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8-Week Online Poetry Workshop: The Political Lyric

There are two ways to worry words. One is hoping for the greatest possible beauty in what is created. The other is to tell the truth.

–June Jordan

What does it mean to be an English language writer when the demographic and socio-political parameters of the Anglophone landscape are under rapid and ongoing change? Language is political: that historically some voices have been privileged over others is no big mystery.

During this intermediate class, we will explore our responsibility as writers in the world at large, while discussing themes such as environmental loss, displacement, bilingualism, war trauma, and identity politics through the lens of eco- and documentary poetry. There will be a heavy focus on writers of all diasporas, marginalized voices, and contemporary Writers of Color who deploy language on multifaceted levels. We will learn how to write our own political poems without neglecting the intricate web of the lyric, poems that are political and still as lush, as strange, as mythical as we want them to be. Together, we will find the balance between what June Jordan calls "the greatest beauty" and "telling the truth."

This class is mostly suited for writers of an intermediate range, i.e. poets who have taken classes before and are familiar with contemporary poetry.

This class will meet over our video chat platform. You will need to use Google Chrome and a computer to join your class meetings.


- A generative, creative and supportive environment where your poems will be read with care and rigor

- A decolonizing stance toward criticism, which rewires the white-washed definition of political poetry being inferior to the “pure lyric”

- The ability to write poems about socio-political moments in our lives and the world at large while exploring and complicating the role of the lyric “I”

- Access to Catapult's list of writing opportunities and important submission deadlines, as well as a 10% discount on all future Catapult classes


Over the course of eight weeks, there will be four reading packets containing other poets’ work for you to close-read and analyze. You can also expect weekly writing prompts based on those reading packets, four of which will be workshopped in weeks alternating to craft classes. In addition to original poetry, we will read two essays on teaching and/or revision which we will discuss during our craft sessions; these discussions are supposed to guide your revision process and analytical approach toward your own and your peers’ poems. So, in total, we’ll have four craft sessions and four workshops.


Week 1: Introductions, Welcome, Establishing a Code of Conduct / First craft class: Close-reading Solmaz Sharif’s poem Look; collectively creating a prompt

Week 2: Singing the Body Electric – what does it mean to write the marginalized body? What does it mean to celebrate it? We’ll read work by Danez Smith, Ocean Vuong, Nikki Giovanni to guide discussion. Workshop 1.

Week 3: The Post-Colonial Poem: deconstructing the English tradition, breaking through inherited forms and inherited trauma

Week 4: The Empire’s Shadow: Political European poetry from the 20th century and its similarities to contemporary American documentary poems. Workshop 2

Week 5: Poetry of Witness: Discussing the Poet’s Looking, the responsibility of the lyric eye and the lyric I

Week 6: Story / History: Defying the idea of the “voiceless” – who gets to tell the story and why are we listening? Who gets muted? Workshop 3

Week 7: Teaching the Political Poem & Radical Revision. Workshop 4

Week 8: Writing the War: The Ethics of Writing through Collective Grief, Trauma and Violence – looking at work by Ocean Vuong, Muriel Rukeyser and Suji Kwock Kim, we'll discuss the challenges of writing about war, both near and far

Aria Aber

Aria Aber is the author of Hard Damage, winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry. Her work has appeared in the New Yorker, Poetry Magazine, Kenyon Review & others. 


"Aria is an empathetic and intelligent instructor who can really relate to her students and challenges them to reach their fullest potential."

former student

"Aria is the GOAT. Encouraging, enthusiastic, and knowledgable, she made the class a great learning experience that drove me to continue writing and exploring different mediums of expression."

former student

"Aria's class was my absolutely favorite class at NYU. She was a great, attentive teacher and a fun human to be around. "

former student

"Aria Aber’s HARD DAMAGE confronts the reader with both a masterful directness and lyrical clarity. Though the poet pays homage to tradition, these poems also realize a voice and experience—truth and sonority, spirit and grit—that are individual. Each turn in this narrative of dislocation dares a root-fed luminosity. Indeed, the speaker of HARD DAMAGE transverses multiple way stations (Kabul, Berlin, Paris, New York City, and elsewhere), always carrying history and family through these migrations. This necessary collection possesses passion and wisdom."

Yusef Komunyakaa author of THE EMPEROR OF WATER CLOCKS

"Revel in the rise of this searing, essential new voice. Aria Aber’s HARD DAMAGE is an expansive debut that contends with the hard truth of how elusive belonging, and reckoning, is: “God, I say, my forehead kissing the flowered rug—I am not // delicate. Look at me. I am not trying to disappear. ” Every word, every phrase crafted to incise, with its electric currents of images that make up the lives of refugee mothers, fathers, and daughters, and the inherent homesickness of language, wars. This debut seduces, critiques, mourns, ruptures, replenishes—and not without humor and wit. By the end I found myself completely thrilled that poetry can have this many possibilities."

Sally Wen Mao author of OCULUS

"With disarming ease, Aria Aber's HARD DAMAGE leaps from the personal to the political, from song to theory, from Rilke to “Afghan blow," from a German childhood back to an earlier Afghani family history, ending up in a richly vexed American life. These juxtapositions are electrifying, eloquent. Aber’s metaphors create vital arguments in extended meditations on political protest, violence, belonging, and longing itself..."

Catherine Barnett author of HUMAN HOURS