsayable.”
FORHAN, CHRIS: What Happens When I Say “I” (July 2002)
FORHAN, CHRIS: What Happens When I Say “I” (July 2002)
While poets in the U.S. have generally shown little reticence about placing the “I” at the center of a poem, Chris Forhan adds that contemporary poets have had an uneasy relationship with that “I,” an uncertainty about the self that can actually produce a more expansive and complicated first person voice. Forhan demonstrates this, along with the limitations and possibilities of the “I,” in work by Thoreau, Lowell, Williams, Simic, Carson and Ashbery, who grapple with what is both unknowable and universal in the self.
FORHAN. CHRIS: A Careful Disorderliness: Being Not Quite In Control of Your Poems (July 2001)
FORHAN. CHRIS: A Careful Disorderliness: Being Not Quite In Control of Your Poems (July 2001)
“It is often the hint of disorder in a poem,” Chris Forhan remarks, “that persuades me the poem is getting at the truth”; in this lecture, Forhan examines how that “hint of disorder” can convey complexity of meaning, accommodate uncertainty and what borders on the inexpressible. Focusing on two versions of Dickinson’s “Because I could not stop for death,” Forhan looks, too, at examples of “careful disorderliness” in poems by Hopkins, Berryman, Stevens and Franz Wright.
FREE! A 35th Anniversary Reading
FREE! A 35th Anniversary Reading
A compilation of readings by Larry Levis, Agha Shahid Ali, Tom Andrews, Renate Wood, and Steve Orlen. Note: this reading is free with any purchase. Simply add it to your cart along with your additional purchase(s).
FREE! A Thomas Lux Tribute (July 2017)
FREE! A Thomas Lux Tribute (July 2017)
Recorded at the July 2017 residency of the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. In honor of former faculty member Thomas Lux (1946-2017), who taught in the MFA Program for Writers from 1979 until 2006, Stephen Dobyns, Brooks Haxton, Heather McHugh, and Alan Shapiro read from Lux’s poetry and offer remembrances of their friend and colleague. Note: this reading is free with any purchase. Simply add it to your cart along with your additional purchase(s).
FRIED, DAISY:
FRIED, DAISY: "...ice/Is also great/And would Suffice": On Flatness (July 2015)
To allege flatness in a workshop is generally to level a criticism, but when is flatness an engine rather than an error? What’s exciting about lack of excitement? How is it achieved? Fried’s lecture draws upon poetry by William Carlos Williams, Robert Frost, Ai, Ross Gay, and others.
FRIED, DAISY: All My Pretty Hates (January 2013)
FRIED, DAISY: All My Pretty Hates (January 2013)
Looking at work by Frederick Seidel, Brenda Shaughnessy, and Charles Bernstein, among others, Fried’s lecture focuses on the importance of paying attention to, and learning from, poetic aversion. What can our strong reactions tell us about who we are, what our prejudices are made of, and what are the failings and successes in our own work? Ultimately, Fried’s talk is about the limits of taste, the importance of prejudice, and learning to learn from what rubs us all wrong.
FRIED, DAISY: Singing in the Dark (July 2017)
FRIED, DAISY: Singing in the Dark (July 2017)
Drawing from the poetry of Szymborska and Reginald Dwayne Betts, and the fiction of Colson Whitehead, among others, Fried considers the ways in which the visionary, the quotidian and the political might meet in poems and stories—and, in particular, the ways small bits of magic might help us represent reality in our work.
FRIED, DAISY: Why Burn: An Exhortation in Eight Proposals (July 2014)
FRIED, DAISY: Why Burn: An Exhortation in Eight Proposals (July 2014)
Jeers, rants, outbursts, abrasions, invective—Fried’s lecture investigates varieties and effects of “heat” in poems by Robert Bly, John Donne, Les Murray, and others, and in the fiction of Charles Dickens.
GIBBONS, REGINALD: How to use Hélène Cixous  (July 2005)
GIBBONS, REGINALD: How to use Hélène Cixous (July 2005)
Our habitual thinking and feeling, Reginald Gibbons suggests, lead us to follow familiar routes in our writing. How might we use Cixous’s ideas about writing to surprise ourselves and work against our own grain? Gibbons draws on a range of Hélène Cixous’ writing—and its connection to authors ranging from William Maxwell to Patrick White to Allen Ginsberg—to explore how playfulness, accessing the unconscious and writing to find the other hidden in ourselves, might deepen our writing, and our understanding of it.
GREGERSON, LINDA: Poetic Embodiment (January 2005)
GREGERSON, LINDA: Poetic Embodiment (January 2005)
“The body’s extraordinary intelligence is nowhere more legible,” Linda Gregerson argues, “than at those junctures where ordinary well-being is disrupted”; in this lecture, Gregerson looks at how poets have written about this disruption to powerful effect. Drawing on work by Michael Collier, Alan Shapiro, Louise Glück, Jorie Graham and Gerard Manley Hopkins, Gregerson considers how the “body-under-assault” can serve as an occasion for new encounters between consciousness and embodiment.
GREGERSON, LINDA: Rhetorical Contract in the Lyric (January 2001)
GREGERSON, LINDA: Rhetorical Contract in the Lyric (January 2001)
What poetry shares with public speech, Linda Gregerson argues, is the social premise that “underlies all linguistic practice”— the contract between speaker and audience. How can writers both deploy and complicate this rhetorical contract in a lyric poem? Gregerson conducts close readings of Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress,” Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116, Louise Bogan’s “Women” and William Meredith’s “The Illiterate” to show how these poems use rhetorical strategies to create layers of meaning and dramatic irony.
GROTZ, JENNIFER:  Ut Pictura Poesis  (July 2016)
GROTZ, JENNIFER: Ut Pictura Poesis (July 2016)
“Moi aussi je suis peintre,” once claimed Guillaume Apollinaire. Jennifer Grotz’s lecture explores how and why that statement might be true and considers the longstanding and varied relationship between poetry and painting. In investigating what poets might learn from looking at painting, focusing on works by Thom Gunn, Frank O’Hara, and Apollinaire, she concentrates on form, content, and, most of all, process.
GROTZ, JENNIFER:
GROTZ, JENNIFER: "An Anxiety of Influence" for Girls (January 2009)
In his 1973 book The Anxiety of Influence, Harold Bloom posits that the young poet must assume poetic authority through willfully misreading, and then overthrowing, a precursor poet. In this lecture, Jennifer Grotz meditates on what in Bloom’s theory is helpful and what is harmful for a young writer; she draws on essays by Bloom and Eliot, and on poems by Plath, Graham, Moore, Milton, Bishop, Milosz, and Merwin, to offer a different understanding of what poetic authority is and how one might obtain it.
GROTZ, JENNIFER: On Poetry and Boxing (July 2012)
GROTZ, JENNIFER: On Poetry and Boxing (July 2012)
Jennifer Grotz investigates the centuries-old fascination of poets and fiction writers for the sport of boxing. Drawing from John Keats’s and Joyce Carol Oates’s writings on the “sweet science of boxing,“ Grotz suggests that understanding elements of the sport may illuminate concerns of the writer; both endeavors, she says, require the workings of the imagination, or Keats’s “Fancy”, in their preparation and execution.
GROTZ, JENNIFER: The Pathetic Fallacy (January 2008)
GROTZ, JENNIFER: The Pathetic Fallacy (January 2008)
Jennifer Grotz examines the concept of the pathetic fallacy, a term coined by John Ruskin which Grotz defines as “an instance or an attitude where human pathos is attributed to an element of nature.” Grotz argues that, despite its potential pitfalls, the pathetic fallacy remains a crucial rhetorical figure in contemporary poetry; she draws on examples from Shakespeare, Spenser, Henri Cole, Tony Hoagland, Stanley Kunitz and Louise Glück to consider how it can be successfully and innovatively employed.
HAVAZELET, EHUD: A Stick in the Wheel: An Examination of Gimmickry (January 2002)
HAVAZELET, EHUD: A Stick in the Wheel: An Examination of Gimmickry (January 2002)
Originally hidden devices grifters used to control the prize wheel, gimmicks, suggests Ehud Havazelet, are analogous to the craft devices all writers use. But what is the distinction between “mere trickery” and effective craft? How can ‘gimmicks’ strengthen rather than cheapen our writing? Havazelet considers these and other questions through close readings of O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi,” Graham Greene’s “I Spy,” Ida Fink’s “The Key Game” and Alice Munro’s “Five Points.”
