Warp and Weft: Weaving Free Verse Poetry from Life
with Anna Scotti
March 6, 2024
As a weaver creates a tapestry from patterns of yarn, choosing colors and textures, warp and weft, so the poet can make art from the vicissitudes of daily life.
This eight-week generative course is for everyone who is curious about poetry, passionate about writing poetry, or both. We will examine how we can turn life events—from the everyday and prosaic to the heartstopping and history-making—into poetry. This is a fun, challenging course for poets who want to experiment with free verse, the literary version of abstract art. Experienced poets and beginners alike are welcomed to this workshop. All you need is an open mind, a creative drive, and curiosity about free verse poetry.
Weekly, we will meet on Zoom to examine and discuss poems by contemporary working poets and by fellow students. We’ll explore one contemporary free verse poem each week, analyzing how the poet uses poetic elements such as rhyme, alliteration, assonance, repetition, inversion, line and stanza breaks, direct address, and more—to turn life into art. You will learn to identify poetic techniques, and will offer feedback to your peers, but most of our time will be spent writing poems of our own, sharing them aloud, then writing again.
During this course, you’ll develop as a working poet by crafting finely woven, carefully edited free verse ready for submission to editors. Beginning with an idea for a poem, or with a few scraps of poems that never reached completion, you’ll experiment with prompts that will help you develop and complete several free verse poems—ready to share or perhaps even to publish.
Learning and Writing Goals
By the end of this eight-week course, students will:
- Learn and use poetic techniques and terms including alliteration, assonance, repetition, inversion, epistolary, imagery, slant rhyme, and more.
- Become familiar with a variety of free verse by poets including Ellen June Wright, Frank Gaspar, Gabrielle Calvocorressi, Carl Phillips, Robert Hayden, Liz Rosenberg, and course instructor Anna Scotti.
- Have a strong sense of how to distinguish free verse from formal poetry.
By the end of this eight-week course, students will:
- Generate a portfolio of work in progress from weekly writing exercises.
- Have a minimum of two poems polished and ready to submit to journals for publication, or approaching readiness pending another edit or two.
- Gain new tools and techniques for writing, critiquing, and understanding feedback.
We will meet on Zoom every Tuesday from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Eastern.
Each week, before we write from a prompt, we’ll quickly and simply define a couple of poetic terms, reinforcing what veterans know, while painlessly elucidating for others, keeping it fun, active and never stuffy. We’ll spend most of each session writing our own poems, inspired by the work of other poets and our own lives.
Week One: Gifts Past Expectation
Rachel Hadas’ poem, “Love and Dread,” stunned readers when it appeared in The New Yorker in 2019. What is it about this simple rhyming poem that so entrances? We’ll discuss the use of rhyme in free verse poetry, the juxtaposition of positives and negatives, and Hadas’ use of repetition.
Assignment: Please post a free verse poem inspired by “Love and Dread” on or before Sunday night. Please comment on the work of two (or more) fellow poets before class on Tuesday.
Week Two: Come Through the Pipes
This week, we’ll examine Gabrielle Calvocoressi’s heartbreaking “Miss You.” How does Calvocoressi use prosaic language, specific details, and repetition to weave a story of loss and longing?
Assignment: Please post a free verse poem inspired by “Miss You” on or before Sunday night. Please comment on the work of two (or more) fellow poets before class on Tuesday.
Week Three: What Comes Before That
Let’s talk about Carl Phillips’ “In This Light.” This poem is broken into stanzas. Is it truly free verse? What is evident from the poem, and what is only hinted at or to be intuited by the author?
Assignment: Please post a free verse poem inspired by “In This Light” on or before Sunday night. Please comment on the work of two (or more) fellow poets before class on Tuesday.
Week Four: In the Blueblack Cold
Robert Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays” is one of the best-known poems by a contemporary writer. We’ll give it a careful read and compare its subject matter and style with that of “In This Light” from last week. How does Hayden use imagery to convey a very real sense of physical place, along with an equally palpable emotional tone?
Assignment: Please post a free verse poem inspired by “Those Winter Sundays” on or before Sunday night. Please comment on the work of two (or more) fellow poets before class on Tuesday.
Week Five: Bright of Eye, Kind of Countenance
My turn! I’ve read a lot of your poems, and now it’s your turn to read one of mine. This week we’ll discuss “Where Babies Really Come From,” and look at it in two forms: its original prose poem incarnation, and the final version, free verse with line breaks, as published in The New Yorker. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each style? We’ll also discuss inversion and how to use it artfully.
Assignment: Please post a free verse poem using inversion on or before Sunday night. Your poem may be free verse using line breaks, or it may be a genuine prose poem. Please comment on the work of two (or more) fellow poets before class on Tuesday. Also, please choose a poem – one of your own – to share with us in class next week.
Week Six: What Have We Learned?
There will be no breakdown of a professionally published poem this week. Instead, each student will read one of his, her, or their own poems, generated in class, aloud. We’ll work on performance techniques and will offer feedback using the “sandwich” model of criticism. Poems presented may be ready to submit or still under construction. We will also discuss the professional presentation of poems for submission to editors and contests.
Assignment: Please post the poem you shared with us, even if it has been posted in an earlier version. If there are any notes or questions you’d like to include, that’s fine (differentiate them from the poem using space or some other method). Please comment on the work of two (or more) fellow poets before class on Tuesday.
Week Seven: Ugly Except They Were Beautiful
Frank Gaspar’s simple poem, “Quahogs,” invites a question that is never addressed in a literal sense, though the poem itself provides the question by giving us a series of answers. How does Gaspar use the pronoun “it” to create a sense of wonder, and ultimately, of satisfaction, in what is quite an ordinary event?
Assignment: Please post a free verse poem inspired by “Quaghogs” on or before Sunday night. Please comment on the work of two (or more) fellow poets before class on Tuesday.
Week Eight: Like Big Tame Birds
For our last class together, we’ll examine Liz Rosenberg’s “In the End We Are All Light.” The simplicity and beauty of this lovely poem belie the tremendous skill that went into its construction, from the artful polysemy of the title to the clear details and use of dialogue to create a portrait of long-married love.
Assignment: Go out into the world and observe, and read, and write, and publish, and please stay in touch! Students are invited to enroll in this class up to three times. Content will be updated between sessions.
Student Feedback for Anna Scotti:
Anna was a very good instructor. She is generous with her time and energy in helping students to improve their writing. Anna’s prompts in class were very good and led to lines for new poems every week. She also offered real world experiences with literary magazines and publishing that I felt were very helpful. Jeffrey Shalom
Anna is an exceptional writing teacher who possesses a unique blend of warmth, understanding, and deep knowledge of the craft. Passionate about poetry and its transformation into prose, she is a kind and insightful mentor who leaves no stone unturned in helping students unlock their inner power as writers.
With patience and expertise, Anna helped me edit my poems to their best versions. Her classes are fun, but you will work hard!
Anna shows you how to break a poem down to what she calls “the working parts-” and then she shows you how to use that as inspiration to write your own.
I learned so much working with Anna, and I’ve published four poems since our class together.
Anna is an exceptional writing teacher who possesses a unique blend of warmth, understanding, and deep knowledge of the craft. Passionate about poetry and its transformation into prose, she is a kind and insightful mentor who leaves no stone unturned in helping students unlock their inner power as writers. With her own successful writing career as a foundation, Anna’s guidance is invaluable. Anna’s expertise in the prose poem genre and her intuitive sense of how language and image work makes her an excellent choice for anyone who wants to improve their skills in this particular form. I wholeheartedly recommend Anna to anyone looking to grow as a writer.
March 6, 2024