Discover the electricity of having four different master poets step in the same class: each teaches two weeks in a row for 8 weeks. This round we are focusing on form. Martha Serpas will teach the sonnet, Sandra Beasley will teach the sestina, Mike Theune will teach the turn, and Ashley Jones will teach the golden shovel. This class is one of a kind, and it’s breathtaking. Two of the classes will have their own listing because they can take a few more students than the more involved forms. This is a small class of just ten students.
In the first meeting the writer will introduce the form and a writing exercise or two. Students will turn in their own work no later than Saturday afternoon. The next class will be a loose workshop.
This is will be an advanced class, open to poets who have taken multiple writing classes already. Please email me if you have any questions about it. (If you haven’t taken workshops with Grackle, but have taken plenty of workshops elsewhere, that works! You don’t have to prove it to me, just sign up!)
Sonnets with Martha Serpas October 18th & 25th
A sonnet is not an elevator pitch: It is the whole proposition and its conclusion or resolution. The sonneteer also has the ride up, the turn, and the ride down to sing the whole song. It is an elevator in that it is a room of music (preferably inventive and surprising music) not musak that each year gets closer to sounding like your favorite songs from college. The sonnet persists—over languages, over time—as an example of lyricism and wit. Whether poets resist it, argue against, or pursue its strictures, the sonnet remain a subject of poetic injury.
So we are going to read some sonnets by Donne, Hopkins, Frost, Rich, McCrae, Hayes, Peacock , Nelson (and Shakespeare). We are going to write Shakespearean sonnets, Petrarchan sonnets, sonnets of couplets, and sonnets of undetermined character.
In the process, we will practice slant rhyme, off-rhyme, cadence, meter, syntax, concision, argumentation, and quick turns of phrase that are welcome in any poem.
The sonnet, really, is a gym.
Martha Serpas has written four volumes of poetry, including The Dirty Side of the Storm and Double Effect. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Nation, Poetry, and Southern Review and has been anthologized in the Library of America’s American Religious Poems and The Art of the Sonnet. Active in efforts to restore Louisiana’s wetlands, she co-produced Veins in the Gulf, a documentary about coastal erosion. She teaches at the University of Houston and serves as a hospital trauma chaplain.
Sestinas with Sandra Beasley November 1st & 8th
The sestina, which can be thought of as a “gyroscope of form” because of its patterning and repetition, is one of the most acrobatic and challenging of received traditions and dates back to 12th-century France. Ironically, the sestina has found many devotees in the free verse and contemporary poetry worlds as well. Where did it come from, what makes it work, why is it surging in popularity today, and what are its latest innovations? We will read examples that are fresh, funny, and impassioned; we will also get you started with a prompt towards writing your own.
Sandra Beasley is the author of Made to Explode; Count the Waves; I Was the Jukebox, winner of the Barnard Women Poets Prize; Theories of Falling, winner of the New Issues Poetry Prize; and Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life, a disability memoir. She also edited Vinegar and Char: Verse from the Southern Foodways Alliance. She lives in Washington, D.C.
Turns with Michael Theune Nov 15th & 22nd
The turn—a significant shift in rhetorical and/or dramatic trajectory—is a vital component of most powerful, energetic poems. While the turn is a well-known element of sonnets, in which the turn is called the volta, the turn is used in all kinds of poems. As Ellen Bryant Voigt states in The Art of Syntax, “The sonnet’s volta, or ‘turn’…has become an inherent expectation for most short lyric poems.” Turns are so crucial because they’re a big part of what creates surprise in poems.
And surprise is essential to making poems work. In his essay “Andrew Marvell,” T.S. Eliot goes so far as to call the surprising turn “one of the most important means of poetic effect since Homer.” In “Levels and Opposites: Structure in Poetry,” Randall Jarrell states, “A successful poem starts from one position and ends at a very different one, often a contradictory or opposite one; yet there has been no break in the unity of the poem.” It is precisely the turn that is the transition that moves the poem, surprisingly, from one position to another.
In this workshop, we’ll familiarize ourselves with poetic turns, learning how to locate and identify them. Then we’ll practice making some: engaging in playful collaboration, we’ll craft surprising, haiku- and joke-like two-line poems and poems that employ the dialectical structure, the deep pattern of turning for a wide variety of poems, but one that, by working together, we’ll master in almost no time at all!
Mike Theune knows–and loves!–the poetic turn. He edited Structure & Surprise: Engaging Poetic Turns (Teachers & Writers Collaborative, 2007), the first handbook for poetry writing that focuses on the turn. Additionally, he maintains the “Structure and Surprise” website, and with poet Kim Addonizio, he co-curated “Voltage Poetry” (voltagepoetry.com), a website dedicated to the presentation and discussion of some of poetry’s greatest turns. Mike is widely published in journals and books. His two other books are We Need To Talk: A New Method for Evaluating Poetry (Multilingual Matters, 2017) and Keats’s Negative Capability: New Origins and Afterlives (Liverpool, 2019). Mike holds the Robert W. Harrington Endowed Professorship at Illinois Wesleyan University, where he teaches and chairs the department of English.
The Golden Shovel with Ashley M. Jones Nov 29th & Dec 6th
The golden shovel is a versatile and energy-filled form which has been taking the poetry world by storm since Terrance Hayes invented it in his 2010 National Book Award-winning collection, Lighthead. It is a form of homage, of dual-messages, of companionship. I have been endlessly inspired by the ways in which contemporary poets have used the shovel, and in our knockout sessions, we’ll look at the form up-close, from Hayes’ use of Brooks to Patricia Smith’s and Tyehimba Jess’ otherworldly transformation of the form into the double golden shovel. I’ll also take us through the way the form has served me in my own work.
Ashley M. Jones is Poet Laureate of the state of Alabama (2022-2026). She holds an MFA in Poetry from Florida International University, and she is the author of Magic City Gospel (Hub City Press 2017), dark / / thing (Pleiades Press 2019), and REPARATIONS NOW! (Hub City Press 2021). Her poetry has earned several awards, including the Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers Award, the Silver Medal in the Independent Publishers Book Awards, the Lena-Miles Wever Todd Prize for Poetry, a Literature Fellowship from the Alabama State Council on the Arts, the Lucille Clifton Poetry Prize, and the Lucille Clifton Legacy Award. She was a finalist for the Ruth Lily Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship in 2020. Her poems and essays appear in or are forthcoming at CNN, POETRY, The Oxford American, Origins Journal, The Quarry by Split This Rock, Obsidian, and many others. She teaches Creative Writing at the Alabama School of Fine Arts and in the Low Residency MFA at Converse College. Jones co-directs PEN Birmingham, and she is the founding director of the Magic City Poetry Festival. She recently served as a guest editor for Poetry Magazine.
Grackle image by Brujo/José Eugenio Gómez Rodríguez.