Opening the Door to Poetry
with Jude Nutter
What skills do we need to acquire if we are to express, in words, something of our marvelous complexity? How do we manipulate and control language to create something that seems beyond expression in “ordinary” words? What (and where) is this other world, this metaphorical space that poetry opens?
This workshop is an introduction to the craft of poetry; it is designed to help you explore and answer the questions posed above. During the workshop we will look closely at some of the defining characteristics of poetry—the line and stanza, images, rhythm and sound, the dynamics of tone and point of view, the interplay of movement and stillness, and the difficult, critical work of revision. We will begin to uncover the relationship between form and content and come to understand how a poem’s pacing, music, imagery, line length, and syntax enable its emotion; how, essentially, the poem creates its “argument” and emotional content through its structure.
Each week, via the Wet Ink platform, I will share an essay and/or two craft poems (with initial questions to help focus your explorations), and a weekly writing prompt (with instructions). Initial thoughts and reactions to the readings and craft poems begin on Wet Ink, but a weekly two hour Zoom meeting will be the place where we discuss your ideas and insights in more depth. The Zoom meeting is also the place where you can receive feedback on your own poems generated by the weekly prompts: this is where you can get real-time responses and suggestions from the whole group in a safe and supportive environment.
I have deliberately defined this experience as a workshop rather than a class because the word “workshop” implies saws, noise, grease, and dust; implies that the work itself, the making, is the pleasure! Poetry is a process, a voyage of discovery, full of serious play and rewarding labour. The title of the workshop has, of course, two possible readings, and the door opens both ways: by becoming more fluent and adept in the reading of poems you will open doors into new subjects and possibilities, and this fluency in and mastery of craft will allow the mysterious animal that is poetry to step through that door and enter your own creations so that they become an embodiment of (not just a statement about) an idea or feeling. Poetry, after all, is alive: let’s open the door!
Learning and Writing Goals
- Explore the relationship between form/structure and content in poems
- Explore the main aspects of poetic craft
- Gain confidence in the ability to manipulate language to craft poems that reveal and enact their subject.
- Encourage the development of a sustainable poetic practice, which involves close reading, daily/weekly generative writing, and a commitment to revision.
- Create a portfolio of at least 6 new works/drafts of poems
- Receive poem feedback from peers and the instructor in a weekly Zoom workshop
- Provide various strategies for revision (essentially “re-visioning”) of initial drafts
Weekly Zoom Schedule
Opening the Door to Poetry will meet Wednesday from 5.00-7.00 pm Central Standard Time.
Zoom sessions will be two hours in length.
Week One: To Break or Not to Break: The Line
The line as your most powerful and problematic tool. What is the relationship between the line and the sentence in free verse poetry? How do free verse lines create and maintain their music, pacing, and the reader’s interest? The power and function of enjambment. Introduction to meter.
Week Two: The Poem’s Rooms: The Stanza
What is the stanza? Why do some poets break the block of the text into sections leaving areas of white space on the page? Among other things, stanzas help organize and pace a poem and can indicate subtle shifts in tone or direction.
Week Three: Working the Image
Images in poetry can be both literal and figurative. But what do we mean when we talk about a “figurative image” in poetry? And why are figurative images so powerful? A look at how images, both literal and figurative, can direct a reader toward insight; at how poets choose and arrange their images in the service of the poem.
Week Four: Motion and Stillness: The Lyric and the Narrative
The lyric in poetry is associated with feelings or experiences; the narrative is, of course, concerned with story, but the lyric and narrative are not absolutes: most poems move back and forth between the narrative “pull” and the lyric “moment.” The look at the concept of the “ghost of the narrative” in the lyric and at the narrative poem under “lyric pressure”.
Week Five: The Joy of Form: Sestina, Villanelle, Accentual and Syllabic Verse
A look at two traditional poetic forms (sestina and villanelle). Writing in form is a challenge and can send you down interesting paths as it forces you to rethink your syntax and diction to “fit the form”. A look at poems that structure and pace the poem through stresses and syllable count.
Week Six: Re-visioning/Revision and the Importance of Titles
What do you do when a poem comes to grinding halt, backs itself into a corner; when you feel you have lost the impulse and the music that initiated the poem in the first place? True revision as a re-visioning of the poem’s potential.
