On Form

Suzanne Gardinier                                         Tuesdays 7-9pm, Titsworth Living Room
914 395 2298                                                                                           sgard@slc.edu


"Why would I want to improve upon creation?" John Cage

In this class we will begin to investigate the mysteries of poetic form, via the abecedarium, blues, ghazal, haiku, lipogram, sonnet, villanelle, random integer generators, and the I Ching, and via questions like: what is form? Is it separable from content? Is it a fascistic imposition of order on the freedom of chaos? What's the relationship between randomness and form? Do its prototypes exist in a transcendental realm beyond the physical senses? (Is this what Plato meant when he described poetry as "concerned with something third from the truth"?) Did it disappear in English poetry of the USA with Walt Whitman, or with TS Eliot? Is what’s called free verse formless? Is form 'old' and formlessness 'new'? Is language itself a form?

You’ll be asked to memorize, do two readings, and make a final portfolio of ten pages of formal poetry you’ve read over the course of the term and ten pages you’ve written. At least one previous poetry class required.


Here is what you will be asked to do over the course of the term:

Do writing exercises. We'll spend part of most class sessions on various writing exercises. These should be brought to conferences for whatever discussion we don't get to in class.

Memorize. We'll start with five lines a week, recited at the beginning of class; this will turn to ten lines after midterm. Please bring a copy of your text, so you can look at it if you need to.

Participate in mid-term and final readings. These will be celebrations of your own work and others', with food and drink and enthusiastic applause. Details to be announced.

Make a portfolio. These should be half-chapbook/half-anthology collections, handed in two weeks before the end of the term, with enough copies for everyone. They should include at least ten pages of your new work, and at least ten pages of the work of others, annotated so we're left with a portrait of who you are as a reader and a writer. 

Participate in discussions. Please come to class prepared to say honestly what you think, even if you find that difficult. If you leave class without saying anything, you've left part of your job undone. Consider it your responsibility to hold up your end of the conversation. Please also come prepared to listen: to devote as careful attention to other people's thoughts as you do to your own.

Come to conferences. This is where we will focus on your own poems; please come prepared with at least two draft pages per conference. Before our first conference, please show me three pages of your own poetry of which you’re proud. When you email work, please send in one attachment, with your name on the front page.

Matters of Courtesy

Courtesy. If you whisper to other people in class while someone’s talking, go off on distracted tangents in discussions, show up unprepared, show up late or don’t show up at all, this creates the impression that you are careless. Then when you get sick and can’t come to class, you have no good-behavior credit to spend. Not just for this class but in general: Please pay attention to whomever is speaking. Make thoughtful contributions to discussions. Do your homework. Come on time. Go to the bathroom before class begins. Call ahead if you have to miss something; at worst, call after. Build up your good-behavior credit. You’ll be glad you did.

Attendance. This class depends on the attendance of every participant at every class and conference, on time and prepared. If you need to miss one, please leave me a message as far in advance as you can. It's likely that it will not be possible to reschedule conferences. If you miss more than three meetings (either class or conference) per semester, you will not receive full credit for the course.

Computers. For the sake of unblocked and undistracted interaction, please do not use your laptop in class. If you can't take notes without a laptop, please do not sign up for this class.

Making up work. If you miss a class, it's your responsibility to make up what you missed. Use your phone list; if you know in advance that you'll miss a class, call and ask someone to pick up handouts for you. If you don't know in advance, call someone to find out what happened; photocopy any handouts from them, and make sure the exercise from that day is prepared for your next conference time.

Asking questions. If you have a question in class that pertains to everyone, please ask it. If you have a question that pertains only to you, please ask it before class begins or after it ends.

Miscellaneous difficulties. If you are having difficulty with any aspect of the class, or with life in general, please let me know. Resist silent discontent. Speaking up means things have a chance to change.

Here is a C a l e n d a r , ever subject to revision:

January 29 / Introductions
February 5 / What is form?
February 12 / Haiku
February 19 / Blues
February 26 / Sonnet
March 5 / Ghazal

March 12 / Midterm Reading


April 2 / The alphabet
April 9 /
No Class / No Conferences
April 16 / Chance
April 23 / The thing beneath
April 30 / To see                                                          Portfolios Due
May 7 /
Presentations #1
May 14 / Presentations #2

"There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening
that is translated through you into action. And because
there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique
and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium,
and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business...
to determine how good it is, nor how valuable, nor how it compares
with other expressions. It is your business to keep the channel open.
You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work.
You have to keep open and aware directly
of the urges that motivate you.
Keep the channel open."

Martha Graham to Agnes DeMille