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 Writing and Reading Poems  posted by  duggu   on 12/26/2007  Add Courseware to favorites Add To Favorites  
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Corbett, William, 21W.756 Writing and Reading Poems, Fall 2006. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare), (Accessed 09 Jul, 2010). License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

A homeless man holding a poem he has just written.

A homeless man holding a poem he has just written. (Photo courtesy of Premasagar.)

Course Highlights

This course features sample student work in assignments and links to poetry recordings in related resources.

Course Description

This course is an examination of the formal structural and textual variety in poetry. Students engage in extensive practice in the making of poems and the analysis of both students' manuscripts and 20th-century poetry. The course attempts to make relevant the traditional elements of poetry and their contemporary alternatives. There are weekly writing assignments, including some exercises in prosody.




This class teaches the understanding of poetry from the outside in and from the inside out. It is both an essay writing and a creative writing class. In the essay part students write one-page responses to a poem or poems. They then read these responses in class to focus class discussion. One-page because the emphasis is on concise expression of what students think and feel about the poems under discussion. Following this "outside" look at a given poet's work, students will write imitations of that work. The syllabus makes clear just what aspects of these poems are to be imitated but as students work from the inside they have considerable latitude. Imitations will be read and discussed in class. This version of the course looks at poems from Donald Allen's The New American Poetry, 1945-1960. Allen chose poets who broke with tradition, and while several of them are now established figures their work is still creating waves in American poetry.


Allen, Donald, ed. The New American Poetry, 1945-1960. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1999. ISBN: 0520209532.


Assessment of One-page Essays 1/3
Imitations 1/3
Class Participation 1/3


Since this class is effectively a writing workshop, attendance is mandatory. You are also required to attend two Poetry @ MIT events.


We will meet for two conferences, but my office door is always open to you. Please email me with any questions about assignments or other class business.


Samuel Johnson defined plagiary as "A thief in literature; one who steals the thoughts or writings of another." In academia plagiarism is a serious crime punishable by failure of the course and withdrawal from the Institute. All of the work you present to this class must be your own and written for this class alone.

T. S. Eliot famously wrote, "Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal." Theft in art raises a number of interesting questions many of which will be explored in class.


1 Introduction  
2 Favorite Poems  
3 Charles Olson's Poem Poetry response due
4 Olson Imitations Imitation due
5 Robert Creeley's Poems Poetry response due
6 Creeley Imitations Imitation due
7 Barbara Guest's Poems Poetry response due
8 Guest Imitations

Imitation due

Poetry @ MIT: Poetry reading by Alice Notley

9 James Schuyler's Poem and Letter Poetry response due
10 Schuyler Imitations

Imitation due

Poetry @ MIT: Poetry reading by Clayton Eshleman

11 Frank O'Hara Poems Poetry response due
12 O'Hara Imitations Imitation due
13 Philip Whalen's Poems Poetry response due
14 Whalen Imitations Imitation due
15 Your Own Poems  
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