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Dr. Mark Van Wienen, Augustana College


To sample the languages, forms, and varieties of twentieth-century American poetry and drama. To learn the art and craft of poetry and drama writing. To provide an encouraging, critical audience for each other's work. To develop as poets and dramatists through regular practice. To learn from some of the best writers of poetry and drama, to write some of the best poetry and drama.

Course Texts

Robert Wallace and Michelle Boisseau, Writing Poems, 5th. ed. (WP)
Cary Nelson, ed., Anthology of Modern American Poetry (AMAP)
Jeanne Emmons, Rootbound
Tony Kushner, Angels in America: Part Two, Perestroika

Plus: copies of your writing, enough for all in class, at least twice during the semester

Writing and Reading Schedule

Sept. 5

Course Introduction: The Range of Modern American Poetry; Poetry in Pictures

Sept. 12

WP chaps. 1, 2, 6, and 8: "Starting Out," "Verse," "Subject Matter," and "Metaphor" (1-17, 27-43, 139-55, 198-215)
AMAP: Alice Dunbar-Nelson, "I Sit and Sew" (106); Carl Sandburg, "Chicago" (107-108); William Carlos Williams, "Queen-Anne's-Lace," "The Widow's Lament in Springtime," "The Great Figure," "The Red Wheelbarrow," "Young Sycamore" (166-67, 170); Robinson Jeffers, "The Purse-Seine" (246-47); Claude McKay, "The Negro's Tragedy," "Tiger" (318-19); Langston Hughes, "Three Songs About Lynching," "Come to the Waldorph-Astoria"(509-512); Tillie Lerner Olsen, "I Want You Women Up North to Know" (652-54); Adrienne Rich, "Diving Into the Wreck" (943-45)

Sept. 19

WP chaps. 3-5: "Measuring the Line (I)," "Measuring the Line (II)," and "The Sound (and Look) of Sense" (54-72, 84-97, 113-27)
AMAP: Marianne Moore, "Poetry," "The Fish," "Sojourn in the Whale" (251-54); John Crowe Ransom, "Bells for John Whiteside's Daughter," "Dead Boy" (312-13); Claude McKay, "The Harlem Dancer," "To the White Fiends," "If We Must Die," "The Lynching," "The White City," "Outcast" (315-18); Edna St. Vincent Millay, "I, Being Born a Woman and Distressed," "Love is not blind," "Oh, oh, you will be sorry for that word!" "Well, I Have Lost You," "Love Is Not All," "Justice Denied in Massachusetts," "I Forgot for a Moment" (320-21, 327-30); Japanese American Concentration Camp Haiku (718-720); Dudley Randall, "Ballad of Birmingham" (731-32); Judy Grahn, "I Have Come to Claim Marilyn Monroe's Body, "Vietnamese Woman Speaking to an American Soldier," "Carol," "The Woman Whose Head Is On Fire" (1068-71, 1073-74); plus: A selection of limericks

Sept. 26

WP chap. 7: "Tale, Teller, and Tone" (167-84)
AMAP: Edgar Lee Masters, "Lucinda Matlock," "Petit, the Poet," "Seth Compton," "Trainor, the Druggist," "Cleanthus Trilling" (22-24); Robert Frost, "Mending Wall," "The Witch of Cos" (84-85, 97-100); T.S. Eliot, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" (278-82); Sterling Brown, "Scotty Has His Say," "Slim in Atlanta," "Slim in Hell" (473-74, 476-81); Sylvia Plath, "Stings," "Daddy,""Lady Lazarus" (980-81, 984-86, 988-90); Ishmael Reed, "I am a cowboy in the boat of Ra" (1050-53); Louise Gl_ck, "Quiet Evening," "Parable of the Hostages," "Circe's Power," "Circe's Grief," "Reunion" (1084-87); Ai, "Twenty-Year Marriage," "The Testimony of J. Robert Oppenheimer," "The Priest's Confession" (1149-55)

Oct. 3

Kushner, Angels in America, Part II: Perestroika

Oct. 10

WP chaps. 9-11: "Beyond the Rational," "Finding the Poem," and "Devising and Revising" (222-40, 251-71, 282-301)
AMAP: Emily Dickinson, 520, 613, 712, 754, 1129 (12-13, 14-17); James Weldon Johnson, "The White Witch" (34-36); Wallace Stevens, "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird," "The Emperor of Ice-Cream," "The Idea of Order at Key West" (127-29, 132, 138-39); Frank O'Hara, "Poem," "A Step Away From Them," "The Day Lady Died," "Why I Am Not a Painter" (827-31); Susan Howe, "The Falls Fight," "Hope Atherton's Wanderings" (1036-42); Michael S. Harper, "American History," "We Assume: On the Death of Our Son, Reuben Masai Harper," "Reuben, Reuben," "Deathwatch," "Dear John, Dear Coltrane" (1045-49)

