University of Texas at El Paso
UTEP Bilingual MFA Program
Poetry Techniques (Undergraduate) Minimize    

ENGL 3370 Poetry Techniques

MWF 11:30-12:20/BUSN 319

Prof. Rosa Alcalá

Office: Liberal Arts 212 

Hours: Mondays 9-11/Thursdays 2-4;/and by appointment 


Dictation, Imitation, Trans/form/ation: Poetic Processes and Possibilities 

This class serves several purposes—to introduce you to the craft of writing poetry through the work of other poets, to encourage you to see in their work possibilities for your own, to share your work with others, and to create a small manuscript of poems which you’ve worked on and revised throughout the semester.   This class is primarily an opportunity to experiment by identifying the various ways in which poetry can perform on and off the page.  The poems you will be creating in this class, then, will be responses to several kinds of contemporary poetry.  Through discussion, we will determine the various components each type of poetry offers; in writing, you will attempt to “re-enact” their work through given assignments that may include collage, collaboration, imitation, translation, and transcription.  In workshop, we will evaluate each response, offering suggestions and revisions.  By the end of the semester, the poems you present as a small manuscript will have undergone their own transformations, and you will have acquired a better sense of how to employ different techniques for varied effect rather than rely simply on “inspiration.”


Required Texts

Sleeping with the Dictionary by Harryette Mullen

The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers by Bhanu Kapil Rider

After Lorca by Jack Spicer

Instan by Cecilia Vicuña

Fast Speaking Woman by Anne Waldman

Jelly Roll {A Blues} by Kevin Young



Journal 20%

Participation and Attendance 20%

Weekly Workshop Assignments 20% (15% workshop assignments/ 5% revision)

Final Project 40%


Class Break-Down


Discussion Weeks

Normally, but allowing for deviations and delays, our class activity will look like follows: on weeks when we are discussing a book, I expect you to have read the book before arriving in class and bring your response to the reading (which will be kept in your writer’s journal).  Journals can be handwritten or typed, and you may add to it in class as we discuss the text in question. Remember, some of these texts will require that you suspend your need to “get” everything—go with the flow and don’t be afraid to just absorb images, words, flavors, sounds, rather than concrete meanings.  You will hand in this journal at the end of the semester for credit, and I will be looking for at least one full page (8 ½ x 11, approx.) per reading, resulting in no less than 5 pages—and if you are adding to it in class, you should have plenty more.  What should you be thinking about when you write your responses?  What’s your favorite poem? Least favorite?  What specifically do you like or dislike about the poem? What do you think is the purpose of the book?  Do you recognize any techniques, idiosyncracies, or particular features that stand out, such as forms, images, rhythmical patterns?  And as the semester progresses, do you note relationships or similarities between readings?  Also, as the semester progresses, our discussions in class will help you to respond more fluently to poetry.


On the Mondays and Wednesdays in which we are discussing a book, we will engage in a democratic exchange (this is where your journals help), perhaps concentrating on one or two poems or discussing the entire book as a concept. 


On Fridays, I will give you your assignment for workshop week.  The assignment will base itself on the book we just discussed.  You will be encouraged to ask questions. Remember, these assignments are your opportunity to experiment, have fun, perhaps write differently than you are used to or enhance your own style.  All these books and assignments should be springboards for creativity, not roadblocks, so your own interpretations, approaches, and departures are key.  Each assignment should be preceded by a short 5-10 sentence statement that describes the process or techniques used to write the poem.  These assignments are to be brought in on the following Monday if it is your group’s workshop week, or Wednesday, if it is not.  For these assignments, as well as for the final project, I grade on your level of engagement, effort, and innovation.



