University of Texas at El Paso
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CRW 5365

Formas y Técnicas de Poesía / Forms and Techniques of Poetry

Otoño 2005



Profesor: Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Class meetings: M 6:00 – 9:50 pm Worrell Hall 205

Oficina: Worrell 114

Teléfono: 747-6810


Office hours:  MWF 8:30 – 10:30  y de acuerdo con el profesor


Required Texts:


-The Iliad, Homer

- The Inferno of Dante (translated by Robert Pinsky)

-The Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman

-The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, Emily Dickinson

-Twentieth Century Latin American Poetry, edited by Stephen Tapscott

-The Making of a Poem, ed. Mark Strand, Eavan Boland

-Course packet #1: theories of poetry by Plato, Homer and Aristotle

-Course packet #2: The English Romantics & the “High Modernists”

-Course packet #3: sections of Ceasar Vallejo’s Trilce

-Course packet #4: poets of the Harlem Renaissance the Chicano movement, and the



Course Description:


This graduate seminar is designed as a poetry survey that examines not only the formal and technical aspects of the craft of poetry, but more importantly, to examine some of the roles poetry has played throughout history. In contemporary society (especially in the United States) poetry occupies a more or less a marginal space, playing a minor role in forming cultural, artistic and political discourse. This, however, has not always been the case. Poetic works like the Iliad and Dante’s Inferno were poetic works that helped constitute and construct the very culture itself. La cultura, la sociedad entera se veía en estas obras que realmente funcionaban como espejos donde la sociedad se enfrentaba con su propia imagen. Estas obras no ocuparon un espacio en las margines de la cultura, sino ocuparon un espacio central. Works like the Iliad and the Inferno were never conceived as personal statements, but a stories, or philosophies of the entire polis.


Es obvio, pero siempre importante decir que es imposible construir una historia poética en un semanario como este. Any attempt at constructing a systematic history of the role of poetry throughout the ages is bound to fail under the weight of that impossible agenda.

All we can do in a seminar like this is take a look at a few selected (if important) works of poetry from different ages and examine the roles that those poems played in the times that brought them into being.

Si el papel que juega poesía ha cambiado durante la historia humana, también la forma, la cara de poesía ha cambiado radicalmente. Realmente la cuestión para nosotros es cual es el rol de poesía en la cultura propia. By understanding that the role of poetry is always shifting, how can we reinvigorate poetry and place it in a more central role vis-à-vis the culture(s) we live in. We must learn from the masters of the past, but the past will never come again. To live in nostalgia is perhaps the great tragedy of our time. But how do we forge a future for an art that is ineffectual in a world order that is increasingly complicated and multinational? Is it enough to remain on the margins?


Course Requirements / Requisitos de este curso:


1.      Class participation. Weekly papers (two-three pages) on an aspect of the assigned material. Es importantísimo que cada participante en este semanario venga a clase bien preparado para discutir el material asignado cada semana. The short essays you bring to class each week will help focus our discussions.

2.      Formal presentations. Cada alumno escoogera uno el los textos para dar una presentacion formal sobre ese texto. Since there are more students than assigned readings, there will obviously be more than one presentation per book.

3.      Ars Poetica. At the end of the semester, each student will be expected to turn in a twenty page Ars Poetica. Every writer, every poet, ought to take the time every few years to reflect on his or her own art. We all write for a reason. Those reasons change with time. If we are not self-aware and reflective about what we do, then we are truly lost.



Jan 10th.. Introducción 

-Handouts and Discussion: Selected poems by Arlington, W.H. Aden, Fiser, and Williams. What do these poems do? What is their agenda? What is the form they take? Why are these poems necessary—or are they? Porque es necesario el arte de poesía?


Jan 17th. No Class. Martin Luther King Day


Jan 24th. Los griegos y la poesía

            -Packets available at Paper Chase

            -Platón, Aristóteles, Horacio / Plato, Aristotle, Horace

            -The Iliad (through Book 6)


Jan 31. Homer’s the Iliad

            -Books 7 through 24

            -Discussion will center not only around Homer’s Epic poem, its structure and

            meaning but also our analysis should consider why a work like the Iliad is

            relevant to thinkers and poets of the 21st century. Is a work like the Iliad even

            possible today?



Feb 7. The Leaves of Grass

-Walt Whitman’s epic poem changed the face of poetry, and created and “American voice,” marking a break from a European idiom. In many ways he became an important figure not only to U.S. poets but to Latin American poets as well. Why? In what sense can Las Hojas de Yerba be compared to Homer’s Iliad?

What is so distinctly “contemporary” about Whitman’s “epic” poem?


Feb 14. The poems of Emily Dickinson.

            -Like Whitman, Dickinson has become one of the most seminal poets for

Contemporary Western poets. It can even be argued that Dickinson has played a

more influential role in shaping a contemporary poetics both in Europe and the



Feb. 21. The English Romantics and the High Modernists.


            -Shelly, Keats, and Wordsworth: Creating a Romantic sensibility

            -The High Modernists: Williams, Eliot, Pound, Yeats and cummings:

                        Deconstructing Romanticism


Feb. 28. The Harlem Renaissance, the Chicanos, the Beats


-Examining these three schools of poetry allows us to examine the role of establishing a counter-aesthetic that has a political agenda. Certainly, in the case of the poets of the Chicano movement and the writers of the Harlem Renaissance, the poets were aligned with a politics of exclusion and racism.


March 7. 20th Century Latin American poets

-We will spend two weeks reading, analyzing, critiquing, Tapscott’s Anthology of 2oth Century Latin American poetry. Our discussions will center on how a Latin American sensibility, both in vision and in form, differs from and is related to the other works we have been considering in this class.


March 14: 20th Century Latin American poets


            -(Continued from previous week)


March 21: Spring Break


March 28: Dante’s Inferno.

            -Dante’s poem is perhaps the most famous poem ever written in the Western

World. It brings together a tight formal narrative tradition with a theology that is

still a force in today’s world. It is not only Dante’s mastery of technique that

marks his poem as “brilliant” but also his moral authority that is wrapped in

the theological world view of his time. Apart from a formal analysis of the poem,

perhaps a point of discussion is: “What would a re-writing of Dante’s Inferno

look like today? Would anybody read it?

April 4:  Vallejo’s Trilce

            -Trilce is arguably the greatest modernist poem to come out of the Spanish

Speaking world. Our Discussion will center on the organizational principles that hold the poem together as well as other formal techniques employed by Vallejo. In addition, we will discuss how Vallejo’s project is related to and differs from the agenda of the other Modernist poets we have previously discussed.


April 11

-The last three weeks of the semester, we will spend on writing our own poetry. We will rely on Strand & Boland’s Making of a Poem in order to facilitate a deliberate and directed poetry writing “workshop.” Each student will be expected to choose three or four different kinds of formal modes and employ those modes in the making of their own poems.


April 18.

            -Poetry (writing, critique, workshop)


April 25.

            Poetry (writing, critique, workshop)