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Stop Making Sense: A Sensible Proposal

Updated: Sep 6, 2019

So far no one has shown the poor judgment to allow me to teach this four day workshop in the rigorous pursuit of nonsense. It's probably because every looming apocalypse is deadly serious and we're afraid to avert our eyes lest something happen during our lapsed attention. That's the good news. The bad news is that I'm stuck here with myself as the only willing student of the new apocelliptical poetry.

Stop Making Sense: Disruption and Distraction as Composition Strategies

This four-day course will begin with a very focused look at how attending to language and formal matters can unlock the poem’s subject in ways that surprise both the writer and the reader, then continue to explore more experimental approaches to disruption and distraction. The operant theory is that the poet is always walking a tightrope with too much sense on one side of the rope and utter dissolution into nonsense on the other.

Day One: Never Pay a Poet by the Hour: Discovering the Poem Through Revision

In this whirlwind talk, I will take the students quickly (!) through nineteen versions of a ten-line poem, “The New Americans,” explaining how I came to write such a godawful first draft and how I revised the poem to rescue it from my own best intentions. I’ll also talk about where and how to apply pressure on the language and form in revision and how to use my infamous revision “cheat sheet,” which I will distribute mid-talk.

Day Two: Radical Revision

In this workshop each student will bring a poem that has failed to achieve its final form. As poets who believe in inspiration, we often operate with a feeling that the ephemeral poem will escape us, that it must be handled with care, but sometimes a more playful and reckless approach to revision can discover a poem where there was none. Much can be learned by revising a “failed poem.” So we’ll play with context and removal of context, retitling, writing “explanations” of the poem, discovering and amplifying the sound scheme, reformatting, opening up spacing, and looking at placement on the page. We’ll turn the poem into a prose block and then reline it. We’ll write back from the beginning and past the end.

Day Three: Neither Here nor There: The Poetics of Consciousness

In this talk, I will address the territory that poetry seeks to inhabit—the edge of what is sayable. I’ll begin with “Wodwo” by Ted Hughes, a poem about coming to consciousness, and then look at fairly radical poems by Lyn Hejinian and Leslie Scalapino, focusing on how language and syntax both impede and make possible an exploration of how we actually engage the world.

Day Four: Trading Fours

Based on the improvisation tradition in jazz in which each band member plays just four bars of a solo before handing it off to the next bandmate to continue the solo, this form that I invented is a complex word repetition form that can be done alone or in a group. I’ll lay out the form, show students some examples from my recent work, then challenge the group to write either alone or in small groups, a poem using this form.

Alternate Final Day Exercise: Poetry Games and Parlor Tricks: The Unrelenting Seriousness Relents

Dazzle your colleagues! Amaze your family and friends! Be the life of any party! Snooker everyone into writing poetry with these three easily-mastered poetry games. Move from expressing yourselves to surprising yourselves with our most popular contrivances: “Interrogation,” “Dance to the Beat,” and “Wikiportrait.” This exclusive offer is not available in stores.

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