What about titles? Titles are not simple “tacked onto” a poem: they are one of the poem’s vital working parts. An exploration of strategies for finding the “right” kind of title for your poems.
Week Seven: Who’s talking? Point of View and Tone
A shift in point of view shifts the tone and focus of a poem, but why? An exploration of the different “relationships” that occur between (1) the reader and the poem, (2) the reader and the speaker, and (3) the poem and the speaker when we shift points of view.
Week Eight: A Good Send-off: The Importance of Closure
A poem, of course, must end/close at some point, but what makes a successful closure? Successful closure (like a successful title) is never “tacked onto” a poem. A look at various ways of closing a poem through content (subject) and structure.
Student Feedback for Jude Nutter:
Jude’s knowledge of poetry, poets, materials about poetry, and the art and craft of poetry is encyclopedic. She is generous with her time and feedback on workshopped poems and has created a spirit of respect and collegiality in our writing group. Talking with Jude about one of her own poems is like experiencing a mini-master class. Lynn Slifer
Jude is an acclaimed poet, so I am honored to have worked with her as a student over the last four years. She is a master at instilling in her students the craft and tools required to write good poetry. Whether you want to improve your writing, or start writing poetry for the first time, Jude is an expert teacher. Her workshops are dynamic and never cease to make me learn something new about reading and writing poetry. She is kind, incredibly interesting, and will challenge you to write and read poems with discipline and rigor. Her feedback on my work is always detailed, helpful, and done in a spirit that shows options to improve and complete a poem in progress, while never imposing on my own creativity. It is for that reason that I will continue to study with her for years to come. Any student who selects a workshop run by Jude will be better for it. Laurie Derechin
My first instruction with Jude was a weekend workshop that was part of the Iowa Writers Summer Festival in 2016. Thankfully, I had a flexible schedule that month, because I was so impressed with what I gained from that workshop that I enrolled in her week-long workshop immediately afterward! Jude embodies an extraordinarily in-depth expertise in the scholarship and technique of poetry, which she imparts to her workshop students with the utmost clarity and grace. She is both rigorous and compassionate, intense and humorous. Not only does she encourage students to challenge themselves—she challenges herself as well, through her openness to new ideas and approaches to writing poetry. Her ability and willingness to devote attention to each workshop participant while consistently maintaining inclusiveness during workshops is exemplary. To work with her is an honor! Nancy Wright
I have been in Jude’s classes and groups for several years. She approaches each poet’s work with a skill and a curiosity which has helped me to further find my voice and my own style. Through Jude’s example, I am learning to bring that same curiosity to other’s work as well. Mary Greene
It is obvious how much time and thought Jude puts into her students’ poetry writing. Jude goes into great depth with feedback to each poem a student brings to class. She encourages each student to discover what their poem is saying and to go deeper. In addition, she directs her students to poems, essays, and poetry-craft books by accomplished poets, all of which are discussed in class. I learn so much from Jude and deeply appreciate her dedication to her students. Andrea Johnson
Jude is an extraordinary instructor who gets to the heart of poetry and shares it with her students. As an award-winning poet, she helps me write more compellingly with her detailed supportive and helpful critiques of draft poems. She also digs into poems by established writers to explore issues of craft—it can be illuminating—how X poet got that effect. Can I do it too? Jude offers a cracking course. Carrie Bassett
I’ve studied with Jude for more than four years, and from the very first class, I was gob smacked by her knowledge, insight, and pedagogy. I came to poetry later in life and working with Jude helped fill in huge gaps in my knowledge. Her feedback on student writing is astonishing and thorough. From Jude, I’ve discovered where to break lines for astonishing effect, how to build tension to give the poem muscle, the surprise and power of enjambment, how to set up from the beginning of the poem a close that reaches and opens up and creates a lasting impression. Jude sets high standards, and her students aim for them and succeed. Kathleen Kimball-Baker
Jude is an incredible teacher, exuding humor and warmth. She notices the small things, the nuances of poetry. She is an incredibly accomplished poet yet meets every student at the place that benefits each one’s work. Susan Spindler