Oct. 17

Prep for South Dakota State Penitentiary Workshop

Oct. 18

10:00-11:30 Pen Workshop I

Fall Break

Oct. 26

10:00-11:30 Pen Workshop II

Oct. 31

Working Portfolio due

Nov. 7

Jeanne Emmons, Rootbound

Nov. 14

Jeanne Emmons Visit: Poetry Reading 3:00-4:30, Poetry Workshop at class time
WP chap. 12: "Becoming a Poet" (310-23)

Nov. 21

Long Poems and Sequences
AMAP: T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land (285-301); Allen Ginsberg, "Witchita Vortex Sutra" (857-73); Adrienne Rich, "Twenty-one Love Poems" (945-53)


Nov. 28

Two Contemporaries: Denise Levertov and W. S. Merwin
AMAP: All poems by Levertov (807-24) and Merwin (912-20)

Dec. 5

The Next Generation?
AMAP: All poems by Sherman Alexie (1217-23)

Dec. 12

Final Portfolio due (at our exam time during Finals Week)

Course Expectations and Procedures

1. A Writer's Notebook: Assigned and Independent Writing

--Three or four times a week, at least, you should plan to spend some concentrated time working at your writing. Keep the products of this writing in a single place--almost any kind of notebook or folder will do. If you like working on a word processor, keep your work on a single disk (backed up on a second disk) or in a separate directory on a hard drive (backed up with a disk!), and make hard copies of all drafts. Write the date of composition on your drafts, whether printed out or written in a notebook.

--For most weeks, you will have some assigned writing: a particular type of poem to write, a writing exercise to try out, a kind of dramatic situation to work on, etc. These assignments should be completed by Tuesday evening, typed or printed out, brought to class, and handed in for my feedback (make sure you make and keep a copy for yourself as well). For one class during the first half of the semester and one in the second half, I will ask that you bring enough copies of your assigned exercise for everyone in class to have a copy. These copies will then be distributed for an in-class workshop--about which see point #2, below, for more.

--Each week you should spend some time doing independent writing, working on poems, word play, dramatic scenes or scenarios, as your inspiration and inclination direct you. The products of this work should be kept in your writing notebook or folder, which you should take to class with you. Every week, in addition to the assigned exercise, you should make a printout or type out one piece of work from your independent writing and be ready to hand in this, too, for my feedback.

--Your writing will receive regular instructor and peer feedback: Except on weeks when other major assignments are due, I will collect one or two pieces of your writing on which I will give you a written critique: sometimes the assigned exercise, sometimes independent writing, sometimes both. On other occasions you will receive peer feedback working in small groups. I will also occasionally select a piece from your assigned or independent writing that you hand in, make photocopies at a class break, and distribute them for in-class feedback--a kind of impromptu workshop.

2. "Fit Audience, Though Few": Class Attendance and Participation

--While the single most important factor in developing as a creative writer is simply writing (thus the importance of #1, above), the second and third essential ingredients (not necessarily in order) are

_ finding an audience that cares about your writing, and

_ learning from other writers who have shown their mastery of the art and craft of poetry and drama writing.

An audience interested in your writing provides two crucial elements: informed appreciation, which encourages you to take risks and to recognize the strengths of your writing; and constructive criticism, which helps to recognize better the weaknesses and possibilities in your work. A careful and passionate reading of the poetry and drama of accomplished writers past and present provides a context for understanding the range and possibilities of these genres, and a compendium of techniques and vocabulary to deploy in your own writing.

--A primary expectation for English 305 is your active involvement in class discussion and in-class workshops. You should take reading assignments seriously; come ready to discuss the poems, drama, and poetry-writing text as they are assigned in the reading schedule. You should also come to class prepared to offer a supportive and constructively critical audience for your classmates' work, and you should be prepared to receive such support and criticism constructively. Your contributions to class discussion and to in-class workshops will be duly noted. Particularly good or poor class participation may influence your final grade, pushing it up a third in the former case, down a third in the latter.

--For each unexcused absence after two, two full letter grades will be deducted from your final course grade (from an A to a C, for example). At every class I will pass around an attendance sheet to be signed. Absences can be excused only for documented, serious situations (debilitating illness or urgent family emergency) or for direct conflict with an official event scheduled by a college organization (music performance, athletic competition). Illnesses not requiring a doctor's care might cause you to stay home from class, but they don't count as debilitating illness; keep your two "free" absences in reserve for these situations. You should contact me as soon as possible if you must miss class for a legitimate, verifiable excuse, ideally prior to the class you miss, and never later than the following class meeting. You are responsible for making up any work missed during any absence.