HAVAZELET, EHUD: Hero Worship: An Agnostic’s Notes (January 2001)
HAVAZELET, EHUD: Hero Worship: An Agnostic’s Notes (January 2001)
While the hero’s journey remains an important paradigm for fiction writers, our culture has many different and changing versions of heroes. In this lecture, Ehud Havazelet looks at a range of examples, from John Wayne to Oskar Schindler, and from Chekhov to Flannery O’Connor, to examine a variety of heroic modes, including the figure whose heroism is largely posturing and visible, and the hero whose heroism is private and less visible, and even the anti-hero who comes to heroism in unexpected ways.
HAXTON, BROOKS: Cliché (July 2007)
HAXTON, BROOKS: Cliché (July 2007)
In this informal lecture, Brooks Haxton asks what makes a cliché a cliché, and suggests that writers, while avoiding prefabricated speech, should seek the sources of cliché and reconsider our resistance to immediately conveyed thought. Through close readings of poems by Leyb Borovick, e.e. Cummings, Robert Burns, William Shakespeare, Walt Whitman, Paul Goodman and Philip Booth, Haxton considers how poets can present emotionally fraught material with unadorned directness, to powerful effect.
HAXTON, BROOKS: Creative Freedom and Expressive Urgency (July 1995)
HAXTON, BROOKS: Creative Freedom and Expressive Urgency (July 1995)
Brooks Haxton examines Tennessee Williams and Elizabeth Bishop as models of “creative freedom and expressive urgency,” clarifying the profound differences between the expressive and the creative. Haxton shows how in Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire and Bishop’s “Pink Dog” the two impulses create a crucial tension; in each work, Haxton argues, creativity and the imagination become the means through which these writers can transform and survive their early, damaging life experiences.
HAXTON, BROOKS: Else Lasker-Schüler (January 2007)
HAXTON, BROOKS: Else Lasker-Schüler (January 2007)
Brooks Haxton offers an introduction to the life and poetry of Else Lasker-Schüler, a German Jewish poet of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Exploring how Romanticism influenced Lasker-Schüler’s work, as well as how her poetry can be understood as stepping out of Romanticism into “the modern era,” Haxton locates Lasker-Schüler in her cultural and political context, discusses her vision, and offers new translations of a number of her poems.
HAXTON, BROOKS: Image and the Levels of Meaning (July 2012)
HAXTON, BROOKS: Image and the Levels of Meaning (July 2012)
Brooks Haxton considers the image as a vehicle of meaning as he traces the influence of early 20th century translations of Chinese and Japanese work on Western writers and readers. Haxton also draws upon the King James Bible and Imagist poets, including Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams and D.H. Lawrence, to explore potential allegorical, moral, and mystical aspects of an image’s meaning.
HAXTON, BROOKS: Schrödinger's Cat (July 2006)
HAXTON, BROOKS: Schrödinger's Cat (July 2006)
Brooks Haxton draws on the Schrödinger Cat thought experiment, Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Bach’s cello Suites, Victor Hugo’s “The Graveyard at Villequier,” and a range of work by Louis Armstrong and Emily Dickinson to advocate a particular kind of poetic judgment. Like the scientist who opens the box to determine whether the cat is dead or alive, Haxton suggests, a reader should come to a piece of work—including work that may be out of fashion—with a willingness to see what is really there.
HOAGLAND, TONY: Altitudes and Rhetoric (January 1997)
HOAGLAND, TONY: Altitudes and Rhetoric (January 1997)
“Let us say,” Tony Hoagland proposes, “poems come from different parts of the body.” Outlining a set of poetic chakras, Hoagland suggests that diction—which he argues comes from personality and mind—and image—which he argues comes from the unconscious—combine to produce that elusive aspect of a poem, its rhetoric; he looks at poems by Olds, Stern, Kinnell, Hayden, Stevens, Ruefle, Ashbery, Hall and Glück for examples of how rhetoric can achieve poetic “altitude” with its expansive view.
HOAGLAND, TONY: Disproportion: Excess in Poetry (January 1993)
HOAGLAND, TONY: Disproportion: Excess in Poetry (January 1993)
Tony Hoagland identifies and champions poetry which belongs neither to the camp of the well-made and conservative nor to the zany and subversive. He describes how this third type, often excessive and highly dramatic, may not know exactly “what it is,” but can praise and reflect the objective world while at the same time asserting the supremacy of the imagination. Looking at poems by Tess Gallagher, Horace, Susan Mitchell, Wallace Stevens and W.C. Williams, Hoagland argues that much can be gained from studying a poem which absolves its writer from the need “to perfect.”
HOAGLAND, TONY: Idiom, Our Funny Valentine (July 2010)
HOAGLAND, TONY: Idiom, Our Funny Valentine (July 2010)
Idiom, like vernacular and slang, can establish shared knowledge and thus intimacy with the reader. But when, Tony Hoagland asks, does the use of idiom “dumb things down”? Hoagland looks at examples from Yehuda Amichai, Ben Lerner, John Ashbery, and Heather McHugh to consider the benefits—and liabilities—of using idiom in poems.
HOAGLAND, TONY: Information, Layering, and the Composite Poem (July 2013)
HOAGLAND, TONY: Information, Layering, and the Composite Poem (July 2013)
Tony Hoagland describes the formal strategy of the "composite poem," a poem that alloys and amalgamates bits and bytes of the objective and the subjective worlds into a loose kind of composition. The composite poem is a speculative form that does not explain or over-mediate the connections between its parts -- it has a modernist heterogeneous kind of "dissheveledness" about the way it presents reality. Nonetheless, the composite poem must have a kind of internal rigorousness; it seeks to harmonically arrange its many tones and samplings, to organize it into a credible, believably disorganized yet persuasive form. Examples of the composite form are drawn from the work of Robert Hass, Spencer Reece, Anne Carson, and most especially Tomas Transtromer.
HOAGLAND, TONY: Obsession, The Creative Wound, and the Deployment of Talent (July 2000)
HOAGLAND, TONY: Obsession, The Creative Wound, and the Deployment of Talent (July 2000)
Poets, too, are subject to the American commandment to “change, change, change,” Tony Hoagland notes. Yet we are also limited by “the relatively fixed facts of self and talent.” Looking at the work of three he calls “especially chameleon poets”—Robert Hass, Louise Glück, and Robert Pinsky—he considers how they “figure and reconfigure [their] passionate intelligence” over the arcs of their careers, and finds, in the ways they change and don’t change, lessons for how writers can think about genuine artistic growth.
HOAGLAND, TONY: Structure: Housing and Transmission (July 2011)
HOAGLAND, TONY: Structure: Housing and Transmission (July 2011)
Comparing a poem to an automotive engine, Tony Hoagland argues that poems stay alive on the page by shifting gears; at such moments, Hoagland suggests, a poem can be enlarged or intensified within a single sentence. Through close readings of work by Jean Follain, Philip Larkin, Eavan Boland, Joseph Millar, and Anne Carson, Hoagland examines the organizational strategies that make such “gear-shifts” possible.
JARMAN, MARK: To Make the Final Unity: Metaphor's Matter and Spirit (January 2006)
JARMAN, MARK: To Make the Final Unity: Metaphor's Matter and Spirit (January 2006)
Mark Jarman reflects on the “religious aspects” of metaphor, suggesting that metaphors can invoke a kind of original unity. Jarman also suggests, drawing on Frost’s idea of “the greatest attempt that ever failed,” that these metaphors, and that imagined unity, must necessarily break down. He looks at Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach” W.S. Merwin’s “The Present,” Philip Levine’s “Let Me Begin Again” and Chase Twitchell’s “The Myths” to show what metaphors can reveal when they break down in a dynamic way.
