Archive of Technique & Form Courses
ENGL 7085: Technique & Form in Poetry
We will concentrate on reading and writing sequences of poems that adhere to some formal principles or patterns.
ENGL 7086: Technique & Form in Fiction - Narration & Consciousness
This class will be an examination of the possibilities and challenges of writing in the third person. The reading will provide a historical overview of shifting approaches to and ideas about narration, consciousness, and realism. We’ll look at omniscient third with authorial intrusion, stream-of-consciousness, over-the-shoulder limited, third limited serial, free indirect style, third person plural, and we’ll examine the themes, techniques, characterizations, and worldviews associated with each point of view choice. The writing will ask students to experiment with narrative voice, narrative distance, interiority, and so on, via imitations of the writers we read.
ENGL 7084: Technique & Form in Nonfiction
This course is an advanced study of Literary Nonfiction with an emphasis on contemporary theory and practice. We will focus closely on the work of Joan Didion, Sandra Cisneros, Terry Tempest Williams, and Simon Winchester. Sandra Cisneros will be visiting our class and will give an evening reading (open to the public). Through lectures, class discussion, presentations, and critical and creative writing, we will work toward a practical understanding of Literary Nonfiction in terms of its historical roots and literary traditions and consider the aesthetics of the genre, particularly with respect to questions of identity, sense of place, and connections between author, landscape, and history. Students will be asked to consider voice, structure, style and subject matter of assigned texts with respect to how they make these types of decisions in their own creative work.
ENGL 7086: Technique & Form in Fiction: "Which Vanishes But Does Not Vanish: Forms of Haunted Narration"
This course on hauntings is not quite a class on the classic ghost story. Instead, this class aims to investigate haunting more generally as a dramatic device connected to memory, metaphor, time, vantage, character, obsession, guilt, suspense, and trauma. Haunted fiction is fiction pointed backward, to the past, and I’m interested in thinking about how backward-turned fiction can move forward in a dramatically satisfying way. I’m also interested in the ways that haunting—both literal and figurative—creates a drama of narration that is distinct from the drama of event. I suspect that we’ll spend significant time thinking and talking about the connections between haunting, point of view, and form. All of our novels are in first person, and thus their wildly various forms can all be seen as direct representations of the haunted mind, the (urgent) organization of memory, experience, and loss. An author’s—or narrator’s—form is as revelatory, that is, as her style or her tone. Readers can locate feeling and meaning in the large-scale shape and movement of the novel. Ultimately, I see this as a class on the craft and complexity of first person point of view, with an emphasis on the forms and techniques of what we might call Haunted Narration.
ENGL 7085: Technique & Form in Poetry
We’ll focus on the sonnet and variations on the 14-line “norm,” proceeding historically but including a lot of contemporary work that “makes it new” while observing the traditional rules or breaking away, corrupting the form, and perhaps redefining it. Phyllis Levin’s The Penguin Book of the Sonnet will be our guide, but we’ll supplement it with handouts and individual collections of sonnets by poets such as John Berryman, Marilyn Hacker, Karen Volkman, Moira Egan, David Wojahn, Rita Dove, and others. We’ll consider sonnets that alter the number of lines, such as Hopkins’s curtal sonnets, John Hollander’s thirteeners, Norman Dubie’s 15-line Alehouse Sonnets, George Meredith’s 16-line Modern Love sonnets, and Gerald Stern’s American Sonnets. In addition to reading and responding to many sonnets, we’ll be writing our own, of course, starting with exercises in strict form but moving on to individual, personal, perhaps contrary approaches that might (or might not) subvert or play around with meter and/or rhyme (if any), rhyme-scheme, structure, volta, and the number of lines. We might find ourselves writing sequences, although that is certainly not required. Each member of the class will also make a presentation of sonnets by a poet whose work we have not had time to read or consider in depth.
ENGL 7086: Technique & Form in Fiction: “The World and the Story”
In this seminar, we’ll explore the interdependent relationship between world building and the construction of a narrative. What are the conventions, advantages, and challenges to various approaches to reality? We’ll read realism, magical realism, fantasy, detective fiction, alternative history, etc., and we’ll look at plot through the lens of those approaches. How does the invented world determine the story that’s necessary to explore it? How does a particular approach to story create a world? What are the similarities and differences in a quest plot, both in aim and execution, if it’s employed in a fantasy novel or a magical realist one? How does mystery work in detective fiction versus realism versus alternative history? Our readings will include a number of different types of world-and-plot pairings.
ENGL 7085: Technique & Form in Poetry: “Beyond the Single Lyric”
The focus of Forms of Poetry this term will be on going beyond individual poems to longer works: sequences, long poems, unified sections of books. How is the whole greater than the sum of its parts? What new discoveries and potential problems arise when poets go long? We will discuss ways different poets engage the challenge of longer structures, exploring their writing processes and varieties of published work. The course is open to graduate poets in their first term of the program and beyond and may be taken concurrently with the graduate poetry workshop. Poets to be discussed include Theodore Roethke, Rita Dove, Louise Glück and at least one poet who will be visiting this term.
