NEOMFA Workshop in Poetry


Though it takes place under fluorescent light in a pastel room with a group generated by a computer manifest, the workshop is a facsimile of gatherings that have sprung up through history in cafes, homes, parks, churches, and bars. We share their purpose and claim their authority. The difference—and it is a crucial one—is that our group is defined by no school of thought, movement, clique, or shared aesthetic; we have not chosen our constituency. This alters the group dynamic in ways which, if not addressed, can have a corrosive effect. While we partake of the traditions that brought like-minded poets together, we must resist the impulses that guide non-academic workshops, that is, we must avoid forming and committing to a group aesthetic. Ultimately, we must resist the urge to please. Instead, we must delve into our differences to help us define our own theory and practice of writing. I hope we will find like-minded writers, and form our own allegiances, but only after recognizing the necessity of defining ourselves, by our own lights, rather than that of the group. As my first workshop teacher, Jack Wheatcroft, told us, “Resist everything I say.”


Regarding your own work

  • Practice reading your poems aloud. Find the rhythm of the poem in your voice; use the rhythms to find the poem’s thread. Learn it by heart.
  • Keep your commitments: if you are scheduled to bring a poem into class, be sure to show up with a poem, or a part of one.
  • Bring enough copies for the whole class. The poem should be presented as if for publication. Proof carefully.
  • Pay careful and respectful attention to comments, even when they seem off the mark. Don’t defend or explain your poem. Don’t talk about the methods or occasion of its composition.
  • Don’t turn in ‘varnished’ poems—that is, poems you’ve already made up your mind about.. All work should be new work written during the term.

Regarding the work of others

  • As much as possible, be descriptive rather than proscriptive.
  • Acknowledge your allegiances and biases.
  • Attend to detail, but don’t nit-pick.
  • Attempt to identify the source of the poem:.What is it trying to achieve? What kind of poem is it? What prosodic or theoretical assumptions does it reveal?
  • Find connections to other poems you know: can you reference other poems with the same intentions, methods, slants?
  • Consider the possibility that the submission is a part of something yet to be fully conceived.
  • Imaginatively identify with the impulse behind the poem. Then, judge your own posture toward that impulse.
  • Get to know the body of work of your classmates. View each new poem in terms of its relation to the rest of that work, rather than as a discrete, anonymous submission.


  • To inspire and encourage.
  • To share and enlarge our grasp of technique.
  • To sharpen our critical faculties.
  • To move toward building a body of work
  • To strengthen our network of colleagues in the art


We will follow the traditional method of reading and discussing new work. However, we will supplement this discussion with written assessments of each new work, based on the example of Wild &Whirling Words. We will also readOrdering the Storm as a way of developing the connective tissue of our work, with a view toward generating a book of poems. We’ll also look at work by several class visitors. Student work will be reviewed in a set rotation. If you fail to turn in work on the date you’ve engaged, you will miss your turn. If you are involved in a longer project which would benefit from longer discussion, please let me know and we’ll make arrangements.



H. L. Hix, Wild and Whirling Words; Susan Grimm, Ordering the Storm


H. L. Hix, As Easy as Lying: Essays on Poetry; Chromatic; Shadows of Houses; God Bless.
Max Garland, Hunger Wide as Heaven
Sam Witt, Sunflower Brother

Distinguished Visitors

We are fortunate to have the opportunity to hear from three distinguished visitors. On Oct 17, Max Garland and Sam Witt will join our workshop. On November 7, this year’s NEOMFA Distinguished Visitor, H.L.Hix will attend. In consultation with these poets, the workshop will decide how best to benefit from these visits.


In addition to our ambition to fulfill our potential as poets, we take on additional responsibilities when we enroll in a workshop. These include careful preparation for class, full participation in discussion, diligent completion of written critiques, and timely distribution of our own work.


Nowhere is grading more difficult than in a workshop. Giving grades to writing that is by definition unfinished often seems worse than pointless, since it reifies and perhaps even stultifies work in progress. This is especially true when trying to encourage experimentation and risk-taking. Having said that, we live in a competitive world of publication, grants, grades and awards, and MFA courses should prepare students to succeed in that world. So, I offer three grading options.

1. Publishing: To receive an A you must maintain consistent attendance and participation, complete all assignments, and submit at least two poems I deem publishable in one of the journals I’ve edited: Artful Dodge, Provincetown Arts,and New Myths/Mss. I’ll make copies of these publications available for your review.

2. Process: To receive an A you must maintain consistent attendance and participation, complete all assignments, and submit a portfolio of poems exhibiting an original approach to poetry. Your portfolio should include an introduction contextualizing your work and analyzing the process of your experimentation.

