Vince Gotera
Office: Baker 123, 273-7061
Office Hours: TTh 1:00-2:00
Fall 2001
English 620:108g, Section 01
TTh 3:30-4:45, Lang 111


Since the 1980s, there has been a resurgence of interest in writing poems in rhyme, meter, and traditional forms. This movement, often called The New Formalism, arose partly as a rebellion against the hegemony of free verse (or "open form" as some now call it) since the early century. New Formalism, however, is also based on the work of older poets, such as Richard Wilbur and X. J. Kennedy, who have resolutely continued to write in traditional verse from mid-twentieth-century till today.


Our pedagogical underpinning originates from an even older idea, the age-old practice of apprenticeship to a guild craftsperson. The contemporary version of this notion is that, before one can experiment and “be” avant-garde, one must first be steeped in traditional techniques. In this spirit, our course is devoted to studying specific meters, set stanzas, and inherited forms, as a firm base or background to write in whatever mode—free verse or formal verse (“closed form”)—you might select for future work.


The prerequisite for this course is English 620:070, "Beginning Poetry Writing" (or an equivalent course taken at another college). If you have not yet taken this important prerequisite, please bring a sample of ten poems to my mail box in the English department (Baker 117) by noon on Wednesday, 8/29. If I find that this sample is not sufficiently strong, indicating that your command of poetry writing is insufficient for success in the class, I will let you know by e-mail or telephone as soon as I can.


There are two required textbooks: (1) an anthology of formal verse, Strong Measures, edited by Philip Dacey and David Jauss, and (2) a collection of fine essays on poetry writing, Triggering Town, by Richard Hugo. There is one recommended text, All the Fun’s in How You Say a Thing: An Explanation of Meter and Versification by Timothy Steele; this book is instructive but perhaps a bit challenging, despite its casual title.


In class, we will discuss blank verse, couplets, tercets, quatrains, sonnets, villanelles, and sestinas, spending a week on each; as we take up these topics, we will also review some basic poetic elements—line, meter, rhyme, music, imagery, form, tradition, repetition, and style. You will write a poem of each type mentioned above and we will workshop these in class. This means you will need to make enough copies of each poem to distribute to everyone (an additional cost beyond textbooks). You will also write an eighth poem in a traditional form (or meter or stanza) which you will select and study on your own.


You will need to be comfortable with e-mail and the Web. I have created a Web site at <> that contains this syllabus as well as instruction on the forms and poetic elements we will study. Before we take up each form and element (as indicated in the course schedule), please read the material on those topics in the Web site. I have also arranged for an e-mail discussion list; any e-mail message sent to <> will go to all class members, including me.

Every semester, I have informal midterm assessments conducted so students can speak up about what’s going well, what isn’t, and what you and I can do about problems. In the past, this has been done by other professors surveying my classes in my absence. This semester, UNI’s Center for the Enhancement of Teaching will conduct such an assessment in our class by electronic means, via email or the Web.


If you have a disability that may affect your learning, you can make arrangements for instructional accommodations with the Office of Disability Services, 213 Student Services Center, 273-2676, in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.


Grading The eight poems are worth 60% of the final grade, participation 40%. At midterm, I will discuss your grade and performance with you in individual conferences.


Absences. You may miss up to three meetings during the term (illness, emergency, whatever). Each further absence will lower your final grade by one step (e.g., B to B-). Also, by department policy, students who miss the first week's meetings will lose their spaces in the class to those who may be trying to add.


Workshop. Our first priority as a group is to create and maintain a safe, respectful community where your poems can get a fair reading. I hope you will make this goal your own. Here are the procedures we will follow in workshop. Please learn them.


1)   On the day a poem is due, bring enough copies for everyone. We will assemble the poems into a worksheet in some prearranged order (by poets’ names, by titles, or whatever). If you are absent, I will leave a copy of the worksheet (labeled with your name) in the box on my office door (Baker 123).


      If your poem is small, do not give in to the temptation to type it several times on a sheet to save copying costs—this will severely limit the comments people can make on your poem. Use full-size typing paper to give others sufficient space to do justice to your work. Don’t short-change yourself and your poem.


2)   To prepare for class, read each poem at least twice and write comments on the poem itself (both specific line-oriented remarks in the margins and a general response to the poem as a whole in a paragraph at the bottom).


