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8-Week Online Poetry Workshop: Tracing Back Personal Histories

“Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter. The uproarious laughter…at my expense.”

—Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, September 27, 2018

"The lion sleeps in the sun.

Its nose is on its paws.

It can kill a man."

—Wallace Stevens, "Poetry Is a Destructive Force"

The etymology of indelible literally means “not able to be destroyed.” It is a word mindful of great pain and joy, that which separates us from our quotidian selves. Memory is a tool as powerful as it is troubling because it risks the same unreliable traits as any narrator, which is made more pronounced when the traumatized speaker arrives at the intersection of memory and proof.

How can literature investigate the perils of the survivor’s journey, from incident to epiphany to the cyclical? In this course, we will pursue the question of whether poetry can reconstruct our humanity in the aftermath of crisis. We will consider the poetics of continuation and evidence through book-length and individual poems from the likes of Tory Dent, Diana Khoi Nguyen, Solmaz Sharif, francine a. harris, Vanessa Angélica Villarreal, Aria Aber, and Tiana Clark, and grant ourselves the permission to write our own indelible pasts in original work.

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

COURSE TAKEAWAYS:

- An ability to speak our truths, through permission, transparency, and excavated strengths

- Accessing the difficult, indirect, and non-sequitur approaches towards poetic understandings

- A relearning/retooling of how we read poetry, as in: poetry is a lyric practice that exists unto itself outside of plot- and narrative-driven devices

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

COURSE EXPECTATIONS:

Over the course of an eight-week session, students are expected to read four curated reading packets, each about 5 to 6 pages of other poets’ works, as well as four workshop packets of original work by peers. There will be four workshops over the course of the eight-week workshop that will alternate with the curated reading packets. This will allow adequate time for synthesis of the reading material and in-class discussions before you even put pen to paper. Each student will be responsible for producing one poem for each workshop packet, totaling four original poems written over an eight-week period. Poems will be based on original prompts guided/directed by our selected literature.

COURSE SKELETON:

Week 1: Intros, establish a code of conduct for communication and engagement.

Analyze a single poem in class, from Tori Dent’s HIV, Mon Amour

Week 2: Writing the body's grief: What does it mean to write through illness and death? We will read prose passages by Audre Lorde, Susan Sontag, and Christopher Hitchens to help facilitate discussion. Workshop #1.

Week 3: Writing obsession: Repetition and anaphora point to obsessions and fixations. What does this specific incantation look like to you?

Week 4: Writing beyond the 8 x 11" page: multimodal poetic expressions, workshop #2

Week 5: Sense and sensibility: frenzied aesthetics and urgent styles

Week 6: Writing the music of memory and fragmentation, workshop #3

Week 7: Close reading as revision, workshop #4

Week 8: Publishing trauma

Natalie Eilbert

Natalie Eilbert is the author of Indictus, winner of Noemi Press's 2016 Poetry Prize, published in early 2018, as well as the poetry collection, Swan Feast (Bloof Books, 2015). Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from POETRY, Poem-a-Day, Granta, The New Yorker, Tin House, The Kenyon Review, jubilat, and elsewhere. She was the recipient of the 2016 Jay C. and Ruth Halls Poetry Fellowship at University of Wisconsin–Madison and is the founding editor of The Atlas Review.

Testimonials

"Natalie Eilbert’s INDICTUS is the book of poems I want to be reading in these days. It is the counteragent, the cure, to a world that blames us for being ourselves. It is a book that quickly becomes a place to rest our weary loneliness, to give the unsaid a place to be said, as Eilbert decries both forcefully and plainly, 'my cunt is star.' In the book, Eilbert reverts and subverts our expectations of the origin of things, reversing the power dynamic between her persona and the reader a million times over, creating a world where all of the great spiritual secrets sing their 'devoted' and 'stone' songs in the 'veal-dark' of the afterlife. If you are lost, this book says, come home."

Dorothea Lasky poet

"Natalie Eilbert's INDICTUS summons what cannot be said while finding a way to articulate, with ferocity and exuberance and a clear and brutal vision, the violence of misogynistic systems and cultures and the ways in which they devour and destroy their inhabitants. It’s not just that this book doesn't waste words. It goes further than that. Each sound, line, breath is charged with an energy that is explosive. INDICTUS lays all its cards on the table so there are no doubts about just how high the stakes here are: 'I didn't mean to assemble my whole career on lies, so now I blast holes in the men.' Yet in this world of broken bodies, Eilbert's tenacity, her sheer drive to get to the end of a thought, to get the words onto the page, conveys a demand: to be honest, to resist, to live."

Daniel Borzutsky poet & translator

"I will not say that INDICTUS is brave, or necessary, or fierce, or any number of coded adjectives used to describe work by women; words used violently: to dismiss, hush, step over. I will not laud Eilbert for her trauma, her deft vulnerability. Instead, I have removed all of the Homer from my bookshelves, and Dante, and Milton and Holden Caulfield, too. I trashed them all. In their place, Natalie Eilbert’s epic INDICTUS, the only journey of tribulation and discovery that I regard as true heroism. One could say this is a book of poetry by a woman who has endured unspeakable trauma and lived to bear its witness. One could also say, this book is an incredible document of survival. This book surprised and troubled and inspired me with its humor and sureness, with each poem’s subtle rhythm and control. No— 'fierce' simply won’t do. Natalie Eilbert possesses—and expertly and gracefully wields—one of the most singular voices in American poetry today."

Morgan Parker poet

"INDICTUS is a tour de force. Its anger is unafraid; it owes us nothing and refuses to apologize; it is a chronicle and an agent. Eilbert tempers her words for no one; she too has a truth, and has unmade your mouth so you might listen."

Sarah Huener for THE CHICAGO REVIEW OF BOOKS

"Here and throughout INDICTUS, Eilbert’s speaker swings between supreme agency over a wholly malleable world and mere object, hole, passive receiver. These opposing modes strain against each other and threaten to fly apart. But the rhythmic drive and unrelenting sense of urgency that undergird Eilbert’s poems holds them together, just as centripetal force holds bodies to the walls of a Gravitron—one is afraid to stop reading at the risk of flying off into space."

Peter Myers for THE CHICAGO REVIEW OF BOOKS

"When Eilbert elucidates her abstractions into more tangible metaphors, her brilliance shines through: “Noise of a club// circles back in like a saccharine plague./ The sound of man like the fat that hugs the/ plunged sword.”

PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

"Natalie Eilbert's class changed my life. It reinstalled my love of poetry and introduced me to so many new amazing poets."

former student

"Natalie Eilbert is the best teacher I have ever had."

former student

"...Always, Natalie Eilbert's teaching style was what I had in mind as ideal for the classroom. The closest to a utopian and revolutionary classroom I've experienced. She works herself ridiculously hard (and her students love her for it)."

former student

"The way Natalie Eilbert edited my chap honestly felt like a form of mentorship & as a reader I am still learning so much for the craft of her poems. So happy to have her as a mentor & a friend."

Torrin A. Greathouse poet