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8-Week Poetry Workshop: Poetry as Play

“I want to write a poem because I don’t feel very boring!” –Chelsey Minnis

William Carlos Williams thought of the poem as a field of action. I like this spatial representation and emphasis on happening, but I substitute action with play. As a field of play, the poem becomes a world where collaboration is not only possible but critical. The poet demarcates the space and invites readers to enter and respond—effectively, to play, a prerequisite for meaning-making.

In this workshop, we take the spirit of playfulness as our entry into poems. You could also say that this workshop is for pranksters, jokers, and rascals—for poets who can take a joke and readers who like to be in on them. We’ll look at poems that tease, riff, goof around, game the system, and break the rules; poems that have a mischievous premise or prompt, that muddy our expectations of poems and offer us new ways of making them; poems that have a bite, that deploy humor to cut against seriousness, earnestness, and pain; poems that take devices to a delightful extreme; and poems that draw on aspects of comedy, satire, irony, and camp to say what they need to say. The reading list for this workshop will include work by Sommer Browning, CAConrad, Mark Leidner, Bernadette Mayer, Gabriel Ojeda-Sagué, Sasha Debevec-McKenney, Jack Spicer, Mathias Svalina, and many others.

This workshop is open to poets of all levels and is most suited to those in the beginner to intermediate range. Students will read and discuss work by a mix of contemporary and canonical poets; generate material for new poems using the techniques, activities, and prompts that we review together in class; workshop their peers’ poems and have their own poems workshopped; and leave with the beginning of a submission packet of three workshopped poems, including one that has undergone a significant revision.

*No class December 21 & 28

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. 

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

COURSE TAKEAWAYS:

- Learn new techniques, activities, and prompts for generating poems by looking at work by a range of contemporary and canonical poets

- Strengthen your craft analysis and close-reading skills by reading assigned work, thinking critically and creatively about it ahead of class time, and participating in class discussion

- Become a better editor of your own work by spending time thinking constructively about your peers’ poems and receiving feedback on yours during workshop

- Build community with fellow poets, take risks together, and become more comfortable navigating workshop dynamics and discussion

- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes

COURSE EXPECTATIONS:

Class meetings are two hours. Depending on how quickly you read and write, the time commitment for this workshop outside of class time will be about two or three hours per week.

During class I expect you to:

- Actively participate in class discussion and workshop

- Engage with in-class writing prompts and activities

- Be generous and courteous toward your peers

Outside of class I expect you to:

- Complete assigned readings and make notes of whatever you’d like to discuss

- Read your peers’ poems and make notes of the feedback you’d like to give

- Write at least three new poems and submit one every other week to be workshopped by me and your peers

- Revise one of your three workshopped poems and submit it for our final workshop

COURSE SKELETON:

Week 1: Introduction: welcome, class goals, and community guidelines

Week 2: Forms and Formulas: rules and breaking them

Week 3: Remixed Poems: finding, collaging, substituting, erasing

Week 4: Making Sh*t Up: bad translations, lies, and other speculations

Week 5: Lightening Up: letting humor into the serious poem

Week 6: Being So Dramatic: hyperbole, absurdity, excess, glee

Week 7: Publishing and Performing: sharing your poems as another opportunity for play

Week 8: Conclusion: revision workshop and publishing q&a

Rachelle Toarmino

Rachelle Toarmino is the author of the poetry collection That Ex and the chapbooks Comeback, Feel Royal, and Personal & Generic. Her poems and essays have appeared in The American Poetry Review, Bennington Review, Electric Literature, Literary Hub, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Salt Hill Journal, and elsewhere. She is also the founding editor in chief of Peach Mag and an editorial advisor to Foundlings Press. She lives between Buffalo and Western Massachusetts, where she is an MFA candidate in poetry at UMass Amherst.

(Photo credit: Sam Tilkins)

Testimonials

“Rachelle Toarmino’s THAT EX is the poetry book all your ex-boyfriends warned you was crazy. These poems are somewhere between aphorism, dm, and good old-fashioned free verse. This is a sensitive, self-aware collection full of Britney Spears references, emotional vulnerability, and digital nostalgia. Funny, tender, and real.”

Hera Lindsay Bird author of HERA LINDSAY BIRD

“The poems in Rachelle Toarmino’s THAT EX ask an insistent question: What does love look like in the era of the group chat? In these poems, ex-lovers swirl around with Lorde, SOPRANOS characters, Anne Carson, and James Joyce, creating a rascally tenderhearted poetics of loss, joy, and desire. This debut, no question, is iconic. I walk away from it with wonder and, yes, a Britney lyric: ‘I think there’s love / I don’t think it’s what / we thought it was / I still believe.’”

Jakob Maier first poet on the cover of GQ and Rachelle’s favorite male poet

“This collection is the smartest and the baddest. I felt a love I thought was only possible in bar bathrooms: dizzy, real, and there for you, baby girl. It’s what I wanted! I didn’t even know!”

Kimmy Walters, author of Killer, Uptalk, and The Faraway author of KILLER, UPTALK, and THE FARAWAY

“Considering that THAT EX is an exploration of romance as experienced by a generation that came of age with MySpace and navigated ‘real romance’ with Tinder, Toarmino’s choice to embrace the ways social media and technology are intertwined with our every emotional experience invites us to suspend any doubts about whether such things ‘belong’ in the poetic tradition in the first place. That these choices always read as true, rather than gimmicky, testifies to how authentic and precisely rendered these details feel, how effectively Toarmino terraforms this type of poetic sequence to her world. ... Toarmino is a compelling and charming speaker, mixing the confessional vitality of Sharon Olds with the infectious idiosyncrasy of Frank O’Hara."

Jon Lemay Barrelhouse

"Rachelle is exceptionally attuned to the rhythms and patterns that make up the texture of a work, whether poetry or prose. She not only can articulate what needs to be fixed in a work, but can also point to every line where it’s going awry, every instance where a mistake is repeated or where a writer’s mannerisms are getting in the way. Just as important as her critique, though, is her ability to draw the writer’s attention back to the emotional core of a work, the why behind a project, and what actually is succeeding. Seeing a piece of one’s own writing through Rachelle’s keen but generous perspective is as valuable practically as it is emotionally reinvigorating. In addition, because Rachelle is so well networked and plugged into diverse writing communities, she reads each piece with a sense of its final audience in mind, and can talk through those critical and frequently daunting next steps that a writer must take after a piece is polished and ready for submission."

Former student