Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Bay Poetics online class complete

Here is a portion of the syllabus (in which I use what I call my "marketing prose" to sell the class to students at New College of Florida and in which the hisotry gets a bit slippery).

Contemporary Poetics in the San Francisco Bay Area: An Online Creative Writing Workshop and Whirlwind Tour

When it comes to avant-garde writing, San Francisco is famously associated with young, edgy types like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, but another vein of innovators generally known as the San Francisco Renaissance poets, lead by Jack Spicer and Robert Duncan, ran concurrent with the Beats. Risk-takers like these, those who push the limits of language and form, continue to flourish in the Bay Area today. For many reasons, they remain outside of the academic canon or pop culture, though their work is intimately connected to both. They have been called L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets, New Narrativists and New Brutalists–but mostly they are a varied cross-section, many of whom run their own small presses and literary journals. A thriving Internet and social “scene” has developed around the kinds of work they do and the virtual community extends nationwide as the revolution in indie publishing and cross-genre writing continues to grow and change.

We will look at what defines a particular community of writers as a way to understand current trends in poetry. The readings and discussion will serve as the genesis for new writing experiments of your own and may also inspire you to articulate or breathe life into aesthetic communities that are directly related to your work. Our primary text will be Bay Poetics. A copy of this book will be on reserve at the campus library. It is available through Small Press Distribution (www.spd.org) and Amazon.com. I will also bring other sources–literary journals, zines, and websites—into the conversation. Students will be expected to bring similar material to the forum as the course progresses.

Class size will be limited to 10 students, first come first serve basically

After registering for the ISP, you must submit a 5-page creative portfolio (may include poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, etc) the week before ISP begins. Send to: amberdipietra@yahoo.com This is just to help me get to know you.
Also, at this time, please indicate your preference for Monday/Wednesday posting or Tuesday/Thursday (see below).

Reading List


Bay Poetics. Ed. Stephanie Young, Cambridge, MA: Faux Press, 2006.

Works that will be e-mailed to you:

Introduction to Postmodern American Poetry: A Norton Anthology. Ed. Paul Hoover. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1994. xxv-xxxix


(A more comprehensive list of these sites, including specific blog entries and articles will be posted as active links on the class forum by the first day of ISP.)

kickingwind.com Poet Kate Greenstreet’s blog
ronsilliman.blogspot.com Poet Ron Silliman’s blog.
readingbaypoetics.blogspot.com Devoted to generating discussion about the anthology.
stephanieyoung.org/blog/ Editor of Bay Poetics
shampoopoetry.com Online poetry journal.
mondaynightlit.com Samples from local literary journal
galatearesurrects.blogspot.com Myriad reviews of new poetry collections and projects.
citylights.com Home of Beat literature and New Directions Publishing
sfsu.edu/~poetry/eventCalendar. A sampling of events in the poetry community
how2journal.com Innovative and modernist writing by women.
litvert.com/cubreportoaklandnewbrutal.html On New Brutalism
newyipes.blogspot.com The People Magazine of experimental poetry.
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:New_Picture.png Scan from 1978 magazine cover coining
Language poetry
ubu.com Vast database of avant-garde, ethnopoetic and outsider arts

And here is the final report--made to Aron Edidin. He is a professor of linguistic philosophy at NCF and was also in charge of overseeing the Alumni Fellows Also ironically, he is one of the only professors in whose class I did poorly enough so as to make me embarrassed to speak with him afterward. Fate saw it fit that he should be the only professor I have reconnected with after ten years. It was very redeeming for me. (I guess I did not have a head for the subject--which maybe says something about me and language poetry actually. but I did make a noble attempt in the form of ten page paper where I repeated the phrase "my hairless rat named Innard"--who expired shortly thereafter—as my example of a speech act.)

First Week

A few days before ISP began; I emailed all the students with the login and password information for the class blog which was run as a private community on livejournal.com. I asked them to make an account for themselves on livejournal and to log into the community with a brief paragraph of introduction. In addition to the syllabus, which I added to the blog with a tag of “class admin” so that student s could have it as reference and my email/phone number (should email fail us) I posted the following.