JONES, RODNEY: Overriding the Autobiographical First-Person Default: Writing Poetry in Fictional Points-of-View (July 2015)
JONES, RODNEY: Overriding the Autobiographical First-Person Default: Writing Poetry in Fictional Points-of-View (July 2015)
Jones’ lecture discusses the difficulties and advantages of overriding the first-person point of view in poetry, looking at Anne Carson’s “The Glass Essay,” Ellen Bryant Voigt’s Kyrie, Michael Ondaajte’s The Collected Works of Billy the Kid, as well as works by Karen Solie and Larry Levis.
JONES, RODNEY: Poetic Language and Credibility:  The Poem that Does Not Seem to be a Poem (January 2012)
JONES, RODNEY: Poetic Language and Credibility: The Poem that Does Not Seem to be a Poem (January 2012)
Arguing that the best poems seem “but a moment’s thought,” Jones investigates how poets establish credibility through both consciously wrought technique and natural evocation of character. Readers want to sense that the voice in a poem is that of a real human being in an ordinary life; Jones examines how poets as dissimilar as Frank Bidart, Robert Creeley, Louise Gluck, Charles Wright, and James Wright work to integrate character and artifice.
JORDAN, A. VAN: The Suspension of Disbelief (July 2012)
JORDAN, A. VAN: The Suspension of Disbelief (July 2012)
In this lecture, A. Van Jordan meditates on Coleridge’s notion of the “willing suspension of disbelief” as it applies to modern poetry, prose narrative, and film. Jordan discusses the concept of poetic faith and the implicit contract between poet and reader requiring that a poem move toward a satisfying ending. By means of close readings of Martha Collins’ Blue Front, Laura Kasischke’s “Stolen Shoes,” and Natasha Trethewey’s Native Guard, Jordan considers some successful conclusions.
KASISCHKE, LAURA: Stepping Into the Poem (July 2000)
KASISCHKE, LAURA: Stepping Into the Poem (July 2000)
“Poems of a certain type,” Laura Kasischke argues, open what seems an actual space, but that space becomes one in which are fused “reality and dream, life and death, logic and illogic.” How are such poems made? Kasischke weaves together readings of poems by James Dickey and Louis MacNeice, the ballad “Maiden in the Moor Lay,” criticism by Colin Wilson, and a movie poster for Fellini’s Satyricon to consider how a focus on the particular can facilitate the creation of a work of art that transcends context.
KASISCHKE, LAURA: The End: A Lecture (July 2004)
KASISCHKE, LAURA: The End: A Lecture (July 2004)
Though as a culture we place a great deal of value on the idea of closure, many of our most important experiences, Laura Kasischke argues, don’t have it; instead, they “linger, fester, [or] echo.” Referencing Barbara Herrnstein Smith’s book Poetic Closure, Kasischke conducts close readings of poems by Robert Browning, Philip Larkin and W.H. Auden to explore different kinds of endings and how writers can allow their endings to continue to resonate—and perhaps, in a sense, not end at all.
KASISCHKE, LAURA: What Doesn’t Kill You (July 2003)
KASISCHKE, LAURA: What Doesn’t Kill You (July 2003)
No writer really knows where the “source of power” necessary to write a story or a novel comes from, Laura Kasischke notes, yet we all need it and fear losing it. Kasischke looks at the sometimes superstitious lengths to which writers have gone to try to invite this power, focusing on the lives and work of Balzac and Stephen Crane, while also showing the creative tension between the world of their experience and that of their imagination.
LEADER, MARY: Sestinas & Other Chances (July 2012)
LEADER, MARY: Sestinas & Other Chances (July 2012)
Through an examination of the sestina, Mary Leader’s class investigates the relationship between form and content in poetry. Focusing on poems by Elizabeth Bishop, Frank Bidart, Ezra Pound, and others, Leader meditates on themes which the sestina is particularly well-suited to suggest or to render.
LEVIN, DANA: Who is Who: Pronouns, Gender, and Merging Selves (January 2016)
LEVIN, DANA: Who is Who: Pronouns, Gender, and Merging Selves (January 2016)
Dana Levin’s investigation of the history of the third-person singular pronoun takes its spark from the work of trans poet Stacey Waite. In exploring how Waite gets around English’s pronounial either/or (he or she) through a trick of syntax, Levin’s lecture also discusses the sexism embedded in grammar rules, the multiple nature of the self, the mystic properties of naming, and the relationship between body and identity.
LEVIS, LARRY: On Elegy:  Seamus Heaney’s “Station Island”  (January 1994)
LEVIS, LARRY: On Elegy: Seamus Heaney’s “Station Island” (January 1994)
Through a close reading of Seamus Heaney’s “Station Island,” the late Larry Levis reflects on the challenge which the elegaic form presents to a writer. Levis believes the dual purpose of the elegy-- to remember and to inter the dead-- can involve a poet, ambivalent about forsaking the beloved to seek a new object of affection, in an ethical dilemma. Levis looks at the effect of this complexity on Heaney’s poem and concludes that what matters in poetry, as in life, is passion.
LIM, SANDRA: Personal Poetry (January 2017)
LIM, SANDRA: Personal Poetry (January 2017)
Sandra Lim's discussion class looks closely at poems by writers who have developed imaginative strategies for representing the self without falling easily into autobiographical modes or philosophical knowingness, or into forms where disjunction or abstraction are ends in themselves. Works discussed include poems by Wallace Stevens, Robert Lowell, Marilyn Chin, and John Yau.
LONGENBACH, JAMES: Image, Figure, Sound (January 2016)
LONGENBACH, JAMES: Image, Figure, Sound (January 2016)
Poems and novels are made of words: why have we become accustomed to saying that poems contain images or are constructed out of images? Like what we call a voice, what we call an image is a second-order craft element, one that is constructed out of the more primary linguistic materials of diction, metaphor, rhythm, and syntax. Drawing upon work by Shakespeare, Pound, Susan Howe, and others, Longenbach explores how our vocabulary of image uses visual language to account for a linguistic effect.
LONGENBACH, JAMES: James Joyce: An Odyssey of Style (January 2012)
LONGENBACH, JAMES: James Joyce: An Odyssey of Style (January 2012)
“All of writing is stylistic extravagance,” asserts poet James Longenbach, “no matter how simple it may initially appear.” In his introduction to Joyce’s Ulysses, Longenbach identifies Joyce’s shift from direct realism to “linguistic extravagance” over the course of eighteen episodes. Through close readings of key passages, Longenbach explores the novel’s stylistic nature, asking: What makes us who we are, the DNA passed on to us or the language that encases us? Does character determine style, as is suggested by the earlier episodes, or, as the later episodes indicate, does style determine character?
LONGENBACH, JAMES: Poetic Amplitude (January 2009)
LONGENBACH, JAMES: Poetic Amplitude (January 2009)
How do great works of verbal art incorporate language that might seem, in another context, to violate any familiar prescription for what makes writing good? In this lecture, James Longenbach examines how writers can use moments of flat or enervated language to thrilling, amplifying effect; he looks, for examples, at three of Shakespeare’s plays and at poems by Bishop, Eliot, Moore, Ashbery, Bidart, and Glück.
LONGENBACH, JAMES: Purity, Stillness, Restraint (July 2005)
LONGENBACH, JAMES: Purity, Stillness, Restraint (July 2005)
“More than lack of ambition,” James Longenbach remarks, it is “the inability to surrender to our characteristic callings and rhythms that keeps us from fulfilling our promise.” But what does this surrender look like? Longenbach explores one of its forms by looking at poems that strategically restrain their diction; this restraint, he argues, as it comes of the writer’s submission to what is truest in herself, suggests something unsaid beyond itself. For examples, he draws on work by Pound, Yeats, Blake, Marvell and Oppen.
LONGENBACH, JAMES: The Construction of Voice (July 2015)
LONGENBACH, JAMES: The Construction of Voice (July 2015)
To speak of a poem’s or a story’s “voice” is to use a metaphor; poems really don’t have voices. Longenbach’s lecture examines, in works by John Donne, D. H. Lawrence, and others, the precise linguistic strategies that give sentences the illusion of a speaking voice.
LONGENBACH, JAMES: The End of the Line (January 2002)
LONGENBACH, JAMES: The End of the Line (January 2002)
James Longenbach examines the different ways in which poets have used line (and, more particularly, the end of the line) to “annotate” the syntax of a poem. How can strategic line endings determine a reader’s experience of a poem’s temporal unfolding, as well as of its tone and meaning? Longenbach looks at examples of metered lines (Milton, Frost), syllabic lines (Moore), and modernist free verse lines (Pound, Stevens, Williams, H.D.) as well as more contemporary examples by Ashbery and Bidart.