Workshop Weeks

This class will be divided into six groups of approximately 3-4 students.  Once during the semester, each group will be able to workshop poems they did for an assignment by bringing in a copy for everyone in class.  The other groups, who are not workshopping in class, will make copies for everyone in their group.  For example, if it is group A’s turn, everyone in group A will make 22 (or however many students are in the class, plus me) copies of their poems by Monday of the workshop week.  All the other groups will make enough copies for their group, plus one for me (which will be 3 or 4 copies).  Over the three days of workshop week, we will comment on, critique, and offer suggestions for each of the poems.  This will take approximately 20-25 minutes per poem.  As homework, the other groups will read the poems of their group members and write constructive comments on them, returning it to them by the end of workshop week.  If you are unsure what “constructive” means, pay attention during our in-class workshops and you are sure to learn.


Final Projects

Your final project will consist of four poems that have been revised out of the intial six assignments.  Throughout the semester, you will consider the suggestions I’ve offered, as well as that of your classmates, and revise your poems accordingly.  These are your poems, so it’s up to you to decide if they need to be worked on, but revision is a necessary part of the writing process and I strongly encourage it.  Since you will be asked to write a cover letter for the final project, it is imperative that you explain why you changed what you changed, and why not.  In class, I will demonstrate further how I want you to present this final project, but for now, keep in mind that you will be handing in earlier versions of the poems with your classmates’ suggestions, so don’t lose them and make sure they put their names on them when they give them back to you.


For both the weekly assignments and the final projects, I expect them to be completed on time, and will deduct points if they are not.


Elements of attendance:

I will allow three absences without penalty.  I do not differentiate between excused and unexcused absences—whether you are absent because of illness, crisis, or any number of personal issues including just wanting to sleep-in, you are allowed three absences.  Each absence beyond the third will result in the reduction of your participation grade by one full grade.  Each absence beyond the fifth will result in the reduction of your final grade by one full grade.  More than eight absences will result in failure of the course. The only absences I will waive are those for which you have procured a letter from UTEP administration. 


Do not come to class late.  This will hurt your participation grade.  Three tardies equals one absence.  Moreover, if you are more than fifteen minutes late, you will be considered absent on that day.



Academic Dishonesty

Academic dishonesty is prohibited and is considered a violation of the UTEP Handbook of Operating Procedures.  It includes, but is not limited to, cheating, plagiarism, and collusion.  Plagiarism occurs when someone intentionally or knowingly represents the words or ideas of another person’s as one’s own.  And collusion involves collaborating with another person to commit any academically dishonest act.  Any act of academic dishonesty attempted by a UTEP student is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.  Violations will be taken seriously and will be referred to the Dean of Students Office for possible disciplinary action.  Students may be suspended or expelled from UTEP for such actions.



Week   1 (Aug. 23, 25, 27)                                          Orientation

            2 (Aug. 30, Sept. 1& 3)                                   Discussion of Rider/ Assignment #1

            3 (Sept. 8 & 10) [No Class Sept. 6]                 Workshop #1

            4 (Sept. 13, 15, 17)                                          Discussion-Waldman/ Assignment #2

            5 (Sept. 20, 22, 24)                                          Workshop #2             

            6 (Sept. 27 & 29, Oct. 1)                                Discussion-Young/ Assignment #3

            7 (Oct. 4, 6, 8)                                                            Workshop #3

            8 (Oct. 11, 13, 15)                                          Discussion-Vicuña/Assignment #4

[Midsemester evaluation portfolios due]

            9 (Oct. 18, 20, 22)                                          Workshop #4

          10 (Oct. 25, 27, 29)                                          Discussion-Mullen/ Assignment #5

          11 (Nov. 1, 3, 5)                                                            Workshop #5                         

          12 (Nov. 8, 10, 12)                                            Discussion-Spicer/ Assignment #6

          13 (Nov. 15, 17, 19)                                          Workshop #6

          14 (Nov. 22) [No Classes Nov. 24 & 26]          Discussion of Final Projects (bring in all assignments)

          15 (Nov 29, Dec. 1) [Last Class]                       Work on Final Projects/ Journals (responses to readings) due Dec. 1


End of Semester Evaluation Portfolios/Chapbooks due Dec. 5th in my office.