Online | Poetry | Workshop

6-Week Poetry Workshop: Unruly Poetry

Learning the Rules and Breaking Them

Rules create order, and creating order is one of the great joys of writing a poem. Rules also restrict us and it is our work as poets to disobey, transcend, question, and free ourselves. The best poems are part of a tradition, and the best poets are also the most original. How do we reckon with all of these contradictions? How is it, as poets, we sometimes feel we forget how to write a poem—or, especially as beginning poets dreaming about a future poem or even a future book, how do we overcome the self-consciousness and great soul-risk of approaching the page?

We will start class with Richard Wilbur’s poem “The Writer” to remind us of the stakes of writing and then we will travel together weekly through one major rule of poetry (maybe a general lesson or wisdom oft-repeated in the workshop environment). We will try to understand the rule from all sides by studying models, questioning them, and then turning to rebels, poems that have successfully broken the rule or “gotten away with it.” I am done with the language of permission and whether things are earned in poems—but this does not mean anything goes—we must become our harshest revisers to become our most liberated and daring selves on the page.

We will explore clichés—not how to avoid them but how to use them to our advantage. We will explore the gnarly adverb and redundant adjective—rather than cut these tendrils lest they dilute our work—we will aim to get away with more of them at just the right moment until the adjective or adverb is our Star player. We will consider poems of sentimentality and refuse to back away from love poetry, prayer, and elegy, putting on the emotional pressure and counter-pressure to explode sentiment into scintillant. We will follow Emily Dickinson in making abstractions particular, felt, and accessible, rather than erasing them from our poems. We will think up everything that is not poetic and sneak those very iPhones and toilets into our poems. We will make magic of everything that cannot be done and in undoing our own poems to follow the rules, we will then write new ones that rebel! Finally we will look at form and lineation, challenging what a linebreak can do, undoing regular stanzas and discovering the power of raggedness and internal pause.

With the help of poets such as Dickinson, Lorca, Franz Wright, Paul Tran, Lucie Brock-Broido, Lucille Clifton, Galway Kinnell, and Gabrielle Calvocoressi, among others, by the end of this class you will be wrestling your own demons, making your own rules, and (I hope) breaking them. Each week you will write two poems for class, and though only one student will be workshopped by the whole class each week, you’ll receive some feedback on all submitted work from the instructor. You will walk away from this class with a group of great poetic leaders and rebels to keep you writing company as well as your own portfolio of 10-12 poems and feedback from me and your peers.

Class meetings will be held over video chat, using Zoom accessed from your private class page. While you can use Zoom from your browser, we recommend downloading the desktop client so you have access to all platform features. The Zoom calls will have automated transcription enabled. Please let us know ([email protected]) if you have any questions or concerns about accessibility. 

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- A deeper understanding of the ways in which creativity is an act of defiance against the self and a loyalty to the self; the ways in which poetic language emerges from emotional pressure, risk-taking, and freedom; the ways in which art is for the people we can’t be in public; and the ways in which the tension between conforming and performing makes you a poet

- A set of your own rules for poetry that you can continue to incorporate into your poetic practice after class

- Written and verbal feedback from the instructor and peers on two poems

- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes


Read approx 5 poems and maybe a short excerpt of prose (a few pages) per class; submit 2 new poems (1 can be a revision) per class; write short comments on other students’ poems; no page req.


Week 1: The point of the poem, the idea of permission, the muse, the idea of originality, the idea of tradition, transforming/transcending cliches (also simile/metaphor discussion).

Week 2: Le Mot Juste vs. Adjectives and Adverbs (Extraneous words and when they work), grammar/words that "don't belong" in poems, expanding the "poetic" putting in a FaceTime call, a paper towel.

Week 3: Sentimentality and other emotional taboos: write about the topic that most risks your veering sentimental (a love poem, an elegy, a prayer, adultery ...) Besides cutting sentimental lines out, how can you get away with them?

Week 4: Abstractions/explanations/commands/assertions/conclusions/questions/exclamations

Week 5: Form and Lineation (raggedness vs regularity, lines and line breaks)

Week 6: Between the blank page and the (first) book: wrestling your own demons going forward (finding your obsessions, slapping your own wrists, transcending your limits, revising)

Elizabeth Metzger

Elizabeth Metzger is the author of the chapbook Bed (Tupelo Press, 2021), winner of the Sunken Garden Chapbook Poetry Prize; The Spirit Papers (University of Massachusetts Press, 2017), winner of the Juniper Prize for Poetry; and the chapbook The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death (Horsethief Books, 2017). Her second full-length collection, Lying In, is due out in 2023 from Milkweed Editions. Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Poetry Magazine, American Poetry Review, The Nation, and the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day, among others. Her prose has recently been published in Conjunctions, Literary Hub, Guernica, and Boston Review. She is a poetry editor at The Los Angeles Review of Books. You can find more at

Photo Credit: Yvette Roman


"I've rarely come across a first book as unconditional, as exquisite, as captivating as this one is."

Lucie Brock-Briodo author of STAY, ILLUSION

“Elizabeth Metzger's intelligence and originality are spiritual, earthy, brave....Her poems are braided with a love for this world that brings to mind Dickinson."

Jean Valentine, author of SHIRT IN HEAVEN

“Among Metzger’s many gifts is her ability to describe complicated positions simply, facing down the conundrums of language and perspective to devastating effect: ‘The children left me. / You say they came.’”

Mark Bibbins citation for Sunken Garden Prize

“Metzger’s lyric acuity reveals, in turn, the various ways in which the act of self-consciousness is both calm and disturbing. Her lines, in turn, and the spaces between them, enact what’s so perilously poised in every instance of life, domestic or otherwise. She honours these moments with what one can only call incorrigible tenderness, of which, indeed, these poems are fiercely built, like an ark which has touched the bedrock of our human ardour. BED is superb work.”

Ishion Hutchinson winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award

“Her sculpted, sensuous, powerful, crafted language is a tour de force poetic enactment of what it means to exist. Sit on the grass and look up at the sky, and then read this brilliant book now.”

Elizabeth A.I. Powell, author of ATOMIZER

“You have already opened me up to so much...I am trying to figure out the best and most intense things to do with creative writing. I could never pursue anything else. You have been one of the people who has made me love it even more.”

Former student

“Elizabeth is a gem as a consultant. She got out of me what I wanted to say in my writing and helped me reposition my work to get at it more clearly. Nothing she advised was extraneous. I came away from this consultation with a much better understanding of how to convey the complex thoughts I wanted to get across in a more concise way. Elizabeth is a very helpful and kind and patient consultant. I hope to return to her for guidance again.”

Former student