In this class for poets of all levels, we will investigate and strive to create poetry that maintains gravity and emotional depth while using humor as a primary tool. We will discuss different kinds of humor, from the observational to the absurd, the one-liner versus the twisty narrative. We will also discuss and practice poetic/comedic tools like syntax, repetition, pacing, and the mixing of dictions or registers. We will consider the work of stand-up comedians like Tig Notaro and Margaret Cho. We will read and emulate work by poets such as Frank O’Hara, Patrick Rosal, Amy Gerstler, Louise Glück, Nikky Finney, Aaron Smith, Joseph O. Legaspi, Ross Gay, and others. Our guiding question will be: how can humor move us deeper into the complicated, serious wonder of a poem’s subject?
You can expect weekly writing prompts/exercises, craft discussions that blend the formal with the funky, and the opportunity to be workshopped four times. You will come away from the class with a better sense of how to use humor, alongside other devices, in poetry; some strong drafts; and a portfolio of 3-4 poems ready for submission.
- A generous, supportive, and fun environment in which you receive extensive feedback from peers and the instructor
- An exciting approach to craft that considers poetry in the contexts of politics, pop culture, and your own idiosyncratic interests
- A deep dive into the process from first draft to polished poem and how to give your work the best chance in the submission queue
Week 1: Intros, begin discussing jokes vs. humorous language, the powers & possibilities of humor in poetry specifically, collaborative/improv writing prompt
Week 2: Comedic & poetic timing, syntax & pacing as forces of humor, workshop #1
Week 3: Pop culture & the politics/poetics of “high” & “low” registers
Week 4: Punchlines, satire, & punching up, workshop #2
Week 5: Absurdity, oddity, & total glee
Week 6: A very strange & somewhat disturbing story, narrative comedy, workshop #3
Week 7: Revising toward humor, revising for heart, workshop #4
Week 8: Submitting, cover letters, publishing advice, last laugh
Chen Chen is the author of When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities, which was longlisted for the National Book Award and won the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize, the GLCA New Writers Award, The Texas Book Award for Poetry, and the Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry. His work has appeared in publications including Poetry, Tin House, The New York Times Magazine, The Best American Poetry, and The Best American Nonrequired Reading. Poets & Writers Magazine featured him as one of “Ten Poets Who Will Change the World.” He also teaches for The Speakeasy Project and The Adroit Journal.
“I just wanted to drop a thank-you note for being my mentor in the Adroit program. I had already read a lot of your poems published online, and then WHEN I GROW UP I WANT TO BE A LIST OF FURTHER POSSIBILITIES, before I even applied for the program, and fell in love with how deftly you used words to pierce & mend—the humorous twists included in even the saddest & most introspective of your pieces. Getting to have you as a mentor was a lovely shock. And aside from that, I really appreciated your thoughtful encouragements and suggestions, as well as your willingness to talk for several hours over the summer about the ramblely writerly things on my mind. It all meant a lot to me.”
“This has been such a blast... Thank you so much Chen for all your help—your focus on craft specifically was so helpful to me (and probably all of us).”
“Chen’s debut, WHEN I GROW UP I WANT TO BE A LIST OF FURTHER POSSIBILITIES, is a masterpiece of arrival and revelation. Rarely does a poet announce every aspect of himself with so much candor, while still playing with all the dark and light that comes with that.”
“Chen Chen’s WHEN I GROW UP I WANT TO BE A LIST OF FURTHER POSSIBILITIES is a debut collection that cannot be ignored. This collection is by turns comic, dark, self-obsessed, playful, and restless. …This is a book whose narrator is bursting at the seams with energy because he has so much to say. …His strategies of association allow him to say a lot, connect a lot, and feel fresh. These poems are embracing of our human flaws while also turning to the positive connections we make in our lives.”
“Chen Chen shows us that the world is strange and bright with ardor. He reminds us of the miracle of the sensual and sensory. This is a book I will return to whenever I forget what a poem can do, whenever I am in need of song or hope. If a peony wrote poems in a human language, I think that these would be his poems. If the rain wrote poems… I mean: this is an important work by an astonishing and vital voice.”
“Chen Chen refuses to be boxed in or nailed down. He is a poet of Whitman’s multitudes and of Langston Hughes’ blues, of Dickinson’s ‘so cold no fire can warm me’ and of Michael Palmer’s comic interrogation. What unifies the brilliance of WHEN I GROW UP I WANT TO BE A LIST OF FURTHER POSSIBILITIES is a voice desperate to believe that within every one of life’s sadnesses there is also hope, meaning, and–if we are willing to laugh at ourselves–humor. This is a book I wish existed when I first began reading poetry. Chen is a poet I’ll be reading for the rest of my life.”