Online | Poetry | Workshop

8-Week Poetry Workshop: The Speculative Poet

In this workshop, we will examine how poets construct poems with various mythological, fabulist, imaginary, and speculative tropes, and how to incorporate our own cultural touchstones and obsessions into our individual poems or book-length projects. How can poetic language stretch “reality”? What does it mean to “reimagine” something classic or established, and what is the function or purpose of this? Can a poet reinvent a classic or well-known tale, and if so, then what’s the function? How can a collective knowledge or consciousness shape the way the poet approaches a well-known myth (story, historical figure, archetype) with their own vision? How does the poet apply these external tropes to their own internal thoughts and experiences? And finally, what is the role of pop culture in the art and work that we make?

In this 8-week course, we will try to step outside of our comfort zone and walk toward the “strange” and “grotesque.” Class will be both generative and based on the workshop model, with a generative exercise and tools for furthering your vision in each session. We will tell ugly fairy tales and convene with monstrous creatures, take walks with ghosts and harness the supernatural. We will look at various poetry collections that incorporate such elements and discuss how each poet approaches their vision with lyric or structure or form. We will examine how myths, allegories, and pop culture can function in contemporary poetry collections and different ways to incorporate the culture that we engage with on a day-to-day basis meaningfully into your project and vision. Class is best-suited for poets with some previous workshop experience and who already have some form of poetic practice.

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 Zoom desktop client so you have access to all platform features.

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


- Students will come away with confidence and techniques to effectively incorporate the "speculative" and imaginary elements into their poems

- They will also familiarize themselves with a range of contemporary poets' books and figure out where their project can be located within this inquiry

- Finally, they will practice using poetic mechanisms of language to go beyond the "familiar" in their vision as a way to open up their poetic practice

- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes


Each week, the students will be expected to read and respond thoughtfully to each other's submissions and they also read short poem packets. There will be optional writing exercises that they can turn in as part of their workshopped pieces. At the end of the class, students can have one private video chat with the instructor. Students will workshop at least three poems over the duration of the class.


WEEK 1: Introductions: Class protocol, introductions, “Museum of You” exercise.

WEEK 2: Myths: “Mythmaking” exercise. The intersection between poetry and mythology has existed for eons. How do we harness this ripe fountain of material? Jennifer S. Cheng, Moon: Letters, Maps, Poems, Kim Hyesoon, Autobiography of Death.

WEEK 3: Beasts: “Field guide” exercise. Science and magic: how poetry forges them together. Donika Kelly, Bestiary, Bhanu Kapil, Humanimal.

WEEK 4: Fairy Tales: “Reinvention” exercise. How do we reinvent familiar tales in verse, and why is it important? Sandra Lim, Loveliest Grotesque, The Wilderness, Anne Sexton, Fairy Tales.

WEEK 5: Ghosts: “Ghost stories” exercise. Poetry is a site of many hauntings. How to convene with ghosts? Incorporating history/personal history into our poetry projects. Diana Khoi Nguyen, Ghost Of. Jane Wong.

WEEK 6: Speculative and Fabulist Poetry: “Alter-ego” exercise. What is a speculative persona poem? How do we apply the elements of science fiction/fabulist fiction to lyric or narrative poetry? Tracy K. Smith, Life on Mars, Margaret Rhee, Love, Robot.

WEEK 7: Pop Culture and Poetry:“Cultural Imaginarium” exercise. How do we successfully incorporate allusions to pop culture in our poetry projects? Tommy Pico, Feed, Morgan Parker, Magical Negro

WEEK 8: Grotesqueries: Last week: conclusions! One-on-one conversations. Full-length book projects: resources. Closing remarks. Natalie Diaz, When My Brother Was an Aztec, Joy Harjo, How We Became Human.

Sally Wen Mao

Sally Wen Mao is the author of two poetry collections, Mad Honey Symposium (Alice James Books) and Oculus (Graywolf Press.) Her poems have appeared in Poetry, Harpers Bazaar, A Public Space, Kenyon Review, and The Best American Poetry and Pushcart Prize anthologies. She is the recipient of a fellowship from the Cullman Center from the New York Public Library and the Amy Award from Poets&Writers. Recently, she was the Jenny McKean Writer-in-Washington at the George Washington University.


“Whether wayward spirit or nefarious satyr, Mao’s narrators and characters inhabit the sense of oculus as eye-opening, a transformative door ... Mao’s descriptions are precise and surreal, a next phase of evolution ... An expansive book, but each poem bears careful reading.”


“By giving voice to, composing odes for, or revising [Chinese] figures, Mao creates a poignant, albeit cautious, optimism ... Oculus is a deftly structured volume of hauntingly perceptive poems, peering backward through the 20th century while penetrating our contemporary moment. It’s an homage to pioneering Chinese Americans and an indictment of Asian representation in American culture, which never for a moment shies away from the difficult tasks of taking on race and history and technology all at once, but confidently looks them right in the eye, unblinking.”


“Contemporary poetry is full of scrupulously researched, rather lifeless ‘project’ books; a lesser poet than Mao might have stuck to the historical Wong, out of some misplaced sense of fealty or respect. But Mao’s fabricated [Anna May] Wong is a wild creation … The real escape, Mao’s work suggests, is poetry, which tracks the mind as it moves through embodiments not transmittable by visual means. I thought of the sublime conclusion of Yeats’s ‘Among School Children’: ‘O body swayed to music, O brightening glance, / How can we know the dancer from the dance?’ ”