225 Introduction to Creative Writing

ENGL 225/3 Introduction to Poetry Workshop
Classroom: LB -649
Office Hours: M-W 2:00-2:45 or by appointment
LB 674-2 sina.queyras@concordia.ca

Many students believe that the point of a workshop is to “edit” poems. That’s not quite true. Near the completion of a poem of course it does need editing, but in the early stages, what a poem needs is a thorough understanding of its aims. What a poem often needs next is expansion, explosion, submersion, elongation, sometimes a complete tear down with a set of ideas for a new approach. I don’t believe that poetry is precious, or that it needs protection. Poetry is generally sturdier than we believe, and despite our worst fears, it’s hard to abandon it. So how do we approach poetry in the introductory workshop? Well, first we must learn to read it. We must first be able to describe what the poem is doing, and try to understand what it could do.

Semester One
Our first semester will be about building our poetic skills, trying out exercises, encountering new kinds of work—playing, exploring, mastering poetic skills, learning to read and respond to a wide range of work—from accessible to difficult, from conventional to wildly experimental. Of course these exercises will end up in poems, but that’s not the point. Together we’ll focus on developing voice and craft, as well as building a common critical vocabulary and some ideas for what we want to explore in poetry.

This syllabus will be available on line along with the workshop schedule once I get that going. No weekly readings will be planned. Assignments and readings will develop out of our class discussions.

Semester Two
The focus of this half of the semester is entirely on workshopping. We will focus on student work in every workshop.

Required texts
Buffam, Suzanne A Pillow Book, Anansi (November 3, 2016)
Queyras, Sina, Open Field: 30 Contemporary Canadian Poets, Ed, Persea, 2005
Robertson, Lisa 3 Summers Coach House (launched at Concordia October 21, 2016)
Robbins, Michael Alien V. Predator, Penguin
Rankine, Claudia, Citizen, Greywolf (March 2017)
Coursepack and books available at Concordia Bookstore.

Suggested Texts:
Best Canadian Poetry 2014, Sonnet L’Abbe, ed, Tightrope, 2015
The Breakbeat Poets: New American Poetry In The Age Of Hip-Hop, eds Kevin Coval, Quraysh Ali Lansana

Grading & Assignments:
Class participation 25%
This includes attendance as well as assignments and participation in reading and discussing others works as well as your own. Students are encouraged to maintain a writing and reading journal over the course of the semester, responding to each poem and essay we read. This will help you build toward your presentations and longer responses, and assure that you will have points to make in class discussion, which will ensure you gain full marks for participation. I will not read your journal, though I will check that it exists in some form when we meet one on one.


Presentations 25%
Each class will begin with a student offering a brief introduction to a peer’s work. These can be point form, and they should first describe the work, and then, open up for discussion.

Portfolio 50%
This must be a minimum of 15 and a maximum of 30 pages of poetry written over the entire year, along with a brief poetics statement. Portfolios are due on the last day of the first semester, and then at an agreed upon date at the end of the course. If you want feedback on your work at the end of the year you must hand your portfolio in with an SASE.

December portfolios:
Please include all the assignments that you have done in class, with my comments on them, as well as any writing you did that we did not workshop or discuss, but that you would like me to comment on.  It’s important to see me in November to discuss your work, your progress, your practice, and where you want to go next semester.

What you can expect from me
I have a reputation for being difficult. Part of what this means, I believe, is that I am direct. And I am. Some people find this uncomfortable, but most people report that the challenging nature of the class is worthwhile. In general I try to be constructive and instructive in my comments and focus my attention on decisions made in the writing process. So, take notes. The class is where the learning happens. If you have an issue in the class, with discussions, or comments, please free to discuss it with me in class, or in my office. But please be warned that this is the nature of our workshop and come prepared for lively, fun, and engaging discussions.

Class rules, yah, there are a few rules.
1. I think of the workshop as a kind of writers’ lab. I treat it as I would a professional environment. Because of this, all participants are required to attend in order for the workshop to function at its best. Absences are dissuaded: they create tension in the class, they make the person whose work is being workshopped feel disrespected, they throw off discussions, they create knowledge gaps. Absences also make it difficult to keep up with the lessons in the class, which are given in context, in conversation, not in a linear fashion slotted well in advance. So, please, if this is a 10am class and you are not a morning person, please, choose another slot.
2. Students are required to contribute to discussions. Every class. If this is a problem for you and you’re willing to work, no problem, come and see me and we’ll make a plan.
3. Students must attend at least one office appointment per semester. Come prepared with your work and any questions you might have. These are essential to your performance in the class, and to your understanding of your grade, etc.
4. Communications: In general I respond to emails only during school hours, and even if there are special circumstances, I cannot re-cap classes. It’s really best to communicate with me in class, or in my office hours.
5. When emailing please include class number and specific subject or emails tend to get lost. Also, identify yourself. If your email is FuzzyKitten@whynotme.net and you don’t sign your email I may not answer it.
6. Workshops are not lectures: discussions cannot be recreated. If you must miss a class please have a fellow student update you on what you missed.
7. While we have a syllabus to guide us, and while we will cover everything on it, the class sometimes takes sudden turns.
8. In class writing: when we do exercises in class it is very important that you do not interrupt the class, or your neighbor, in any way. If you are late and walk in during an exercise, please sit yourself down and begin writing. If you are confused about an in-class writing assignment that is already underway use your confusion to fuel your response. Be creative. Use everything as a means to fulfill your creative potential.
9. The creative aspect: this is a creative writing class and to that extent the exercises can be intense and spontaneous. You always have the option to opt out, but I will also always encourage you to take part. Please see me in my office for strategies about making this more comfortable for you if in fact you are uncomfortable.
10. All work must be handed in as word-processed hard copy (and for workshops enough for everyone to have a copy of) unless otherwise requested.
11. Students must provide students with copies of all workshop submissions at least one class before we are due to discuss your work.
12. Students must offer written and verbal feedback of their peers work in every instance. Submissions will be randomly collected and student responses checked.
13. In order to ensure you have sufficient tools to craft your responses we will undertake several presentation models. As well you will be given a list of questions to have at hand when approaching new work.

1. These are brief presentations of your reading of the assigned text.
2. Make copious notes—engage directly with the text, finding points of tension, strengths, questions you have.
3. Describe briefly the core idea, offer summary of points, provide evidence in the way of—quotes etc.
4. Take a minute to organize your response—even if your response is simply that you are unsure what you think, organize that in a meaningful way. When in doubt use point form.

1. Provide a copy of the poem for each class member (if necessary).
2. Provide a brief biography of the writer as much as it is relevant to the work.
3. Tell us a bit about his/her body of work and its significant qualities.
4. Discuss how you came to select him/her.
5. Read aloud a selected poem by the writer.
6. Describe what the poem is doing, what worked for you and why. What is it doing formally? What about the language? Imagery? Line breaks? What struck you? What is significant about the poem? How and why do you feel it is successful? What have you learned as a writer from studying this poem, and looking at this writer’s work in general?
7. Address formal elements such as diction, rhyme, meter or rhythm, tone, syntax, lineation, arrangements of stanzas, punctuation, title, beginning, ending, repetition, figurative language, and relationship between speaker and reader.
8. Provide evidence for any statement you make about the poem.
9. Or, quote freely from the poem in order to illustrate your points.
10. You may be as personal as you wish to the extent that it is relevant to the poem, or your reading of the poem, or that you have a reason to do so.
11. Cite your sources.
12. After your presentation, hand in your notes.
13. You may use as a model the “How Poems Work” archive of essays: http://lemonhound.com/category/poetry-poetics/how-poems-work/