How to use this class: a quick reference
My role
The way I see it is that I am not so much an instructor as a guide and a facilitator—helping you to organize ideas and fill in context around the poetry and narrative we will be reading. The directions this ISP can go in are so varied, that my inclination is to be fairly general in my entries and more specific when it comes to addressing something you have brought up. That way, many little ISPs can exist in one (one person may wish to use the critical theory lens, one person may wish to focus on the poetry in a very personal way as it relates to their own writing, another person may use this class to think about visual art or pop culture….). I’ll try to respond to your threads of interest in a way that helps you go further and also, that ties those threads to fellow students so that an interesting synergy emerges. I want to keep my input fairly simple so it will work as a template for you. (I think for the first week, I may be more on the talky side, as evidenced by recent posts, just until things get going, you know…)

Key reading vs. non-required reading for the class
In my commentary, I will frequently mention links you may want to look into, sites to check out that may shed light upon or open up a certain writer or way of writing. It is your choice which of these links you follow, with the exception of some required Key Readings during this first week and the second week. And the anthology is required reading, but of course, it is up to you which parts of it you will choose to focus on.

Links list, suggesting links and using tags and titles
I will be keeping a links list on the sidebar on this page and when that fills up (LJ only allows for 20) you can click on the link that says, quite cleverly, “Extended Links List” and it will lead you to the Baypoetics Profile page which will include more links that pertain to the subjects we will be discussing.

Our blog may become quite unwieldy as the month goes on, which is what we have tags for. I ask you to try to use very obvious tags, even lean toward generalization. So if you are posting about Leslie Scalapino and Buddhism, just tag it with “Scalapino”. Otherwise, we will have so many random, idiosyncratic tags that they will not be useful for searching. Make the titles of your post more specific, overly lengthy even, so that if a fellow student wants to go back and read your post titled “Scalapino living out the Buddhist instant trough syntax” it can be distinguished in the Page Summary list from a post that is titled "Scalapino’s linguistic Buddhism”.

Stay on track with your posts while mixing it up
For the sake of organization and me being able to keep track so I can write thorough evaluations at the end of ISP, please stick to the posting schedule I have laid out. Tuesdays and Thursdays for critical posts (which can mean theoretical or can mean just thoughtful) and Fridays for a bit looser, “creative” writing.

I would imagine that you will be able to talk about one or two poets each week that really excited you (or perhaps confounded or annoyed you). Draw on whatever you like to write these posts—if you are a biology student, find a way to connect your research. If you are obsessed with a song on the radio, use it somehow. And, it is always great if you can suggest links. If you are writing a post that suggest a link you feel is important for others to keep in mind, please use the “links” tag for that entry.

As for the creative writing on Fridays, I will suggest some writing prompts at the beginning of each week and I encourage you to stretch and bend your writing by following these exercises. However, these may not always work for you, so you can abandon them midweek if need be. What is more important is that you post something on Friday that you want to share and get feedback on.

How should you begin? Just dive in. Please review the syllabus below for a more detailed explanation of posting and commenting expectations. Your first post is due this Tuesday, January 8. But please post your intro/test post first if you have not already done so.

In addition to the poets from the anthology (we covered about 27 poets each week) I scanned in the introduction to Postmodern American Poetics (a Norton anthology) and asked them to compare this detailed and condensed timeline of experimental poetry since World War II with Stephanie Young’s more informal and colloquial “snapshot” that introduces Bay Poetics. I also discussed how it was the Young came to be the editor of BA ad directed the students to her blog.

Second Week

In addition to the poets in the anthology, students were asked to do internet research on the following:

1. Jack Spicer and Robert Duncan
2. Language poetry (anything according to Charles Bernstein would be especially pertinent)
3. New Narrative

These three topics were meant to further contextualize the history, theory, and aesthetics that inform the poetry in BA.

Third Week

While continuing to read through the poetry in the anthology, students were asked to visit the links of some of the main institutions in the San Francisco Bay Area that house and generate activity in the poetics community. These include various MFA in Writing programs—especially San Francisco Sate University’s The Poetry Center, book stores and blanket organizations like Small Press Traffic and Small Press Distributors..

Fourth Week

While finishing up the remainder of the reading in the anthology, I asked the students to check out websites for some the small presses and literary journals in the SF Bay Area. I also suggested a variety of online sites where they could read reviews of new poetry. Such reviews are written and submitted daily by all sorts of readers, many of whom are students just like themselves, and I wanted them to see how possible it is to enter into the forum of post-avant poetics if one is so inclined. A couple examples of sites that I pointed the students to were Jacket and Rain Taxi.

Creative Writing
Each week, I posted a few suggestions for writing exercises and each Friday, the students shared their results on the class blog. Prior to teaching this class, I had conducted a series of mini-interviews via email with some of the poets we were to read. I published the interviews on the blog along with my thoughts about each poet’s ideas. Most of the poets I interviewed suggested their own writing prompts. For example: choose from one of Charles Bernstein’s dozens of famous language experiments and try it out, imagine an interview between two people in history who may have otherwise never met—Li Po meets Levi Jeans, write for a half hour without stopping and then go back and erase certain parts that seem necessary—make the poem from what remains.