LONGENBACH, JAMES: The Excess of Poetry (July 2010)
LONGENBACH, JAMES: The Excess of Poetry (July 2010)
James Longenbach argues that excess is crucial to art, even to art that does not seem obviously excessive. Drawing on Keats’ idea of “fine excess,” Longenbach shows how Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale,” Pound’s Canto 74, and Dickinson’s “The vastest earthly Day” embody the tension between limit and excess, and enact the wish to exceed their own restraints.
LONGENBACH, JAMES: The Sound of Shakespeare Thinking (January 2010)
LONGENBACH, JAMES: The Sound of Shakespeare Thinking (January 2010)
James Longenbach examines how writers have represented the process of meditative thinking, as opposed to “finished thought.” Tracing this kind of representation to Shakespeare, in whose plays the “sound” of characters thinking is used to great dramatic effect, Longenbach draws, too, on contemporary examples from Virginia Woolf and Louise Glück.
LONGENBACH, JAMES: The Spokenness of Poetry (July 2003)
LONGENBACH, JAMES: The Spokenness of Poetry (July 2003)
What we call “voice” in poems is intrinsically dialogical, James Longenbach argues: “Implicit in those very poems that encourage us to think of them as having a voice is the critique of the idea of a singular, unified voice,” yet no matter how overtly “fragmented” the language in a poem may be, no poem can avoid the impression of a unified utterance. Longenbach explores this dialogical voice—this concurrent “speaking” and “shattering”—in work by Hart Crane, Robert Browning, James Joyce and Louise Glück.
LONGENBACH, JAMES: Tone Poems (July 2009)
LONGENBACH, JAMES: Tone Poems (July 2009)
James Longenbach considers how poetic series that are not governed by narrative or syntactical cohesion can still make convincing wholes. Through close readings of Pound’s “Villanelle, the Psychological Hour,” Eliot’s The Wasteland, and Susan Howe’s “Silence Wager Stories,” he shows how each of these poems uses tone to guide the reader through its disparate and open-ended sections.
MANNING, MAURICE: Defending Poetry (January 2006)
MANNING, MAURICE: Defending Poetry (January 2006)
What is poetry? What does someone mean when she calls herself a poet? Implicit in these familiar questions, Maurice Manning suggests, is a suspicion of poetry, and he asks why poetry must be defended again and again. Manning draws on writing by Sidney, Milton, Keats, Rilke, William Carlos Williams, and August Kleinzahler to consider ways poetry has been defined and defended, and, offering his own defense, invites us to bathe in Keats’s “drainless shower of light.”
MANNING, MAURICE: Fat Man's Misery, or, The Mind of the Poem (January 2014)
MANNING, MAURICE: Fat Man's Misery, or, The Mind of the Poem (January 2014)
Centering on Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” as well as other works, this lecture examines how “gaps”— what is not explicitly stated in a poem or a story—can have a profound impact on the reader’s experience, allowing him or her room to wonder and wander off the page into the mind of the work.
MANNING, MAURICE: Hear Lies Andrew Baker: An Epitome on Figures of Speech (July 2015)
MANNING, MAURICE: Hear Lies Andrew Baker: An Epitome on Figures of Speech (July 2015)
Drawing upon poetry by Emily Dickinson, Philip Larkin, Edward Thomas, and others, Manning’s lecture identifies and discusses a wide range of figures of speech and demonstrates how they transform the basic materials of a poem, providing structure for poetic thought.
MANNING, MAURICE: Lyricism, Landscape, and the Inner Voice (January 2010)
MANNING, MAURICE: Lyricism, Landscape, and the Inner Voice (January 2010)
In this lecture, Maurice Manning explores the relationship of place to the constitution of a poetic self; the individual imagination, he argues, comes from the larger creativity of the natural world. Manning looks at poems by Pope, Coleridge, Dylan Thomas and Robert Penn Warren to consider how these poets return to, and re-imagine, the places that produced them.
MANNING, MAURICE: Nature and the Possibility of a Moral Imagination (July 2014)
MANNING, MAURICE: Nature and the Possibility of a Moral Imagination (July 2014)
What does Nature have to teach us in 21st century, and how can Nature instruct human imagination? Can our deep intimacy with Nature make us better artists? Manning’s lecture seeks answers through a discussion of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the work of and the correspondence between Robert Frost and Edward Thomas.
MANNING, MAURICE: Place and the Composition of Poetic Self (January 2011)
MANNING, MAURICE: Place and the Composition of Poetic Self (January 2011)
In this lecture Manning examines the generative role a specific geography plays in composing a sense of poetic self. Through a study of the ways in which Coleridge’s “Reflections on Having Left a Place of Retirement," Dylan Thomas's "Fern Hill," and Robert Penn Warren's "The Ballad of Billie Potts” render place on the page, Manning explores how these poets use tone, syntax, and form to simultaneously render self.
MANNING, MAURICE: The Burning Boy and the Goose Girl (July 2017)
MANNING, MAURICE: The Burning Boy and the Goose Girl (July 2017)
In this examination of how poetic creation parallels the “creative economy” of Nature, Manning illustrates how both are efficient and self-sustaining, and yet both anticipate and provide for subsequent creativity. Examples from Felicia Hemans, Bishop, Hopkins, Heaney, Hardy, and others show how one work of art leads to another—often many years later and in surprising contexts.
MANNING, MAURICE: The Uses of Nostalgia (January 2012)
MANNING, MAURICE: The Uses of Nostalgia (January 2012)
Poet Maurice Manning questions whether the idea of nostalgia might offer a powerful perspective, rather than an aesthetic shortcoming. Wordsworth’s “Prelude” suggests that nostalgic moments are not “sentimental” but are a means of recognizing the wellspring of a speaker’s poetic vision. Using Emerson’s essay “Nature” as a guide, Manning considers the idea of nostalgia in Frost’s “Going for Water,” and Vachel Lindsay’s “Nancy Hanks, Mother of Abraham Lincoln.”
McHUGH, HEATHER:  Sad Souls and Oddballs (July 2016)
McHUGH, HEATHER: Sad Souls and Oddballs (July 2016)
Heather McHugh’s lecture orbits and elucidates ecstatics, melancholics, minders of immensity, auditors of taxonomy, whisperers and wits—poets writing “at the edge of acceptability”—from Smart to Knott.
McHUGH, HEATHER: Ars Poetica (July 2007)
McHUGH, HEATHER: Ars Poetica (July 2007)
Heather McHugh reflects on how the Ars Poetica is both a poetic and critical device. “I wanted Ars Poetica to heal a wound,” she says, “because when two contraries are suggested in a single gesture one might come back …into some restorative sense of the actual universe.” While drawing on examples by Archibald MacLeish, Pinsky, Dickinson, Valery, Celan, and others, McHugh devotes the majority of her attention to poems by Wallace Stevens, considering how these poems can both “mean” and “be.”
McHUGH, HEATHER: Composition as Conversation (July 2013)
McHUGH, HEATHER: Composition as Conversation (July 2013)
Heather McHugh does some etymological turns on the turns of verse—coming out in conversation with company and solitude, the controversial and the universal, the convertible and the converse. As always, her eye is on ambiguous and polyguous constructions of poetry; this time she reads poems by Rainer Maria Rilke, Alan Dugan, Frederick Seidel, Shirley Kaufman, and others.
McHUGH, HEATHER: Matters of Letters (January 2008)
McHUGH, HEATHER: Matters of Letters (January 2008)
It is generally presumed that a metaphorical impulse lies at the heart of the poetic, Heather McHugh notes. In this lecture, she concentrates instead on what she calls the “literary literal,” and with “myopic glee and lapidary precision” examines the shapes and patterns of letters and text in Matthea Harvey’s “Everything Must Go,” Alan Dugan’s “Poem,” and William Meredith’s “The Illiterate.”
