Formal Poetry

At the heart of all successful poetry is one thing: form, or the lack thereof.  Poets search for rhythms both found and natural, arc language haphazardly and with precise control simultaneously in the hope that every now and then lightning will strike. Randall Jarrell, speaking of how rare a great poem is, says that a poet is someone who stands outside in a thunderstorm his whole life and is lucky to be struck by lightning five or six times.  In order to understand how poems are made, we’ll spend this course going back to its roots.  We will test Robert Frost’s dictum that writing without form is like playing tennis with the net down.  How dependent are we on form?  How do we write in form?  How do we then break form and write in free verse?  We’ll be reading voluminously some of the more successful contemporary (and Modern) formal poetry (David Shumate, Nathaniel Perry, Rebecca Hazelton, Pablo Neruda, and Ellen Bryant Voigt, for example) in order to learn the how and why of this equation: music + form + language = poem, and we’ll then, through imitation and experiment, create our own formal poetry.  

  • Instructor: Gary McDowell
  • Length of workshop: 6 weeks
  • Dates: Tuesdays, August 30 - October 4
  • Time: 7 p.m. - 9 p.m.
  • Cost: $217.50 non-members; $195.75 members
  • Location: The Skillery in Germantown

About the Instructor:

Gary McDowell is the author of a collection of lyric essays, Caesura: Essays (Otis Books/Seismicity Editions, 2017) and five collections of poetry, including Mysteries in a World that Thinks There Are None (Burnside Review Press, 2016), winner of the 2014 Burnside Review Press Book Award; Weeping at a Stranger’s Funeral (Dream Horse Press, 2014); and American Amen (Dream Horse Press, 2010), winner of the 2009 Orphic Prize in Poetry. He’s also the co-editor, with F. Daniel Rzicznek, of The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Prose Poetry (Rose Metal Press, 2010). His poems and essays have appeared in journals such as American Poetry ReviewThe NationGulf CoastNew England ReviewPrairie Schooner, and Colorado Review. He lives in Nashville, TN with his family where he’s an assistant professor of English and Poetry Editor of The Belmont Story Review at Belmont University.