   Do you like the poem? Why? Or why not? Favorite section, phrase, or line?


   Does the title help ground you as a reader in a dramatic context? If there is no title, why do you think it's untitled? Does it need a title? Suggest one?


   Who is the speaker? Do we need to know? If the poem is spoken by someone other than the poem (a dramatic monologue), is the persona identifiable?


   Do the poem's images evoke emotions? Do these advance the poem's import?


   Consider language. Is the diction effective? Surprising? Or predictable?


   Does the poem use rhythm and meter? If so, does this enhance your reading?


   Think about the poem's music. How well are rhyme and sonic devices used?


   Do line breaks impart suspense, tension, hurry? Do they aid understanding?


   Consider content and theme. How would you paraphrase the poem?


   Does the poem's tone seem appropriate for the apparent sense and subject?


   Does the poem seem unified? How do the poem's various parts contribute to unity? Narrative? A visual pattern? Repetitive motifs?


   Does the poem make a meaningful comment on the tradition and history of the form, meter, or stanza it is using?


   Any specific and/or global suggestions for the writer to resolve problems?


      Do not write your initial annotations in class while we are in workshop; this is an insult to the writer. It is okay, however, to write further comments in class. And do sign your critique.


3)   As we workshop others’ poems in class, try to balance tough criticism and praise. We'll begin by asking "What's working in this poem?" and "What do we like?" Subsequently, we'll point out any difficulties in reading and understanding the poem, and suggest changes.


4)   When your turn comes up, read your poem out loud, then remain silent and keep an open mind as you listen. Only after our workshop of your poem is done may you speak. Defending the poem is not allowed, as no defense will change the fact that the poem wasn't received as you expected. The important goal is to figure out why and then apply that lesson to revisions or future work. You might ask how people read this or that device. Better yet, simply say thanks. You will then receive the copies annotated by everyone. Make sure to save the copy of each poem bearing my annotations; you will need to (re)submit those copies in your portfolio.


5)   If we reach a poem in the normal rotation and the writer is absent, I will collect everyone’s copies of that poem. We will not workshop the poem at a later date because of the number of people in the class. Before I return these copies to the writer, I will look at them to evaluate what you are writing on each other's poems. The quality of your commentary will affect your participation grade.


Portfolio. At the end of the semester, on 12/13, you will submit a collection of your best versions of the eight poems for final grading. Assembling this portfolio gives you the chance not only to revise and use what you have learned during the semester but also to view your work as part of an ongoing process—to re-view your poetic self.


Be sure to include copies of workshopped poems with my comments in the portfolio. Group all versions of each poem together, and order them as they were submitted to the workshop, with the new version in front of the old. Mark them "Couplet," "Sonnet" etc. At the beginning of the portfolio, please include a typed and double-spaced introduction addressing the following items in order.


1)   What is your general poetic strategy? How has this strategy developed during the semester? How do you feel your eight poems reflect that overall strategy?


2)   What are the strengths of your poetry writing? What are its weaknesses?


3)   What changes have you made in the seven workshopped poems? Why?


4)   What form, meter, or stanza are you using in your eighth poem? Write a short discussion of its poetics. How did you apply these dynamics in your poem?


5)   What grade would you give yourself for participation? Why? What grade do you think you earned for your poems? Why? Also, which one or two student(s) in the class gave you the most help through both spoken and written comments?


The first two items allow you to meditate on what you’ve learned in the course as well as bridge any esthetic differences you and I may have. The third item gives you the chance to guide me through the revisions you’ve made, both through larger rationales and specific alterations. The fourth item lets you show your command of formal verse beyond the material covered in class.


Please don't use plastic binders (especially not those clear sleeves with the slip-on plastic spines). An old recycled envelope will do nicely. Don't go to any extra expense.


Coda. Okay, let's get to it. You'll be amazed at how your poems, even in open form or free verse, will be strengthened by this discipline. You will find that practice in rhyme, meter, and traditional forms will add muscle and bone to your writing. Good luck!

Further Requirements for Graduate Students.


The recommended text, All the Fun’s in How You Say a Thing by Timothy Steele, is required for grad students. We will figure out a way to discuss this book as we read it.


On two separate weeks, you will make brief presentations on poems in the anthology. Each time, read the poem out loud and then lead a discussion on its craft and theme (5-10 minutes).


