Finding Your Poetic Lineage

with Derek JG Williams

finding your poetic lineage writing course

August 9, 2023 | 6 Weeks |



In this six-week course, you will explore multiple poetic lineages: webs of influence among poets who are connected by subject, style, form, or tone. You will uncover the ongoing conversations that poetry creates across space and time, and write from those connections as they inspire you.

Each week, you will be introduced to a new poetic lineage, and together we will access the connections between the week’s readings. Then, you will practice what you have learned by generating a poem as a continuation of lineage—whether the poem responds to one of those we read, furthers a conversation raised by one of the readings, or even borrows a line from one of those pieces as a jumping off point. By the end of the course, you will assemble your own constellation of lineage to help continue writing outside of the classroom and better understand your own writing.

In this course we’ll read poems by Frank O’Hara, Jill McDonough, Tony Hoagland, Natalie Diaz, Marcus Jackson, James Wright, Kevin Young, Li-Young Lee, DA Powell, Nick Flynn, Andrea Cohen, Elizabeth Bishop, Janaka Stucky, Marianne Moore, and William Stafford, among many others.

This is an asynchronous course, which means there are no required meetings. You will have the chance to meet with the instructor to discuss your poetry at least once during the six-week period.

Learning and Writing Goals

  • Write five new poems based on the lineages covered in the course.
  • Gain insight into how their writing might fit into poetry’s history.
  • Develop a writing practice that can extend beyond the classroom.
  • Further a nuanced understanding of poetry.


Week 1: Celebration

“You are fearfully and wonderfully made.” Jill McDonough

Week 2: Competition

“Pardon my heart if it ruins your party.” Marcus Jackson

Week 3: Food

“Like grief you can eat & eat & still plenty left.” Kevin Young 

Week 4: Darkness

“Every darkness is different: you feel your way in, then it tames you.” Andrea Cohen

Week 5: Loss

“We’d rather have the iceberg than the ship…” Elizabeth Bishop

Week 6: Finding Your Lineage

“[Poems are] imaginary gardens with real toads in them.” Marianne Moore 

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Student Feedback for Derek JG Williams:

Working with Derek has been both a pleasure and a tremendous aid to my writing. He helped me work on a chapter for a non-fiction book I am writing; he listened well and understood what I was trying to accomplish, and then gave practical and incisive advice on how to express myself clearly and effectively. I am so lucky to have had his help and look forward to working with him on writing in other genres as well. Elizabeth Ferry

I greatly enjoyed working with Derek. He’s deeply informed about the contemporary poetry scene and teaches in a sensitive and supportive way. He’ll patiently lead students step by step through the assumptions they make in writing their poems, and ask if those assumptions match their intentions. He’ll also suggest other poets who are writing in a similar style, and show how to use their work as inspiration. I felt I learned a great deal at every session. I also like his wry sense of humor. Neil Bernstein

​I have enjoyed and learned so much from my sessions with Derek. During them, we talk about writing as a process, as well as poems and essays on craft, and the writing life. He even encourages me to disagree with his readings and feedback. I appreciate that he focuses on my goals as a writer, and what I find compelling and specific about poetry. Derek assigns readings that inform how I understand my own writing. They feel necessary. He is experienced, knowledgeable, insightful, flexible, and perceptive. Since I started meeting with Derek, my poetry has opened-up and expanded. It has grown more complex and creative—closer to what I want to be writing. Elizabeth Steinglass

I have worked with Derek numerous times on a variety of projects ranging from free verse poetry to lyrical children’s book manuscripts. Derek’s one-on-one sessions are concise and informative. I appreciate his inquiry-based critique style. He seeks to understand the intent behind my writing before offering suggestions and feedback. His questions about my work are thought-provoking and get me thinking about my manuscript in a new light; serving to improve and strengthen my work. Our sessions are collaborative and welcoming in nature. I leave each session with a plethora of verbal notes as well as written feedback and resources.

​Through working with Derek, I have learned more about the writing industry and technicalities of poetry such as meter, syntax, assonance, and structure. This knowledge has helped me refine my voice as a lyrical picture book author-illustrator. I’m so glad I found Derek. I know I am a better writer because of him. Amanda Davis

Working with Derek in our one-on-one sessions has greatly improved my writing. His constructive feedback has helped me to sharpen my work. He always has helpful suggestions regarding both form and substance, and also provides thoughtful prompts which have driven my creativity. The readings he suggests have been interesting and thought-provoking, and always related in some manner to my own work. I always leave these coaching sessions feeling inspired and motivated! Lacey Perkins-Kelly

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About Derek JG Williams

Derek JG Williams is an American poet and essayist. He is the author of Poetry Is a Disease (Greying Ghost Press, 2022). He holds a doctorate in English and Creative Writing from Ohio University, and an MFA from the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Derek’s poems and prose are published or forthcoming in Pleiades, Salamander, DIAGRAM, Best New Poets, Plume Poetry Anthology 9, and on Boston’s MBTA trains as a part of the city’s Poetry on the T program. He lives in Germany with his wife and dog. Learn more about him at

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