McHUGH, HEATHER: Nakedness in Numbers (July 1998)
McHUGH, HEATHER: Nakedness in Numbers (July 1998)
In this lecture, Heather McHugh examines the intersections of nakedness and numbers in “a single curve in English poetry from Wyatt to Rochester.” Subverting our usual sense of the naked vs. the veiled, McHugh argues their identity as she explores the revelatory “covers” of measure in poems by Robert Herrick, John Donne, Sir Thomas Wyatt, and the Earl of Rochester, as they exemplify “that age’s peculiar capacity to marry the prurient with the precise, the salacious with the fastidious.”
McHUGH, HEATHER: One Moment Now: Wordsworthian Swoop and Swoon (July 2001)
McHUGH, HEATHER: One Moment Now: Wordsworthian Swoop and Swoon (July 2001)
While noting that Wordsworth might be the “source of a set of habits” in poetry that have to do with “subordination of fact to feeling…exactitude to exaltitude,” Heather McHugh counters her own skepticism about Wordsworth in this lecture through close readings of several of his poems; she shows how he conveys multiple meanings of the present moment: passage within presence; how, rather than dividing the momentary and the permanent, he manages to see and convey one in the other.
McHUGH, HEATHER: Tell Me True: Mirrors and Misgivings (July 2000)
McHUGH, HEATHER: Tell Me True: Mirrors and Misgivings (July 2000)
Heather McHugh interrogates the idea that art is mimetic, a mirror of the world. Beginning with the Platonic hierarchy but surveying, too, philosophy from Richard Rorty to Derrida, McHugh shows that the idea of art as a mirror has become accepted convention. But poetry also “seeks the immeasurable,” she says, and shows, through close readings of poems by Louise Bogan, Robert Graves, Elizabeth Bishop, and Yeats how poems can create multiple readings, and “break out of the mirror’s stronghold.”
McHUGH, HEATHER: The Garden Path: Poems by Gaspara Stampa and Su Tung P'o (July 2011)
McHUGH, HEATHER: The Garden Path: Poems by Gaspara Stampa and Su Tung P'o (July 2011)
In this lecture, Heather McHugh examines the work of two largely unknown poets, Gaspara Stampa and Su Tung P’o. McHugh conducts close readings of a range of poems by both writers and considers the ghost meanings, or multiple meanings, of the words in the poems; she suggests that this multiplicity allows the poems to work like “garden paths,” taking readers in unexpected directions.
McHUGH, HEATHER: The Object of Art (July 2017)
McHUGH, HEATHER: The Object of Art (July 2017)
Is the object of art distinguishable from the subject of art?. How literal is the literary? What "things" can be put "in words"? McHugh “holds forth only transitively, via few perusings & ample examples” from Bill Knott, Les Murray, and others.
McHUGH, HEATHER: The Other’s Mine (July 1997)
McHUGH, HEATHER: The Other’s Mine (July 1997)
Heather McHugh’s dazzle of language plays its light on how numbers can work in poetry as a way to reflect on larger questions of the relationship between criticism and creative art--the “measurer’s intelligence” vs. “the poet’s flare and flame.” Arguing that our internal poets and internal critics actually need each other, McHugh conducts close readings of poems by Robert Creeley, Emily Dickinson, John Donne, and Shakespeare to show how, in poetry, “the art of numbers is the prompting of a numberlessness.” McIlvoy, Kevin: Truth Be Told (July 1997)
McHUGH, HEATHER: The Stuff of Language as Packed by Wallace Stevens (July 2009)
McHUGH, HEATHER: The Stuff of Language as Packed by Wallace Stevens (July 2009)
Heather McHugh reflects on the metaphor of a poem as a container, and on the ways such a vehicle can convey something larger than itself. Drawing on prose by Wittgenstein and on poems by William Dickey and Rilke, McHugh devotes the majority of her lecture to Wallace Stevens; she explores how poems such as “Poetry is a Destructive Force,” “Jumbo,” “Imago,” and “The Immense Dew of Florida” are designed to be exceeded by what they contain.
McHUGH, HEATHER: The Unwary Angel: Inquiry and Empathy (July 2014)
McHUGH, HEATHER: The Unwary Angel: Inquiry and Empathy (July 2014)
“The role of art,” says faculty member Heather McHugh, “is to remind a mind that thinks it has made itself up.” Mc Hugh’s lecture takes on inquiry and empathy—and inquiry as empathy--through discussions of the poetry of Miroslav Holub, the writings of physicist Richard Feynman, and others. The two video clips referenced in this talk may be found on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=37MNE8tOBG4 and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-XGds2GAvGQ.
McHUGH, HEATHER: Verse I was Averse To (January 2016)
McHUGH, HEATHER: Verse I was Averse To (January 2016)
Over time, readerly capitance changes, and its own effects can take us by surprise. “Even as we imagine ourselves to be discovering the endless inside the artistic moment,” says Heather McHugh, “the artistic engagement may discover to us the perishabilities within our own tenacities and the utility of our own self-succession.” In this tour-de-force lecture, McHugh reconsiders Blake, Milton, Whitman, and Pound, poets she says she was unable to properly appreciate when she was younger.
OLZMANN, MATTHEW: Aspects of Satire (July 2017)
OLZMANN, MATTHEW: Aspects of Satire (July 2017)
Contemporary satire creates a distortion of society, an individual, or an institution. In the incongruity that exists between the distortion presented in the satire and in the world we actually lie in, a flaw in human behavior is revealed to the reader. Drawing from texts from Juvenal and Horace to George Saunders and Kevin Young, Olzmann’s lecture examines how this particular incongruity is shaped, and how it becomes a resonant social criticism.
PHILLIPS, CARL: Confession, and the Model of George Herbert (January 2000)
PHILLIPS, CARL: Confession, and the Model of George Herbert (January 2000)
Countering the assumption that confessional poetry was the invention of the 1960s, Carl Phillips argues that it is “one of the oldest modes in poetry.” He then looks at a range of poems by a poet we might not ordinarily consider confessional—George Herbert—demonstrating the “symbiotic relationship” between confession and craft, as he explores how confession, touching issues “that cannot be satisfactorily known,” requires that “the poem itself,” as a made thing, “must be an active participant in truth-telling.”
REEVES, ROGER: (Troubling) Image and the Poetic Statement (January 2015)
REEVES, ROGER: (Troubling) Image and the Poetic Statement (January 2015)
Approaching troubling both in the African-American sense of radical and transformational change or disruption as well as in the standard definition of “disturbance,” Roger Reeves explores the image as both the stable and not-so-stable ground of the lyric meditation through a close reading of Brigit Pegeen Kelly’s “The Dragon.”
RUEFLE, MARY: On Secrets: Eight Beginnings, Two Ends (July 2007)
RUEFLE, MARY: On Secrets: Eight Beginnings, Two Ends (July 2007)
In this “lecture on secrets which is secretly about poetry,” Mary Ruefle explores how literature has dealt with secrets over time, and how the act of writing is itself private and, in a sense, secretive. Reflecting on the correspondences between the secretive and the sacred, as well as between what is secret and what is playful, Ruefle considers a range of texts through this lens, including Out of Africa by Isak Dineson, The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald, and poems by Artur Lundkvist, Tomas Tranströmer, and Heraclitus.
RYAN, MICHAEL: Authority and Authenticity (July 1996)
RYAN, MICHAEL: Authority and Authenticity (July 1996)
The term “moral authority” as it relates to writing may seem antiquated, Michael Ryan notes. But in this lecture he makes an updated case for it, contrasting Chekhov’s argument about the importance of striving for objectivity in Tolstoy’s War and Peace with our own more subjective sense of authority. Ryan discusses Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz as an example of the nobility of Levi’s attempt to tell exactly what it was like to live through this; of our moral imperative as writers to try to tell, or embody, truth.
RYAN, MICHAEL: Vocation According to Dickinson (July 1998)
RYAN, MICHAEL: Vocation According to Dickinson (July 1998)
Michael Ryan explores Emily Dickinson’s concept of poetic vocation, and how this vocation—both in moral and aesthetic terms—can be traced in her poems. Dickinson differed from others of the Victorian age, Ryan suggests, in that for her the relationship between art and morality was “implicit not explicit, private not social, and neither pious nor privileged but enmeshed with gritty, difficult daily life”; he offers her devotion and seriousness as a model for the writing life.