An excellent listener, Jude is sensitive and interested. She is inclusive. I had read about her, and her dedication to poetry and the teaching of poetry shines through…she has the voice and knowledge of worlds of poets and poetry that mesmerize. I felt that I was learning and being inspired at the same time. Her appreciation for other poets and her understanding of lines and syntax and sensibilities of poems, the readings and links she suggested, as well as her own shared experiences—well, it all went straight to my heart with no resistance. I found this incredible. Susan Minyard
Jude’s work is exemplary: rigorous, gentle, exacting, accommodating, inspiring and grit-filled! This was my third adventure with her. If our time with her were a card game named “Relevance,” we would all be winners! She is Imaginative, Sensitive, Skillful and Authentic. Gosh, her knowledge of literature and history is protean…a masterful teacher. John Langfeld
Years ago, I read one of Jude’s poems in a journal and I was blown away. I searched her out, took a couple poetry classes with her, and I’ve been lucky enough to study privately with her for ten years. Jude has had a profound effect on my work. I’ve had other teachers who look at a poem and give snippets of feedback—but Jude takes an in-depth approach to poetry critique. I’ve never had a teacher who takes so much time and care, who comments on everything from form to meaning to line breaks and punctuation. Her knowledge and expertise are evident at every turn. Jude addresses the nuts and bolts of poetry writing, but then goes so much deeper into the work. Jude understands the vulnerability inherent in writing poetry, with a genuine respect for the poet’s work. Barbara Reynolds
I have been in poetry classes and workshops with Jude for the past five years, and she has led me through all the major and minor (and subtle and advanced) aspects of poetry – using superlative texts, articles, prompts, discussions, and examples. And she has done this utilizing the most friendly, personal, exciting, humorous, and inclusive approach – her critiques of my attempts, and suggestions for improvement, have resulted in a positive leveling-up and betterment of my work. I truly do not know where I would be as a writer without her mentorship, teaching, and help. gil olson
I’ve had the pleasure of taking 3 different poetry writing classes (1 in person, 2 virtual) from Jude. In each setting, Jude assigned readings about poetry craft and provided unique writing prompts, in addition to giving each of us detailed and insightful feedback on our creative work. What a privilege it’s been to learn from such a renowned poet and skilled teacher. Having trained in science, it’s been wonderful for me to “switch gears,” to become enthralled and confident with reading and writing poems, thanks to Jude. Nancy Baker, MD
Taking class with Jude has opened my eyes to so many aspects of poetry that were hidden to me before. And her keen attention to my own writing and the suggestions she makes have immeasurably sharpened my instincts and my work. I couldn’t recommend a teacher any more highly. Paul de Cordova
Jude has a passion for poetry that is woven into every aspect of her classes. She is both a stunning poet and an amazing instructor. Through her generous feedback, she inspired me to keep learning, working, and pushing beyond the limits of what I thought I could do. Betty Benson
I’ve taken several writing courses with Jude and found her leadership to be consistently excellent, both in-person and online. She chooses her materials with careful attention to the needs of the class. Of special value are Jude’s skills as a leader of workshopping events. Not only is her own feedback on my writing substantive and helpful, but she also teaches her workshopping skills to other participants so that we all improve together. Jude is an excellent mentor. Michael Taylor
Whether you are an experienced poet, or just beginning to work seriously at the craft, Jude is deeply committed to help you shape, clarify, and heighten the effectiveness of the words you put on the page: she has such knowledge of the natural world and the literary world, and there is no better a teacher of metaphor and the “sequencing” of what you say and how to say it. Sandra Larson
Jude is so very generous of spirit when it comes to supporting students at all levels of skill. I have taken many classes with her and been in a writing group that she leads for over three years. In addition to being a fantastic teacher of the craft, she is also kind, warm and exceptionally gifted in her ability to provide meaningful feedback on student’s work. Clover Earl
Jude is a superb teacher and her insights have made me a better poet. She has helped me devise strategies for getting rid of excess poetic scaffolding (especially at the beginning of my poems); and taught me that most difficult of tasks: how to successfully “close” a poem. Since working with Jude, I have published two collections of poems, which I could not have done without her expertise and guidance. LeRoy Sorenson