3. Poetry Workshops at the South Dakota State Penitentiary

--On two occasions during the semester, tentatively scheduled just before and after fall break, we will take our knowledge and skills as poets to the school located at the South Dakota State Penitentiary. In the penitentiary school we will be visiting a writing class conducted by Barb Muller, where our interest in and knowledge of poetry writing will complement and enhance the regular instruction in basic writing. Also joining this class will be tutors from the penitentiary school.

--Based on what we have learned and put into practice in class, you will work in groups of twos and threes to develop a brief presentation and a couple of exercises that aim to develop some fundamental poetry-writing skills. We will devote substantial class time in preparing for our workshops in the penitentiary.

4. Drama Review

--At least once during the semester you should attend a live dramatic production and write a review focusing on the craft of the playwright. Your review should be two pages in length, typed, doublespaced, and should be turned in no later than a week after the you attend. On the evening you turn in your review, you should also be prepared to give a brief oral review to the class.

--Here are some questions you might consider in writing your review. Listen closely to the playwright's language: Is the dialogue realistic or stylized? What resources does the playwright provide for the actors: To make comedy? To generate pathos? To stimulate reflection or a response in the audience? What action is scripted for the actors, or otherwise demanded by the development of the play--and is this action effective, especially given the constraints of the particular theatre? How, and how well, is character exposition handled? How, and how well, is the pacing of the rising and falling action done? What is the overall tone of the play: naturalistic, surreal, tragic, comic, tragi-comic? How are breaks, or transitions, between scenes handled? What stage properties and costuming seem to be demanded by the script--and what left open to the interpretations of the designers and costumers?

5. A Writer's Portfolio

--On two occasions during the semester I will ask that you turn in a portfolio of your writing. Once, early in November, you should turn in a "Working Portfolio," which includes your best work written to that date: meaning not only your most polished, but also your most promising (even if quite rough in some respects). Your working portfolio should include both poetry and drama: up to ten poems (10 page limit) and one or more dramatic scenes, including a scenario to give the larger context (8-10 pages).

--At the end of the semester you should turn in a "Final Portfolio" that again includes your best work. Some of the poems, especially those you feel may be rough but are progressing, may be presented with the earlier, rougher drafts attached. The proportion of genres in the final portfolio is up to you; you may even choose to focus entirely on one genre. However you divide your attention, you should turn in about 25 pages of finished work. The quality of your two portfolios, taken together, will determine the larger part of your course grade.

--Finally, a few words on evaluation: Creative writing is notoriously difficult for instructors to evaluate by letter grades, and it can be difficult for students to receive letter grades on their creative writing. For most of the semester we will be using a non-letter grading system: you will simply receive comments reflecting my appreciation and criticism of your writing. Also, almost half of the course grade (as you can see by the percentages below) will be determined not by the quality of your writing, directly measured, but by your critical writing (in the drama review) and especially by your diligent preparation for class and your constructive participation in class. When I do give letter grades--for the working portfolio and the final portfolio--I will apply the criteria for the craft of writing poetry and drama that we will be discussing, and developing, at some length in class. Since one of the objectives of the reading and writing assignments will be to extend the range of your writing, both in terms of form and subject matter, the variety of your writing will also be an important criterion.

--You are, in joining the class, placing a certain faith in my experience as a writer and critic of poetry to evaluate your writing fairly and constructively. One of my goals as an instructor is to justify that faith by explaining clearly my reasons for a particular evaluation and by being available for conferences at any time during--or after--the semester. If at any time in the semester you think it would be helpful to receive a letter grade on your portfolio (your best writing to date), we can schedule a conference to discuss a current grade and your progress in the class.


Following is a percentage breakdown of the components of the final grade:

15% Assigned Weekly Writing (based on completion of assignments)
10% Writer's Notebook (based on regular writing, grade determined during a grading          conference late in semester)
10% Penitentiary Workshops (based on participation and your lesson plans)
10% Drama Review
15% Working Portfolio
40% Final Portfolio


Plagiarism is a serious violation of academic and professional integrity. If an assignment or portfolio which you turn in contains plagiarism, even unintentional plagiarism, you will be failed for that assignment or portfolio and must turn in a new one that corrects the problem. If any work you turn in shows evidence of intentional plagiarism, you will be failed for the course. If you have any questions about plagiarism, or about how to appropriately paraphrase and cite other writers' work, come and see me at my office hours.

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