ENGL 7086: Technique & Form in Fiction: “The Tyranny of Plot”
The most immediately conspicuous element of the popular novel, and of many literary novels, tends to be plot, and some writers and literary taxonomists tend to divide the world of fiction neatly in two, into traditional “plot-driven” works and “experimental” (often a synonym for “dull” or “arty”) ones. This class will provide us an opportunity to explore the meanings and origins of the term plot (going all the way back to Aristotle), to distinguish it from story, and to read a variety of novels that employ it, or alternatives to it, in a variety of ways. By what other means might a reader be propelled through the pages of a book, come to care about its characters, etcetera? To what extent is plot necessary? Can novels not driven by traditional plots still provide an immersive experience, produce a satisfying story arc? Novelists to be read might include Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, Joy Williams, Lucy Corin, Charles Portis, Muriel Spark, Padgett Powell, Sergei Dovlatov, Marilynne Robinson, Paul Beatty, Gaetan Soucy, Lorrie Moore, Tom Drury, Evan Connell, Yannick Murphy, Nicholson Baker, and others. We’ll also read some philosophical and theoretical work.
ENGL 7085: Technique & Form in Poetry
In our exploration of poetic forms, we’ll read a lot of poems (some in foreign languages, with Stanley Burnshaw’s The Poem Itself as our guide) and some essays on prosody (such as Robert Graves’s “Harp, Anvil, Oar”). We’ll write a lot of exercises in various kinds of meter, traditional forms, invented stanzas, and free verse. We’ll begin with an intensive crash course in iambic pentameter and other means of measuring verse (such as syllabics and Anglo-Saxon strong-stress meter). We’ll consider the implications and applications of Ezra Pound’s point that “there is a ‘fluid’ as well as a ‘solid’ content, that some poems may have form as a tree has form, some as water poured into a vase.” The culmination of the course will be individual Projects in Form, for which students will put together at least ten pages of poems that are unified by some principles of form and will write essays reflecting on those principles and precedents.
Stanley Burnshaw, The Poem Itself (University of Arkansas Press, 1995)
John Drury, The Poetry Dictionary (Writer’s Digest Books, 2nd edition, 2006)
Paul Fussell, Poetic Meter and Poetic Form (McGraw-Hill, 1979)
John Hollander, Rhyme’s Reason: A Guide to English Verse (Yale University press, 3rd edition, 2001)
Phyllis Levin, The Penguin Book of the Sonnet: 500 Years of a Classic Tradition in English (Penguin, 2001)
Mark Strand and Eavan Boland, The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms (Norton, 2001)
ENGL 7086: Technique & Form in Fiction: “Time in the Novel”
The concept of time is so fundamental to narrative, so inextricably bound to drama and meaning and character, that most novels, whatever else they might be about, are about time. For the working writer, however, time most often represents not a thematic or metaphysical concern but a set of structural and technical problems that must be solved. This seminar is intended to be a practical examination of the dramatic implications of the writer’s temporal choices. We will read a short novel each week, paying particular attention to scope, chronology, structure, pacing, tension, backstory, forecasting, the dramatic clock, the ratio of scene and summary, and transitions, as well as the relationship of time to other elements of fiction such as point of view, character, conflict, mood, and setting. The reading list will likely be organized from short time span to long time span, and will include work by Paula Fox, Toni Morrison, Thomas Bernhard, Alice McDermott, Saul Bellow, Dorothy Baker, Denis Johnson, Christine Schutt, and others.
ENGL 7086: Technique & Form in Fiction
This semester we’ll make an unconventional, but I hope intriguing, exploration of contemporary American fiction and of what aesthetic judgments are, how they arise, and the role they play in the so-called “marketplace of ideas.” Critical readings will include everything from Kant and Hume to more contemporary critics, whether theoretical or practical; these will range from Adorno to D. G. Myers and Meg Wolitzer. The primary form our investigation will take is twofold: Over the first 2/3 of the term, we’ll conduct a Tournament of Books, designed along the lines of the one run annually by the Daily News. We’ll start with sixteen American novels of 2011, and we’ll assign judges and commentators and pit them against each other in a kind of competition (or combination of competition, parody of competition, and meta-commentary on the wisdom and the politics of putting books into “competition”). At the end of this exercise we’ll not only have named a winner but, far more important, will have learned a lot not only about the landscape of new American fiction (its diversity of form and tone and milieu and origin; the variety of tools and techniques and forms available to it) but also about the underpinnings and assumptions of our qualitative judgments about books and other art forms, and about our responsibilities and our aims in making such judgments. The second part of the course will consist of revisiting, fifty years later, the judging of the 1963 National Book Award. The class will sift through contenders, name three finalists, read them, choose a “winner” . . . and then reflect on the exercise, on the notion of “posterity” and of “enduring literary value,” on the politics and accidents/incoherences of prize committees, and so on. The course will also provide ample opportunity for students to learn about writing in lively, accessible, engaged ways about contemporary fiction. When we’re discussing the novels themselves, our conversations will focus on matters of form and technique, on how fiction achieves (or doesn’t achieve) certain effects and on how and why we judge those effects in the way we do. What do we mean when we say, in workshop or elsewhere, that a book or a scene or a character “succeeds”? We’ll be aiming for a balance between readerly and writerly approaches. (Everyone will be required to read and write, whether briefly or at length, about approximately 10-12 books of fiction during the term.)