SADOFF, IRA: Modernism, Writing Workshops, and the Myth of Closure (July 1995)
SADOFF, IRA: Modernism, Writing Workshops, and the Myth of Closure (July 1995)
Our writing workshops, Ira Sadoff argues, are still “weighed down by the discourse of Modernism,” including the idea that a poem must close with unity and transcendence. Who, Sadoff asks, created this idea of “unity,” and what does it exclude? Can we ignore that these ideas originated in a White, male tradition? Sadoff draws on work by Wallace Stevens, James Wright, Gerald Stern, John Ashbery, Lynn Hejinian and others to consider these questions and offer a different way of evaluating a poem’s closure.
SHAPIRO, ALAN:  Thirteen Ways of Looking at Decorum (July 2016)
SHAPIRO, ALAN: Thirteen Ways of Looking at Decorum (July 2016)
In exploring the concept of decorum, Shapiro’s lecture asks and attempts to answer this: in what ways does our historical moment inform if not determine our sense of propriety, or aptness? In an ostensibly informal democratic culture, committed in theory if not in practice to egalitarianism, how do we determine high or low, too much or too little, in style as well as subject? Texts considered include the Iliad and works by Ben Jonson, Wallace Stevens, and others.
SHAPIRO, ALAN: Convention and Mysticism: Dickinson, Hardy, and Williams (January 2012)
SHAPIRO, ALAN: Convention and Mysticism: Dickinson, Hardy, and Williams (January 2012)
“How do we recognize individual talent if not against the backdrop of convention?” asks poet, novelist, and memoirist Alan Shapiro. Using T. S. Eliot’s “Tradition and the Individual Talent” as a framework for his discussion, Shapiro considers the work of leading modernists who were deeply engaged with literary tradition and their individual talents. Among the works examined: Emily Dickinson, Poem 591; Thomas Hardy, “The Oxen”; and William Carlos Williams, “Portrait of a Lady.”
SHAPIRO, ALAN: On Convention and Self-Expression (July 2015)
SHAPIRO, ALAN: On Convention and Self-Expression (July 2015)
Shapiro’s lecture explores the paradoxical ways in which individual expressiveness can arise from and depend on impersonal conventions in such a way that the privacy of inner life is socialized (made available to others) while the conventions themselves are made fresh and new. Among the poems discussed are works by Ben Jonson, J.V. Cunningham, Philip Larkin, and Natalie Diaz.
SHAPIRO, ALAN: Technique of Empathy: Free Indirect Style (January 2011)
SHAPIRO, ALAN: Technique of Empathy: Free Indirect Style (January 2011)
Alan Shapiro characterizes Free Indirect Style as one which enables writers to move between intimacy and distance in narration. Drawing on close readings of “The Mill” by E.A. Robinson, “Donahue’s Sister” and “Slow Waker” by Thom Gunn, and “A Fantasy” by Louise Glück, he looks at how that these poems intertwine the narrative voice with contrasting perspectives of characters within the poem. Shapiro concludes that Free Indirect Style urges us “to consider being someone else” while at the same time suggesting the limitations of empathic understanding.
SHAPIRO, ALAN: Translation as Linguistic Hospitality (July 2009)
SHAPIRO, ALAN: Translation as Linguistic Hospitality (July 2009)
“If failure and betrayal are inevitable” in translation, Alan Shapiro asks, “how do we fail and betray in interesting and illuminating ways?” Shapiro draws on his own experiences translating The Oresteia, as well as on translations of that work by Robert Browning and Robert Fagles, to explore the challenges facing any translator and to advocate the idea of hospitality as a productive way to think about translation.
SZYBIST, MARY: Poetic Argument: Strategic Concessions (July 2011)
SZYBIST, MARY: Poetic Argument: Strategic Concessions (July 2011)
Mary Szybist considers one common rhetorical tool poets use to construct their arguments: the concession. To concede something in a poem is a move toward vulnerability, and it is a risk, Szybist argues, which can have enormous pay-off. Incorporating examples from Marianne Moore, Linda Gregg, David Lehman, Harryette Mullen, Sappho, and Shakespeare, Szybist examines ways in which poets have successfully used concessions to reach, persuade, and move their readers.
SZYBIST, MARY: There Interposed a ____: A Few Considerations of Poetic Drama (July 2013)
SZYBIST, MARY: There Interposed a ____: A Few Considerations of Poetic Drama (July 2013)
This talk considers the ways that very different poems set up one basic dramatic occasion: a moment when something comes between the speaker and his or her destination or desire. As we track this geometry, we will take note of its remarkable flexibility in poems by Sappho, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Elizabeth Bishop, William Stafford, Langston Hughes, William Wordsworth, and the medieval Welsh poet Dafydd ap Gwilym
TOBIN, DAN: John Donne at the Odeon (July 2014)
TOBIN, DAN: John Donne at the Odeon (July 2014)
Associative, architectural, sexy, saintly, and immoderately wrought, John Donne’s poetry epitomizes the need to embody conflicting temperaments in the astonishing vital contraption that would be a poem. Tobin’s lecture focuses on how Donne’s creative action shapes two of his great poems, “The Canonization” and “Holy Sonnet 14.”
TOBIN, DANIEL: The Odeon (January 2016)
TOBIN, DANIEL: The Odeon (January 2016)
The notion of the Odeon (from the Greek oideion, or “singing place”), an imaginative space affirming the poet as a singer of deep registers beyond the particulars of circumstance, provides a frame for this lecture’s discussion of poems by Gwendolyn Brooks, Brigit Pegeen Kelly, and Ellen Bryant Voigt. Throughout, Daniel Tobin explores Seamus Heaney’s idea that poetry optimally reflects “an impulse toward transcendence.”
TRIPLETT, PIMONE: Something More on the Sublime (January 2006)
TRIPLETT, PIMONE: Something More on the Sublime (January 2006)
Pimone Triplett reflects on how contemporary writers have adopted and transformed conventional understandings of the sublime. She focuses on how diasporic writers and writers of color have radically altered the sublime’s definition to include the “engulfing weight” of lost home, human labor and historical ghosts. Drawing on Wordsworth’s Prelude and on writings by Kant, Triplett turns, for contemporary examples, to work by Salman Rushdie, Derek Walcott, Srikanth Reddy, Pablo Neruda and Harryette Mullen.
TWICHELL, CHASE: A Problem Concerning Metaphor (January 2017)
TWICHELL, CHASE: A Problem Concerning Metaphor (January 2017)
Chase Twichell’s lecture tackles the essential conflict between metaphor—seeing one thing in terms of another—and the Zen practice of trying to perceive things exactly as they are, unobscured by human associations, predilections, and assumptions. Looking at Chinese, Japanese, and American poems, ancient to contemporary, she explores a variety of ways in which figurative language can create fissures which allow us to see meaning that resides outside the container of words.
VOIGT, ELLEN BRYANT: A Moment’s Thought: Some Notes on Revision (January 1996)
VOIGT, ELLEN BRYANT: A Moment’s Thought: Some Notes on Revision (January 1996)
Ellen Bryant Voigt subverts the traditional paradigm of how poems are written: first inspiration, then work. Is it true that we need to experience a “given” moment, “sprung from the unconscious,” in order to begin writing? Voigt sets out to “adjust the fixed sequence” of this narrative; through a close reading of how Bishop drafted and revised “One Art,” her careful work ultimately yielding what feels “given” in the finished poem, Voigt shows how “vision may be the fruit of technique, not only its precursor.”
VOIGT, ELLEN BRYANT: Double Double (July 2009)
VOIGT, ELLEN BRYANT: Double Double (July 2009)
Ellen Bryant Voigt, expanding on her January 2009 class, examines what she calls “empirical irony,” “paradoxical doubling” based on factual evidence. Through close readings of poems by Robert Frost and Louise Glück, she considers how irony can enable writers to say two things at the same time, “apparently contradictory, both true.” Voigt makes crucial the distinction between ironic style, which seeks to conceal deep feeling, and irony, which discloses it, and whose subtext is “less bitterness than heartbreak.”