3. Project: If you are currently embarked on a long poem or sequence of poems, and think that you can complete this project by the end of the semester, you may submit a precis of the project in its current state. To receive an A, you must submit the completed project at the term’s end, along with an introduction to the poem or sequence. You must also maintain consistent attendance and participation, and complete all assignments.

Guidelines for one-page responses submitted for each piece workshopped:

While Wild Whirling Words illustrates that there is a broad range in approaching poems, there are some consistent themes which should guide your responses.

Responses should

  • be the result of careful analysis and thought—no “ first impressions.”
  • demonstrate an awareness of the context of the poem, in terms of its poetic assumptions and sources.
  • reveal, overtly or tacitly, your own poetic assumptions.
  • Provide insight into the workings of the poem
  • Offer reasoned judgments of what’s not working—beyond stating a preference.
  • Be balanced. Lavish praise or vitriolic condemnation are equally useless
  • Address the potential of the poems
  • Offer correlatives: What poems should this poet read

Stories that Happen: the Craft and Theory of Memoir

Once the purview of celebrities and literary figureheads, the memoir has burgeoned over the last ten years. In fact, USA TODAY claims that publication of memoirs now outpaces debut novels. In this course, we will survey the expanding field of creative non-fiction and delve into its literary and historical origins. We will explore the boundaries between memoir and autobiographical fiction, and we will develop our abilities to write and critique life stories in prose and narrative poetry. Ultimately, we will address the new phenomenon of memoir-writing in relation to the genres of fiction and poetry to discover how memoirs redefine the complex and quasi-contractual relationship between reader and author, and between world and word. Course texts include William Zinnsser’s Inventing the Truth; Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes; Thomas Lynch’s The Undertaking; Carol Moldaw’s The Widening; Edwidge Danticat’sBreath, Eyes, Memory; Phillip Lopate’s Getting Personal; Alexis Stamatis’American Fugue; and David Logan’s The Body of Brooklyn. Students will make a presentation based on assigned reading; write a journal of thirty pages based on class assignments; write two short essays/stories of five pages and one term paper of at least ten pages.


To survey the burgeoning field of creative non-fiction and delve into its literary and historical origins; to explore the boundaries between memoir and autobiographical fiction; to develop abilities to write and critique life stories; to delve into our own life stories for writing material; to inculcate and develop good writing habits.


Discussion of student writing; presentation and discussion of works by established writers; discussion of various approaches to writing memoirs and autobiographical fiction.


Zinsser, Inventing the Truth; Thiel, The White Horse; Mooney, Going Out Foreign; Danticat, Breath, Eyes, Memory; McCourt, Angela’s Ashes; Kingston,The Woman Warrior; Lynch, The Undertaking Logan, The Body of Brooklyn;Stamatis, American Fugue; Lopate, Getting Personal


  • One 20 minute presentation on an aspect of “Stories that Happen” based on assigned reading.
  • A journal of thirty typed double-space pages, based on class assignments.
  • Two short essays/stories of five pages
  • One term essay/story of at least ten pages

Note: All work handed in must be written during the semester.


Class work: 25%
Journal: 25%
Two short essays: 25%
Long essay: 25%

Week 1: Stories that Happen, Zinsser, “Introduction;” McCourt, “Learning to Chill Out;” Angela’s Ashes

Week 2: The Shape of a Life, Gates, “Lifting the Veil;” Angela’s Ashes

Week 3: The Shape of a Story, Angela’s Ashes

Dillard, “To Fashion a Text;” The Woman Warrior

Week 4: The Rhythm of Memory, Kazin, “The Past Breaks Out;” The Woman Warrior

Week 5: Self and Memory, American Fugue

Week 6: Self and Other, American Fugue

Conway, “Points of Departure;” The White Horse

Week 7: Self and Family, Updike, “Life with Mother;” The Body of Brooklyn

Week 8: Memory and Culture, The Body of Brooklyn

Frazier, “Looking for My Family;” Breath, Eyes, Memory

Week 9: Genres of Memory, Morrison, “The Site of Memory;” Breath, Eyes, Memory

Week 10: Memory and Fiction, The Widening

Week 11: The Deep Past, Getting Personal

Week 12: Self and Work, The Undertaking

Week 13: Memory and Ideas, Simpson, “Poets in My Youth;” The Undertaking

Week 14: Workshops/ Presentations

Week 15: Workshops/ Presentations


NEOMFA Craft & Theory:Literary Publishing

This craft and theory course will explore the wide and challenging world of literary publishing. We will survey the literary publishing world, from large to small presses, from Farrar, Straus & Giroux to Twenty Million Flies Can’t Be Wrong, from prestigious lit mags to racy lit rags. We will discuss editorial policies, design issues, book distribution, business models, book marketing, selling your manuscripts, hosting author events, and much more. We have the unique opportunity to see a small literary press in operation, working in-house with Etruscan Press, as well as with Artful Dodge, a national literary journal co-hosted by YSU, as well as our own YSU Penguin Review. For many classes, we will hear from distinguished visitors from the publishing world.

