Online | Poetry | Workshop

6-Week Poetry Workshop: Excavating Family Histories Through Poetry

For so many of us, our family story is what defines our lives—what we run from or toward in the decades after leaving home. In this course, we will dive into family narratives together. The events we hope to discuss can include those that seem to haunt family struggles: trauma, abuse, neglect. Yet those blessed with stable families have plenty of stories to tell, too—a glorious summer road trip that reveals the love between siblings, or a tender reckoning with a parent’s humanity. As guidance for methods of writing on experiences with family, we will read poetry of Ai, Aria Aber, Catullus, Victoria Chang, Lucille Clifton, Natalie Diaz, Tarfia Fiazullah, Joy Harjo, Robin Coste Lewis, Vi Khi Nao, Sylvia Plath, Carmen Giménez Smith, and others. In order to consider different approaches to the idea of “family histories,” the assigned work will roughly fall in one of the following topics: parents and guardians, siblings and those of our youth, ancestors, and continuing the cycle. These are delineated by the familial figures the authors address in their works, leading up to the writers’ own enactment of parenthood.

In each class, we will discuss the methods the authors have employed, and their methods of engagement with their creative production. In addition, we will consider the effects assigned texts have on you as a reader and, just as important, how you think the writer accomplishes these effects. You will create your own works with these methods in mind. Beyond merely creating new work, we will also revise with help from the discussions.

This class will meet over our text-only chat platform. There will not be any video or audio component to class.

A note from Diana on the format: I have found over the years of teaching at Catapult that a text-based platform is ideal for the students and myself. Those who engage more smoothly through reading/typing rather than hearing/speaking really thrive in the class. It is generally far less stressful as a means of creative engagement for people who otherwise have full, rich, but also taxing lives (jobs, families, pets). If we have learned anything in the pandemic, having a dozen sets of unblinking eyes looking at you raises cortisol levels. If someone has to tend to a crying child, pop away to heat up dinner, they can do so and refer to the chat without missing a beat. Students have found the class to be thoroughly enriching and also calming for this reason. Beyond this, the text-based course is something you can have access to forever. It is a resource you can reference as often as you’d like. 

Check out this page for details about payment plans and discount opportunities.  


- A better understanding of how, while our personal and familial histories often are overwhelming, creative production is a space that can sustain what you need to express, scrutinize, comprehend.

- Practice developing the ability to close read poetry together in such a way as to act as a resource for your own writing.

- Community, which does so much for one's otherwise personal experience of creative expression. We will hold the space together and work with care and patience as the group explores what they need to write.

- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes


While there may be some reading assignments ahead of time, we will likely read poems together, discuss them, then write from a prompt based on those poems. Each class will be followed up with a craft assignment in which the student will read a set of poems and post a close-reading-type response. In terms of workshop, no one should turn in more than three pieces or 5 pages and everyone will be expected to give in-class and before-class feedback to their peers’ work.




Discuss class structure, workshop

Discuss poetry and family


First workshop








Workshop (briefly, for all, depending on headcount)

Discuss revision approaches, publication interests (if any), general Q&A from Diana

Diana Arterian

Diana Arterian is the author of the poetry collection Playing Monster :: Seiche, which received a starred review in Publishers Weekly and was the Editors’ Selection for the 1913 First Book Prize. A Poetry Editor at Noemi Press, her creative work has been recognized with fellowships from the Banff Centre, Caldera, Millay, Vermont Studio Center, and Yaddo. Diana’s writing has been featured in BOMB, Brooklyn Rail, Los Angeles Review of Books, NPR, and The New York Times Book Review, and she is a regular contributor at LitHub. Diana holds a PhD in Literature & Creative Writing from USC, and teaches at Merrimack College. She splits her time between Cambridge and Los Angeles.


“Arterian weaves a family narrative of devastating clarity from letters, found text, memories, and more in her striking debut.”

Publishers Weekly starred review

"Playing Monster :: Seiche is a devastating classic. It’s like reading a detective story or 'thriller' but with real pain, real consequences."

Alice Notley

“[Arterian] renders terror in language so plain, concise and taut—it thrums with all that’s held in suspension, in the blank space between blows. The act of writing—her record—is itself the antidote. By looking terror right in the face and saying what she sees, she puts it under her power. This achievement, what she does here—it makes other writing seem like child’s play.”


“Diana Arterian’s poetry is shockingly almost-gentle as it speaks about family violence and childhood terror. In sparse lyrics and tiny knife-like narratives, memory gasps itself out of language and into the white space—into the awful blanks that such searing language digs out. Stone to stone across a life, this never stops. Arterian’s poetry is ferociously unblinking, ferociously variable, and ferociously tender.”


"The works we read were beautiful, intense, and moving, and the supportive atmosphere of the class always pushed me to interact with the works in ways that were unfamiliar but insightful. I was supported, by both Diana and the other students in class to grow as a writer, and the criticism I received on my assignments was always truthful and motivated by the desire to see me get better.”

former student

“I feel I owe Diana a debt for helping me find a new outlet/vantage point for expression.”

former student

“I have never enjoyed a class as much as I did this one. Not only did she encourage us as a class to challenge ourselves, she encouraged us to pursue form and subject matter that we were interested in. I felt comfortable participating in class and my ideas were challenged, but encouraged…She also provided a safe space to grow as a writer, which I think can be difficult—balancing constructive criticism and improvement with encouragement.”

former student

"[Diana] taught me a lot about writing and I learned a lot throughout the course...I saw vast improvements in my writing ability as well as an improvement in my creativity and risk–taking.”

former student

“Diana was really good at encouraging us to get out of our comfort zones. This class was completely different than anything I've taken before...She always encouraged us to try new methods, read different kinds of texts, and overall grow as both readers and writers.”

former student

"[Diana] has a great talent for explaining things in a way that makes me understand better in every way. Her feedback for all of the assignments are very in depth and fantastic analyses, which helped me further develop my own writing.”

former student

“The workshops were the highlight of this course. They were not only extremely helpful, but an extraordinarily comfortable space that made me feel safe to share, which I struggle with most of the time.”

former student

“[Diana] encouraged us to think outside the box and find the creativity in us all.”

former student

“The readings on the syllabus were clearly chosen with great care. All of these readings were thought-provoking, enjoyable, and even moving. On more than one occasion, a reading from this class inspired me to pursue independent research and reading on the topic.”

former student

"Diana Arterian provided the seemingly impossible balance of hands-on/hands-off editing. Allowing Upend space when need be, she was always swiftly available to offer her sharp, thorough mind for several iterations of the manuscript. She generously tracked everything between the smallest inconsistency fixes and big picture, structural questions–all with sensitivity, humility, and patience towards the ethnically, geographically, and inter-generational complexity of the book."

Claire Meuschke

"Diana brought a precise amount of care to my work that emboldened me to fight for the parts of my work that I loved and to accept what could use a fair shake of polishing. There wasn’t a moment where I did not feel that the comments and edits she suggested were brought in without an investment in the work being as clean as it needed to be."

Aeon Ginsberg

"Diana Arterian’s work as an editor is that of a first reader, not only sharpening work at the level of the line, but also offering interventions I had yet to think of. The opportunity to work with Diana tremendously shaped the project for the better."

Chaun Webster

"Diana’s editorial eye is truly sharp and incisive, attentive to the textures of language as much as technique. I feel very lucky that such an important debut project of mine is treated with such care."

Muriel Leung

"Diana helped me make my collection stronger, smarter and braver. She is a thorough and responsible editor full of keen insights and deep compassion."

Arielle Greenberg