VOIGT, ELLEN BRYANT: On and Off the Grid: Syntax Part II (July 2002)
VOIGT, ELLEN BRYANT: On and Off the Grid: Syntax Part II (July 2002)
Meter organizes music on a small scale, the music theorist Robert Jordain has argued, while phrasing organizes it on a large scale. In this lecture, Ellen Bryant Voigt draws on Jordain’s terms to consider how poems by Philip Larkin, Donald Justice, and D.H. Lawrence are structured through pattern and variation; she examines how “meter” and “phrasing” are produced syntactically, and how conflict between these two kinds of rhythm gives these poems their “energetic formal tension.”
VOIGT, ELLEN BRYANT: Revision, Inspiration, and the Draft Process:  Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art” (January 1996)
VOIGT, ELLEN BRYANT: Revision, Inspiration, and the Draft Process: Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art” (January 1996)
Ellen Bryant Voigt’s lecture on revision challenges the familiar notion of how a poem comes to be: first inspiration, then “work.” Instead, Voigt suggests that “the product of work itself” can provide stimulus and instruction. Concentrating on Elizabeth Bishop’s six-month drafting process of “One Art” during which early repetitions gradually evolved into her masterful villanelle, Voigt demonstrates that “Vision may be the fruit of technique, not only its precursor.”
VOIGT, ELLEN BRYANT: The Adjective (January 1999)
VOIGT, ELLEN BRYANT: The Adjective (January 1999)
When the Modernists challenged the use of adjectives, Ellen Bryant Voigt argues, they rejected what they saw as the “part of speech with little syntactical necessity,” advocating instead “a tough, hard, sinuous poetry,” a stance later revised to a general fear of modifiers. Believing that a serious scrutiny of this overcorrection is long overdue, Voigt offers this scrutiny, showing how poems by Hass, Wright, and Hayden—and, indeed, by Pound, Williams, Stevens, and Yeats—rely, for their tone and precision, on adjectives.
VOIGT, ELLEN BRYANT: The Flexible Lyric II (July 1997)
VOIGT, ELLEN BRYANT: The Flexible Lyric II (July 1997)
Received definitions of poetic elements tend to conflate form and structure; Ellen Bryant Voigt powerfully distinguishes between them. Structure, she shows, is “the order in which materials are released to the reader,” while form “creates pattern in these materials.” Through close readings of poems by Shakespeare, Denise Levertov, John Berryman, and Stephen Dobyns, Voigt further agues that what defines a lyric poem is not its subject matter, its texture, or its form—but its uniquely lyric structure. (See January 1997 for The Flexible Lyric I.)
VOISINE, CONNIE: What is big as an elephant but weighs nothing at all?* or The Riddle in the Lyric Poem (January 2013)
VOISINE, CONNIE: What is big as an elephant but weighs nothing at all?* or The Riddle in the Lyric Poem (January 2013)
Northrup Frye calls the riddle “essentially a charm in reverse . . . the revolt of the intelligence against the hypnotic power of commanding words.” This struggle, between mystery and sense, is explored in Voisine’s lecture, using the riddle poem as a launching point. In considering how we respond to a good riddle—the epiphanic moment, the flash of comprehension, the way we are moved beyond the immediate, physical world—Voisine explores the ways in which lyric poems are riddles of a sort. *The shadow of the elephant.
WILLIAMSON, ALAN: A Forgotten Modernist: St.-John Perse (July 2006)
WILLIAMSON, ALAN: A Forgotten Modernist: St.-John Perse (July 2006)
The French poet St.-John Perse was an international celebrity when he won the Nobel Prize in 1960, so why, asks Alan Williamson, is he almost never read today? Williamson sees in Perse a lost Whitmanesque strain in Modernism, one of plenitude rather than deconstructive self-cancellation. Williamson introduces us to Perse’s work, focusing on his collection Rains, and exploring what he calls the “indescribably delicate” balance in the poems between self-contempt and a kind of expansive, “reverent freshness.”
WILLIAMSON, ALAN: How the Line Means in Free Verse (July 2012)
WILLIAMSON, ALAN: How the Line Means in Free Verse (July 2012)
Focusing on the line as a unit of sound and a rhythmic shape as well as a communicator of content, AlanWilliamson considers two traditions that make particularly radical breaks with the English pentameter line: the long line of Whitman, Jeffers, and Ginsberg and the short line of William Carols Williams.
WILLIAMSON, ALAN: Iambic Pentameter (July 1998)
WILLIAMSON, ALAN: Iambic Pentameter (July 1998)
Exploring the blank verse of MacBeth and the sprung rhythms of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “The Windhover,” Alan Williamson investigates the relationship between energetic speech, musical feeling, and iambic pentameter. Williams discusses how Thomas Middleton’s Jacobean blank verse drama The Changeling influenced T.S. Eliot’s “Gerontion,” and goes on to consider how the ghost of iambic pentameter can invite the ear to seek musical patterns which create clarity.
WILLIAMSON, ALAN: On Poetic Density (January 2017)
WILLIAMSON, ALAN: On Poetic Density (January 2017)
Alan Williamson discusses poets –among them Hopkins, Crane, and Plath—who attempt to communicate a state of consciousness through an overloading of traditional poetic sources: sound, implicit metaphor, and the connotative meanings of words.
WILNER, ELEANOR:
WILNER, ELEANOR: "Like a piece of ice..." (January 2007)
“Like a piece of ice on a hot stove,” Robert Frost wrote, “a poem must ride on its own melting.” Eleanor Wilner explores this dictum, as it applies to the making of poems and also to their content. Applied to a poem’s composition, it is a poetic version of what’s known in physics as “phase change,” as one thing becomes another, releasing energy and insight in the process. Then, looking at poems by Frost, Nemerov, Levertov and Glück, she looks at how differently poets may conceive of “melting” in personal, mortal ways.
WILNER, ELEANOR: A Metastable Talk on Metamorphosis and Poetry (January 1998)
WILNER, ELEANOR: A Metastable Talk on Metamorphosis and Poetry (January 1998)
Invoking Eliot’s notion that a new vision of the past changes the past, Eleanor Wilner asserts, unlike Eliot, that it also changes the writer; she posits a “transpersonal” poetics to replace Eliot’s notion of the “impersonal,” believing that transformation of traditional figures also transforms the poet in the act of writing. For examples, she turns to quantum physics and contemporary transfigurations of Ovid’s Metamorphoses by Gerald Stern, Radcliffe Squires, Muriel Rukeyser, Thom Gunn, Joanne Hayhurst and Jorie Graham.
WILNER, ELEANOR: Disguise and Discovery: The Masks of Art (January 2017)
WILNER, ELEANOR: Disguise and Discovery: The Masks of Art (January 2017)
This lecture—written by Eleanor Wilner and delivered by colleagues Rowan Ricardo Phillips, Connie Voisine, Paul Otremba, and Marianne Boruch--explores opposing uses of the mask in the world of doing vs. the world of making; in the latter, the role of the mask of art in the imaginative opening of identity to plurality, and of self to other.
WILNER, ELEANOR: Etudes of Finitude: The Poetry of Maxine Kumin (July 1996)
WILNER, ELEANOR: Etudes of Finitude: The Poetry of Maxine Kumin (July 1996)
Noting her resistance to the use of “I” in her own poems, Eleanor Wilner examines the way Maxine Kumin uses autobiographical material not to “call attention to herself” but rather “to the world seen through her eyes.” Wilner conducts close readings of a range of Kumin’s poems, tracing in them a sense of “sanity and…proportion” and linking this sensibility to “an existential facing of limits;” it is precisely her poems’ stringent sense of limits, Wilner suggests, that allows them to convey the enormity of what is beyond them.
WILNER, ELEANOR: Getting Out of the Way, or How Not to Stand in Your Own Light (January 2013)
WILNER, ELEANOR: Getting Out of the Way, or How Not to Stand in Your Own Light (January 2013)
Wilner’s lecture considers how and why we get in our own way as imaginative writers. She offers some models and a variety of strategies for getting out of the way and enabling the creative imagination—of which Lu Chi said in Wen Fu, his treatise on the art of writing: The truth of the thing lies inside us, but no power on earth can force it; and Louise Glück, writing 18 centuries later: The dream of art is not to assert what is already known but to illuminate what has been hidden, and the path to the hidden is not inscribed by will. How then to invoke what will not be commanded?
