The Poetry of Play

with Joy Roulier Sawyer

The Poetry of Play writing course

4 Weeks


Zoom calls Wednesdays 7-8:30 Eastern

Science has proven the many benefits of play—and that includes the exhilaration of reading and writing poetry. As the essayist and poet Diane Ackerman says, “Every poem is a game, a ritual dance with words.” Playing with meaning, sound, punctuation, titles, clichés, and absurdities can provide both blissful relaxation and help sharpen poetic craft.

As Ackerman says, “The spirit of deep play is spontaneity, discovery, and being open to new challenges.” In this class, we’ll enjoy a rollicking good time by responding to poetry’s call to do just that. Students will read a wide variety of playful poetry, then experiment with in-class writing prompts designed to awaken freedom and enjoyment.

It’s true: we’ll write ourselves silly. And if you haven’t already: you’ll learn to write poetry, too.        

Learning and Writing Goals

Writing Goals

  • You’ll read many poets whose playful or humorous poems lighten our lives. Among them are: David Lehman, e.e. cummings, Naomi Shihab Nye, J Diego Frey, Marge Piercy, Tony Hoagland, Lewis Carroll, Marilyn Krysl, Roger Mitchell, Paul Willis, Shel Silverstein, Ronald Wallace, and others. 
  • You’ll explore the solid connection between play and good poetic craft.
  • You’ll learn a variety of ways how you might read playful poems, in order to use them as springboards for your work. 
  • You’ll reflect on and write about your own experience of play and freedom as it expresses itself through reading and/or writing poetry.

Writing Goals

  • You’ll read and write poems with playful themes, both inside and outside of class.
  • You’ll define for yourself how you’d like to integrate play into your writing process, then craft poems accordingly. 
  • You’ll receive extra poetry prompts in each session that you can use to write extra poems outside of class.
  • You can expect to write at least 5-10 new poems during the course.

Zoom Schedule

Classes held for four weeks on Wednesdays, Jan. 17, 24, 31, and Feb 7 at 7-8:30 ET/6-7:30 CT/5-6:30 MT/4-5:30 PT.  During our time together, we’ll both read and talk about poems, write in response, and share our work when we can.

Course Syllabus

Week 1: Learn How to Play.

Before diving into play, it’s important to loosen up and stretch those poetic muscles. We’ll begin our class with poets Lewis Carroll, Roger Mitchell, Marilyn Krysl, and others. Freedom to play and experiment often leads to fresh writing.  

Week 2: Play with Your Message.

Poets can often slyly incorporate playfulness into poems that hold deeper meaning. We’ll take a close look at poems by Tony Hoagland, e.e. cummings, Ronald Wallace, and others. It’s fun to dig for poetic treasure, and we’ll do just that.

Week 3: Playful Poems About Words & Poetry.

A variety of poets write tongue-in-cheek about poetry itself. Poets like Paul Willis, Naomi Shihab Nye, David Lehman, and others turn the serious business of words into an exuberant party. Let’s rock and roll our way into poetic play.    

Week 4: Play with Humor.

People can’t resist humor, even if it’s said through the foreign language of poetry. Take a look at poets such as J Diego Frey, Shel Silverstein, Marge Piercy, and others. Then try your hand at writing your own personal approach to the comedic or absurd. Poetry might not make money—but it can be funny, honey.  

Course categories:
Course type:

Student Feedback for Joy Roulier Sawyer:

This was an excellent course that I was so sorry to see end! The instructor, Joy Sawyer, was terrific and the other participants very engaged. Joy is truly a motivated and passionate teacher who is very knowledgeable in her craft. She set a tone in the class that encouraged participation and her feedback was always helpful and clear. I would highly recommend this course to others. Peggy Capomaggi

Joy Roulier Sawyer is an exceptional teacher. She is so supportive and provided comments each week for the writing assignment. The workshop was very engaging and interactive, as I was able to share portions of my poems and comment on poems we read from published authors. I loved the 3-5 minute poetry exercises. Luke Corda