The poetry we were reading is not always accessible or, that is to say, it is not easy to find one’s way into it, however, the students found many inroads, such as found art as it related to found text and collaged text which is a common technique in much of the poetry. Also, they brought up DIY culture as it pertains to zines and chapbooks. Some students were particularly interested in the intersection of poetry and technology which brings with it the possibility for hybrid art forms. One student went as far as to write a poetic dialogue staged as an IM chat. The two voices/screen names in the text were versions of George Washington and his sympathizer; both were members of a Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game. Meanwhile other students were interested in returning poetry to the page. A particular student reprinted one of her favorite poems from the anthology by hand and used various inks and washes to create a nuanced piece of visual work that really worked as an interpretation of the poem itself.

I was impressed that a few of the students were not only already familiar with Charles Bernstein, but wrote about his ideas regarding language with eloquence and originality. (The students tell me that Bernstein is now set to visit NCF this spring and most seemed very excited about it. I am happy for the coincidence.) One student honed in on a famous essay by Robert Gluck regarding New Narrative. I was surprised because this essay is very dense and since it was not required reading, I assumed the students would stick to more matt-of-fact definitions when it came to defining schools of thought and theory. She however, wrote a lucid entry about Gluck that not only demonstrated her knowledge of just how Gluck’s status as a minority challenges and reclaims representation from a prevailing aesthetics of abstraction, but she pushed further with great question that set me to thinking further about the matter.

I have to say however, there were some serious glitches and lags. Some students did not order their books from a reliable source. Thus, they did not began posting until ten days into the class which completely baffled me because I told them that they should began to search for the poets online and they would find more than enough poetry to start off their discussion. Moreover, many students remained behind in their posting throughout the month and in the last few days did a hurried series of catch-up posts. One student was accidentally posting her entries to her personal blog instead of to the community and while I understand how this particular blog set-u makes that an easy mistake, I had to feel like that meant she was not going back and reading her peers and my own contributions—otherwise she would have noted that her were missing. That is not to say that her posts were not good. They were, as were a good portion of the posts that each student made. The belatedness of the posting was an issue because it prevented any further dialogue from developing. Students either did not understand or did not care that they were missing one of the main goals of the class, which was to have a substantial conversation online about the material. Even more baffling was that many of the students failed to fulfill the commenting requirements for the class. Even the students, who really stayed on track with posting, commented very infrequently on their peers’ posts. Almost no one commented on the Friday creative writing posts though I mentioned that it was an imperative part of the class as a writing workshop. To bridge the gaps, I tried to comment on the majority of the posts each student made to the blog as a way of fueling further discussion and creating connections between ideas. Rarely did the students pick up my thread.

While I wrote reminders about these issues and warnings several times, I cannot say it was ever very effective. It makes me think that students had a hard time attending to syllabus-related info due to the way they are used to paying (partial) attention to texts they read online. This may explain why some students refused to read additional poetry online. In general, think some of this irresponsiveness was due to the fact that this was a first ISP for some students, a first literature class for others, and definitely a first online class for most of them. Some students lacked accountability whereas with others, I came to understand that two blog posts a week about the reading amounted to a great deal of worry and fuss, on the level of what would go into an academic paper. These students fell behind because they were trying too hard in a sense. I tried to make it clear that the posts should be casual, so as to have time for reading and replying to peers and generating creative writing. I assured them that it was more important to just “keep thinking” and stay in the conversation, rather than worrying about polishing posts. This however, sometimes succeeded in garnering the opposite effect and I would have students posting while they were drunk or writing statements like “that image the poet uses has something to do with politics and stuff”.

In retrospect, it was a great deal to keep up with. I had trouble myself keeping up with the class. In the future, I would ask the students for fewer critical thinking posts and more creative writing entries. At first, the creative writing students submitted was full of restraint. Some students wrote in very traditional forms and while I in no way wanted the topics in the class to over-ride that or cast traditional writing in a negative light, I did sense that some of their language appeared “traditional” only insofar as it was stilted and the latter had more to do with a student being on a trajectory to find his true voice. When commenting on the creative writing, I tried to speak to the writing and not to the class themes. So for instance, one student and I almost exclusively discussed children’s literature as it pertained to her poems because this is what she was most interested in. This did not stop her from engaging with the poetry we were reading however and as the class drew to a close, I noted small adjustments in her syntax and line breaks that I felt were directly linked to insight she had gotten from exposure to new forms. Her chosen subject matter did not alter, but instead came more sharply into focus as she found more ways to shape language around it. This as the case with quite a few students and it is what I mean when I say their creative writing “evolved” over the curse of the month.

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