WILNER, ELEANOR: Making Waves (January 2014)
WILNER, ELEANOR: Making Waves (January 2014)
Wilner’s lecture considers what wave-watching can tell us about the powers of poetry and the shaping of story, what the physics of wave motion can tell us about the action of imagination, and how what moves us in a poem is connected to how it moves, and whose boat it rocks. Texts discussed include “Saturday, Early April” by William Kloefkorn, Larry Levis’s “Elegy with a Thimbleful of Water in the Cage,” and Wallace Stevens’s “The Idea of Order at Key West.”
WILNER, ELEANOR: The Compass Rose (part 1 of 2) (January 1995)
WILNER, ELEANOR: The Compass Rose (part 1 of 2) (January 1995)
Despite the Romantic impulse to see nature as free from cultural influence, Eleanor Wilner shows how those “pure” symbols of the natural world are in fact laden with historically constructed meaning. Exploring how one such symbol, the rose, has acquired different connotations over time, serving as a centering device for the human imagination in its location of cultural meaning, she follows it from Dante’s Divine Comedy to its descent in the contemporary A Gilded Lapse of Time by Gjertrud Schnackenberg.
WILNER, ELEANOR: The Compass Rose (part 2 of 2) (January 1995)
WILNER, ELEANOR: The Compass Rose (part 2 of 2) (January 1995)
Part II: Despite the Romantic impulse to see nature as free from cultural influence, Eleanor Wilner shows how those “pure” symbols of the natural world are in fact laden with historically constructed meaning. Exploring how one such symbol, the rose, has acquired different connotations over time, serving as a centering device for the human imagination in its location of cultural meaning, she follows it from Dante’s Divine Comedy to its descent in the contemporary A Gilded Lapse of Time by Gjertrud Schnackenberg.
WILNER, ELEANOR: The Mutable Magnitudes of Metaphor (July 2000)
WILNER, ELEANOR: The Mutable Magnitudes of Metaphor (July 2000)
Eleanor Wilner examines the “power of radical scale shifting in poetic imagery” as a source of “imaginative energy, sudden insight, enlarged perception, intensified feeling” and empathy. Wilner conducts close readings of poems by Thomas Lovell Beddoes, Yeats, Yehuda Amichai, Sharon Olds, Tim Seibles, and Derek Walcott to illuminate the effects of dramatic shifts in time and scale--from the drop to the deluge—expanding the mind while restoring a truer sense of proportion, of “our intractably real limitations.”
WILNER, ELEANOR: The Revolving Door of the Imagination (January 2009)
WILNER, ELEANOR: The Revolving Door of the Imagination (January 2009)
“Poetry at its most powerful,” Eleanor Wilner argues, allows us to “shift away” from what we expect to see; she suggests that such shifts can occur when the speaker finds ways to move “out of the shallows of the ego” and into a deeper kind of consciousness. Wilner examines poems by Richard Wilbur, Theodore Roethke, Radcliffe Squires and Gerald Stern to locate such moments of transformation— and consider the craft strategies that make them possible.
WILNER, ELEANOR: “Like as the waves…”: Vibrant Disturbance as Form and Message in Poetry and Nature (January 2002)
WILNER, ELEANOR: “Like as the waves…”: Vibrant Disturbance as Form and Message in Poetry and Nature (January 2002)
Why can we stare for hours at waves or fire? What makes those waves so compelling, and what can wave motion, as described by physics, tell us about how meaning is carried through the medium of poetic language? Looking at poems by Shakespeare, Whitman and Roethke that draw both subject and motion from waves, Eleanor Wilner explores how pattern and random variation of waves speak to what is oldest and deepest in us—the receptors of our brains, our oceanic origins, the systole and diastole of the heart.
WOOD, RENATE: Sensibility and the End of Pure Reason (January 1999)
WOOD, RENATE: Sensibility and the End of Pure Reason (January 1999)
In this lecture, Renate Wood draws on sources as diverse as critical writing by T.S. Eliot, a poem by Stanley Kunitz, and contemporary neuroscience to explore the relationship between the mind and body, and to update the concept of poetic sensibility. Arguing that there is no such thing as pure reason, but that feeling is actually cognitive, Wood suggests that we need a sensibility with a full range of acute feeling informing thought, in order to produce writing that is accountable to an increasingly complex reality.
WOOD, RENATE: The “Embodiment of the Speaker” (January 1996)
WOOD, RENATE: The “Embodiment of the Speaker” (January 1996)
How can the speaker in a poem, “deprived of that prop of the body,” convey the sense of embodiment? “One of the determining factors, which helps create the speaker as a viable presence,” poet Renate Wood argues, “is the poem’s projection of audience.” Through readings of poems by Louise Glück, Cesare Pavese, Elizabeth Bishop, Philip Larkin, C.K. Williams, and Anne Carson, Wood considers how poets can project and relate to an imagined audience, and in doing so create authority and presence.
WOOD, RENATE: Thoughts on Precision (July 1997)
WOOD, RENATE: Thoughts on Precision (July 1997)
In this lecture, poet Renate Wood considers precision in poetry, distinguishing it from clarity, and arguing that precision is produced through a sequence of exclusions that create the balance of opposing elements that comprise the tension of the poem. For her operative terms, she draws on the formulations of philosopher Susanne Langer, then, through close readings of poems by Ritsos, Rilke, Dickinson, Bishop, and James Wright, Wood considers how “elimination, if precise, creates illumination.”
YOUN, MONICA: Nora/Laura (January 2014)
YOUN, MONICA: Nora/Laura (January 2014)
This lecture begins by describing a necklace James Joyce commissioned for his wife, Nora Barnacle, in 1909. Youn presents a theory of how the necklace relates to Joyce’s ideas about the Petrarchan sonnet, explores the form’s “hangover effect,” and presents a range of classical and contemporary examples, including works by Milton, Yeats, Rita Dove, and Bernadette Mayer.
YOUNG, C. DALE:  Doubt and Uncertainty: The Interrogative Gesture as Rhetorical Strategy (July 2016)
YOUNG, C. DALE: Doubt and Uncertainty: The Interrogative Gesture as Rhetorical Strategy (July 2016)
Writers often feel the drive to be convincing in their poetry and fiction. But often, the way to convince a reader is by constructing a speaker or narrator who “seems real” to a reader. Focusing on the interrogative, C. Dale Young’s lecture looks at passages from Elizabeth Bishop, Carl Phillips, Flannery O’Connor, William Butler Yeats, and others to investigate how the aim to be convincing might be achieved within the architectures of uncertainty and doubt.
YOUNG, C. DALE: An Examination of Two Poems by Kenneth Koch and Frank O'Hara (July 2010)
YOUNG, C. DALE: An Examination of Two Poems by Kenneth Koch and Frank O'Hara (July 2010)
What do we mean when we describe a novel or poem as accessible? C. Dale Young looks at Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, “Ave Maria” by Frank O’Hara, and “One Train May Hide Another” by Kenneth Koch to contest the idea that Conrad, O’Hara, and Koch are simple writers. Instead, Young explores how these writers use “veils of accessibility” to coax the reader past their apparently easy surfaces.
YOUNG, C. DALE: Anatomy of the Contemporary Elegy (July 2005)
YOUNG, C. DALE: Anatomy of the Contemporary Elegy (July 2005)
How has the elegy remained relevant to contemporary writers? C. Dale Young explores how the form has changed over time; for instance, once restricted in its subject to a man of stature, the elegy can now be directed toward anyone, including someone anonymous. Young looks at examples by Elizabeth Bishop, Donald Justice, Carl Phillips and Debora Greger to examine the ways in which these poems rework the form, grounding us in particulars and producing various kinds of distance from their subjects of grief and loss.
YOUNG, DEAN: John Ashbery (July 2001)
YOUNG, DEAN: John Ashbery (July 2001)
In this lecture, Dean Young takes on the poetry of John Ashbery, considering both the craft elements of slippage and play that define his work as well as naming its wide ranging influences of styles and artists, past and current. Responding to the obscurity many readers cite in the work, Young looks at what the nature of that obscurity is: how Ashbery’s language enacts liberty, inherent lack of fixity, and discovers potentiality; he focuses, in order to consider these effects, on Ashbery’s poem “Philosophy of Life.”