Joy is a dynamic and extremely knowledgable teacher. Her feedback was very inspiring. I always looked forward to her class and all her wisdom. I never knew I could write poetry and I am finding out I am pretty good at it. Bonnie Markham

I really enjoyed the course and feel that I gained so much from it. Joy Roulier Sawyer is an amazing teacher! She brings tons of information to the subject. Her feedback on assignments is so thorough and highly thoughtful. She always brings such enthusiasm to everything that she does. Lisa Gibson

Joy is a tremendous teacher and an enthusiastic person who has made me want to write at a time of my life when I wanted to be as far from pen and paper as possible. Her enthusiasm and love of poetry is truly infectious. She challenged us to write on the spot with no pressure or judgement. The way she analyzed poetry made it understandable and accessible. Without a doubt one of the best writing teachers I’ve ever had because she made me want to write. Joe Medeiros

Joy spoiled me! Sheila Abner

This workshop was perfect for me. I wanted a beginner’s class to learn the elements of poetry including terms, forms, genres, devices. The lessons included wonderful poems that illustrated all of these elements. Then we wrote poems in alignment with the lessons as an optional assignment. The teacher, Joy Sawyer, was very knowledgeable, personable, and encouraging. I enjoyed the camaraderie of the other participants and appreciated Joy’s advice for giving each other feedback. I highly recommend this interesting and inspiring class for anyone who wants to learn more about poetry. Michelle Bentcliff

The course was encouraging and positive. Joy’s approach and poetry choices were substantive and she gave us valuable info and feedback in a kind and helpful way. Janet Nodar

Joy Roulier Sawyer was an absolutely wonderful teacher. She was so supportive of everyone and noticed positive aspects in each of our writing and responses. Her responses to poetry we submitted was thorough and thoughtful. I will be looking for another course to take with Joy as she inspired me to continue to write. Joanna Bottaro

The course was fantastic! Joy Sawyer is a wonderful and inspiring teacher, she is a fine writer and poet. I loved the exposure to different forms in poetry, and the experience of writing and sharing the poems for feedback from the group and from Joy. Chelsea Congdon

My experience with Joy was beyond excellent. Joy has a kind, calm, yet instructional presence that set the tone for both education, inspiration, participation, and community building among the group. As a beginner, I learned so much from her class. Daphne Mazarakis

I found my way back to myself … or became more of myself through this course. Having the space to connect and be inspired, paired with the accountability and community to create was pure, poetic magic. Thank you! Gina Petersen

Joy Sawyer is one of the most inspiring, uplifting, and energetic writing teachers with whom I’ve studied, and I’ve taken literally hundreds of classes with dozens of writing teachers over many decades. She brings a fresh and very optimistic attitude to every class that she teaches. One of her greatest strengths is the way she uses poetry to spark discussions, which results in deep sharing and great writing prompts. Joy is a fabulous facilitator who packs SO MUCH into an hour, and always keeps discussions on-topic and on time. I always come away from a class with her with fresh writing I’d like to further work with. She is amazing. Paula Hagar

Joy was really well-versed in the topic, shared her expertise in a way that was not demeaning. She did a fine job of pacing the class so we could write and process as well as learn new information. Annette Gagliardi

The poetry class I took with Joy was one of the best classes I’ve ever had. She is a master of her craft and a very gifted teacher. I learned more about poetry in four classes with Joy than at any time previously in my life. I came out of her workshop infinitely more knowledgeable about the craft and inspired to write more poetry! Anne Ingels

Joy is an amazing teacher. Many teachers mouth a lot of platitudes, but Joy speaks words of writing wisdom you can carry with you a lifetime. She is a great listener, but also keeps things moving in her classes, switching it up with exercises, readings, workshopping, etc., all while keeping us focused on the subject. Holly Woodward