This course is especially useful to writers interested in starting the process of getting their own work published. It is open to NEOMFA students, YSU grad students, and advanced undergraduates with the permission of the instructor.

Requirements: One term-length publishing project (50%); two short projects (25%), and class activities (25%). We will read work published and submitted to Etruscan Press, Artful Dodge, and Penguin Review, as well as handbooks on publishing

Course Outline

Week 2 1/24 The World of Literary Publishing

Week 3 1/31 Getting Published: The Writers’ Perspective

Week 4 2/7 Literary Business: Tom Woll

Week 5 2/14 Managing the Small Press: Rita Grabowski

Week 6 2/21 Student Publications: Karen Schubert

Week 7 2/28 Young Adult Publishing: Virginia Monseau

Week 8 3/7 Big Publishing Houses Robert Mooney

Week 9 3/21 Literary Journals Dan Bourne

Week 10 3/28 Academic Programs: Maggie Anderson

Week 11 4/4 Community Building: Philip Warren

Week 12 4/11 Editing Anthologies, William Heyen

Week 13 4/18 Book Contests: Nin Andrews

Week 14 4/25 Grant Writing: Ann Amicucci

Week 15 5/2 Student Presentations

Sample Term-Length Publishing Projects

Act as Assistant Editor for Artful Dodge: Read all Spring submissions, evaluating each submission on a professional scale. Participate in meetings with AD staff to discuss submissions.

Research Grant Possibilities for Etruscan Press. Write a grant.

Conceive, propose, and edit a literary anthology.

Establish and run a literary reading series with at least three public events.

Start a literary book publishing company.

Research, evaluate, and present all book length contests in three genres, then create and run a contest.


By Heart: The Bardic Tradition from Ancient to Modern


This course will consider poetry as an oral art. We will delve into the sources of literary poetry as orature in prime cultures, and we will trace ways in which the oral tradition survives today in children’s verse, anecdote, joke, and ritual speech. We will consider how the Bardic tradition shaped and continues to shape poetic forms. We will attempt to stimulate and nurture our aural imagination. Drawing on studies in ethnopoetics, we will explore the tension and interplay between literary and oral art, considering the impact of education, technology, and modernity on the place of poetry in our lives.


Since this class is based largely on oral work, participation is highly stressed. You must attend and be prepared for all classes. For each absence or non-preparation, your final grade will be reduced one-half letter. However, you may make up class absences or non-preparations by learning by heart fourteen new lines of verse for each occasion. One class attendance credit will also be given for each Poetry Center event attended.

Learning by Heart

You are responsible to learn by heart and present two hundred fifty lines of verse from required or recommended course texts during the semester, plus fifty lines of verse from outside sources. These may include your original poems or poems by your classmates. All three hundred lines must be learned by heart—not memorized (see “By Heart: Curriculum for a Bardic School”). While these lines may come from many short poems, presented over the course of the semester, you will be responsible to present all of them together, plus lines you’ve substituted for class preparations, at the end of the term. You may substitute a research paper of fifteen-twenty pages for one hundred fifty lines of verse.


In class, we will present poems—usually more than once. We will learn some poems without ever seeing them on the page; we will teach each other poems; we will discuss and critique presentations; we will look into the process of learning by heart; we will consider the bardic tradition in all its forms. We will engage with the class texts.

Required Texts

Robert Pinsky, Americans’ Favorite Poems
Brady, Course Packet

Recommended Texts

Daniel Bourne, The Household Gods
Daniel Bourne, (ed) The Artful Dodge—any issue
Daniel Bourne, (trans) On the Crossroads of
Europe & Asia: Selected Poems
Of Tomasz Jastrun
William Heyen, Selected Poems 1965-2000
Crazy Horse in Stillness
Charles, Diana & the Queen
Pig Notes & Dumb Music: Prose on Poetry
Joanna Higgins, The Importance of High Places A Soldier’s Book


Based on preparation, participation, and completion of all assignments.


In order to receive credit for class attendance, you must demonstrate familiarity with assigned readings, and be prepared to make assigned presentations. You are responsible for any material discussed in classes you miss. Cell phones must be turned off during class. Please do not enter or leave the class while poems are being presented. Please be considerate and attentive while poems are being presented.

Course Outline

Week 1 Introduction to the Bardic Tradition
Readings : Brady, “By Heart: Curriculum for a Bardic School ”

Week 2 Children’s Poetry
Readings: From Roethke, Wilbur, Jarrell, Hughes, Kennedy & others

Week 3 Song (presentation by William Greenway & Steve Reese 2/3)
Readings: Greenway, “Celtic Music and Poetry”: Reese, The Feast of St. Monday:    Brady, “The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba (in Galway)”

Week 4 Ritual Speech (reading by Daniel Bourne,2/8)
Readings: Brady, “Teaching Tu Fu on the Night Shift”

Week 5 The Aural Imagination
Readings : Brady,“Entangled Music: Teaching the Aural Imagination”

Week 6: Oral & Literate
Readings: Shlain, from The Alphabet vs. the Goddess: Levy, “Introduction to The Iliad”

Week 7: Prime Cultures
Readings : Rothenberg, from Technicians of the Sacred
Yeats, Introduction to Cuchulain of Muirthemne

Week 8: Prime Cultures (reading by Joanna Higgins 3/8)
Readings: Snyder, from Interviews

Week 9: The Modern Mind
Readings: David Antin, “Talking to Discover”

Week 10: The Modern Mind
Readings: George Quasha, Dialogos: Between the Written and the Oral in Contemporary Poetry”

Week 11: Bard and Fili:
Readings: Brady, “Why Rhyme”: Galway Kinnell, from Walking Down the Stairs

Week 12: Bard and Fili: ( reading by William Heyen 4/9)
Readings: Robert Pinsky, from The Sounds of Poetry

Week 13: The Modern World ( AWP Conference—no class Thursday)
Readings: Robert Hass, “Listening & Making”
Wendell Berry, from Culture & Agriculture

Week 14: The Modern World (performance by Steve Reese 4/27)
Readings: Brady, “Ginsberg in Ballydehob”

Week 15: Slam
Readings: Zoe Anglesey, from Listen Up! Spoken Word Poetry


Introduction to Literature


“In dreams begin responsibilities,” says an old proverb, quoted by the modern Irish poet W.B. Yeats; and later, by the American short story writer, Delmore Schwartz. So the epigram, sourced in dream, is handed down through generations and cultures as a responsibility. Literature courses are poised between dream and responsibility. By reading, we plunge into the dream. By gathering to discuss our dreams we take on responsibilities—to ourselves, to our classmates, and to the intellectual and cultural traditions created by the dreams we read and the relationships we cherish. This course will offer the chance to read a wide variety of poetry and prose, from the 6 th century B.C. to modern time, and to respond to those works, in writing and discussion, to enhance our appreciation and understanding of the double-world, of dreams and responsibilities, in which we live.


Students will read all the required texts and one recommended text, complete all class assignments, and demonstrate mastery by passing two exams covering all the course texts, lectures, and discussions and writing a review of a recommended text. You must also prepare for and participate in all classes. You may miss three classes during the semester without penalty; however, you are responsible for all assignments and readings covered during your absence.


Robert Hass (ed), The Essential Haiku; Ron Hansen (ed), You’ve Got To Read This; Homer, The Odyssey (Fagle’s Translation); Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being


Maggie Anderson, Windfall; X.J.Kennedy,Dark Horses; Kim Stafford, A Thousand Friends of Rain

note: these books are available in the Visiting Writers section of the YSU bookstore.


This Fall, the YSU Poetry Center will sponsor readings by three of the authors you will be studying in this course, Maggie Anderson, X.J.Kennedy, and Kim Stafford. I strongly encourage you to attend the readings; for each reading attended, you will receive credit for one and a half class participations. The readings are scheduled in Kilcawley Center as follows:

Kim Stafford: Friday, October 5, 7:00

X.J.Kennedy: Friday, October 12, 7:00

Maggie Anderson: Wednesday, November 7, 7:00

Course Outline

Week One: Course Introduction; The Essential Haiku

Week Two: The Essential Haiku

Week Three: The Essential Haiku

Week Four: The Odyssey

Week Five: The Odyssey

Week Six: The Odyssey; A Thousand Friends of Rain; (Kim Stafford reading);

Week Seven: The Odyssey; Dark Horses (X.J.Kennedy reading)

Week Eight: The Odyssey; mid-term exam

Week Nine: The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Week Ten: The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Week Eleven The Unbearable Lightnesss of Being; Windfall (Maggie Anderson reading)

Week Twelve: You’ve Got to Read This

Week Thirteen: You’ve Got to Read This

Week Fourteen: You’ve Got to Read This

Week Fifteen: You’ve Got to Read This