You will also submit two extra poems in other forms of your selection; this means you will need to alter item four in the portfolio introduction for three poems, not just one.


Generally, I also require a term paper, either focusing on a formalist poet of your choice or some sort of discussion of assigned books (Steele or Hugo). This semester, however, I want to offer you an alternative project. The North American Review runs an annual poetry competition, The James Hearst Poetry Prize. Under my guidance, the graduate students in this class will act as a screening board to select some fifteen finalist poems to be sent to the final judge, Lucille Clifton. This will take place during November and December. This will be an extraordinary opportunity for you; you will gain a sense of the breadth of poetry being written today as well as what not to do when submitting poems to magazines. You will write a brief response (2+ pages) on your experience in the project: what you learned, and how it will affect your writing.


The two presentations and the Hearst project will not be graded—you are simply expected to complete them. Therefore, the grade breakdown will be the same as it is for the undergrads: poems 60%, participation 40%. Okay? Let’s get started.



8/28      T        Introduction and welcome.


8/30      Th      Blank Verse. Line and Meter. Read all blank verse poems in Strong Measures (SM). You can find a list of these poems under "Blank Verse" in Appendix B of SM. Also read "Blank Verse" and "Line and Meter" in the course website at <>. Chapter 1 of Triggering Town (TT). Recommended reading: Introduction to All the Fun’s in How You Say A Thing (ATF).

9/4        T        Blank verse, continued. Chapter 2, TT. Recommended: Chapter 1, ATF.


9/6        Th      Couplets. Rhyme and Music. Also please look at the poems under "Elegiac Verse" and "Epigram" in SM. Read “Couplets” and “Rhyme and Music” in the website. Chapter 3, TT. Recommended: Chapter 2, ATF.

9/11      T        Couplets, continued. Chapter 4, TT. Recommended: Chapter 3, ATF.
Due: Blank verse poem in multiple copies.


9/13      Th      Workshop blank verse poems.

9/18      T        Blank verse workshop, continued. Due: Couplet poem in multiple copies.


9/20      Th      Workshop couplet poems.

9/25      T        Couplet workshop, continued.


9/27      Th      Tercets. Imagery. Please look also at the poems under "Terza Rima," "Triplets" and "Haiku" in SM. Read “Tercets” and “Imagery” in the
course website. Chapter 5, TT
. Recommended: Chapter 4, ATF.

10/2      T        Tercets, continued. Chapter 6, TT. Recommended: Chapter 5, ATF.


10/4      Th      Quatrains. Form. Please look at all related forms listed under "Quatrain" in SM. Read “Quatrains” and “Form” in the course website. Chapter 7, TT. Recommended: Chapter 6, ATF.

10/9      T        Quatrains, continued. Chapter 8, TT. Recommended: Chapter 7, ATF.
Due: Tercet Poem in multiple copies.


10/11    Th      Workshop tercet poems.

10/16    T        Tercet workshop, continued. Due: Quatrain poem in multiple copies


10/18    Th      Workshop quatrains.

10/23    T        Quatrain workshop, continued.


10/25    Th      Sonnets. Tradition. Read “Sonnets” and “Tradition” in the website. Recommended: Chapter 8, ATF.

10/30    T        Sonnets, continued.


11/1      Th      Villanelles. Repetition. Read “Villanelles” and “Repetition” in the website. Recommended: Chapter 9, ATF.

11/6      T        Villanelles, continued.


11/8      Th      Sestinas. Style. Read “Sestinas” and “Style” in the website.

11/13    T        Sestinas, continued. Due: Sonnet in multiple copies.


11/15    Th      Workshop sonnets.

11/20    T        Catch-up Day.


11/22    Th      THANKSGIVING

11/27    T        Sonnet workshop, continued. Due: Villanelle in multiple copies.


11/29    Th      Workshop villanelles.

12/4      T        Villanelle workshop, continued. Due: Sestina in multiple copies.


12/6      Th      Workshop sestinas. Discuss revision and the portfolio.

12/11    T        Sestina workshop, continued.


12/13    Th      Due: Portfolio. Chapter 9, TT.

FINALS          We’ll meet during the official exam time on Tuesday, 12/18 at the usual time, 3:30. I will return portfolios and we will have a course assessment.



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