Joy is an absolutely phenomenal teacher: encouraging, enlightening. She’s very knowledgeable and clearly a skilled writer. And she provides such a beautiful, positive environment in which writers can be challenged without becoming discouraged. What a wonderful workshop. I will always remember it. Christina Lewis

In the poetry class I took with Joy, she brought the hidden poet out of every person, including myself. She gently shed the pomp and circumstance of what we may have thought was a poem, and invited us in for tea (or a glass of wine) with each poet we read. Joy introduced poetry as the democratic gateway of reckoning with life’s questions, mysteries, sorrows, and joys, and her concise descriptions of poetic terms and forms introduced structure to the often-amorphous world of poetry. I know my classmates and I now navigate that world with curiosity, discernment, and a remarkable “aha.” Marta Shoman

Joy has incredible teaching skills and an engaging, positive attitude. She is one in a million. Her knowledge of writing, poetry, and writing therapy is extensive, and through her teaching, I have learned to both understand and appreciate poetry for the very first time in my life. Twila Paul

I have taken classes with Joy for several years now. She has a signature style, one that combines her own life and writing experience with a personalized mentoring approach. Joy makes me feel that I have something important to say, and she gave me tools (writing exercises, examples of poets’ work) that helped me become a better poet. I feel heard and valued in her classes, and that is worth everything. Carol McDonald

Joy Sawyer has an exceptional ability to discuss the nuances of writing, all genres, all levels—each writer and poet is encouraged. She encourages great sharing and participation among writers. I am always amazed at her ability to hear each student, often comparing their work, or maybe a phrase, to a well-known poet or author. She gives such welcoming encouragement to each person in her classes. Mary Van Pelt

I’m very impressed at Joy’s ability to inspire and guide poets to take steps toward our goals, but also at her passion for writing and helping others find their writing voice. She is very organized, and every workshop is jam-packed with writing prompts and exercises and thoughtfully culled handouts. Susan Cable

Joy’s poetry class was wonderful. I left with so much affection for my writing, writing in general, and for my fellow writers. I felt like a part of a greater writing community, capable of creating momentum toward change in the world. I would take this class again and again. Shawna Ervin

I signed up for one of Joy’s poetry classes because I’d recently rediscovered my childhood love of writing poetry. I was hoping to improve and to understand what made a “good” poem. But in Joy’s class I got so much more. She seamlessly wove together discussions about the craft of poetry with readings of verses that demonstrated the broad application of the term “poem,” and that prompted writings. I came away understanding poetry better, with a new vast collection of pieces and the sense that in order to be “good” at writing poetry, I just needed to practice—to pay attention—and to play with words on the page. Eve Makoff

4 Weeks


Zoom calls Wednesdays 7-8:30 Eastern

Joy Roulier Sawyer


Joy Roulier Sawyer is the author of two poetry collections, Lifeguards (Conundrum Press) and Tongues of Men and Angels (White Violet Press), as well as several nonfiction books. Her poetry, essays, fiction, and articles appear in 50+ publications, among them Books & Culture, LIGHT Quarterly, Lilliput Review, Mars Hill Review, New York Quarterly, Ruminate, St. Petersburg Review, and Theology Today. She holds an MA from New York University, where she was the recipient of the Herbert Rubin Award for Outstanding Creative Writing.

A trained clinical writing therapist, Joy taught both transformative writing and poetry for more than a decade at the University of Denver, as well as taught in the Transformative Language Arts MA program at Goddard College. While in private practice, she revised and updated the third edition of Biblio/Poetry Therapy: The Interactive Process, one of the seminal textbooks in the writing and healing field. For her longtime writing therapy work, she was honored with the   Distinguished Service Award from the National Association for Poetry Therapy.

Since 2009, Joy’s been an instructor at Denver’s Lighthouse Writers Workshop, where she’s taught dozens of different workshops on writing, poetry, and transformative writing. In 2019, she was the recipient of Lighthouse’s Beacon Award for Teaching Excellence. Visit her website at: