Spring 2018
English 411: Special Topics in Creative Writing Workshop: Queer Poetics
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Fall 2017
English 207: Intro to Creative Writing: Poetry & Fiction Workshop
English 695: Directed Thesis in Creative Writing
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Intro to Creative Writing: Poetry & Fiction Workshop (2x; instructor of record)
Intro to College Composition (3x; instructor of record)
Information Divides and Differences in a Multicultural Society (1x; teaching assistant)
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Guest instructor:
Mount Holyoke College, Kent State University, Indiana University, 826DC, Sarah Lawrence College, University of Vermont, George Washington University, Virginia Commonwealth University, Madison Public Library, and elsewhere.

How do you draw a haiku? Here are participants in my A.W. Mellon Poetry Comics workshop at University of Wisconsin-Madison trying their hand at it, in Lynda Barry’s Making Comics room.

Introduction to Poetry Writing

Poetry is life distilled.

-Gwendolyn Brooks

What is a workshop? It’s a place where things are made or repaired. True to name, our emphasis in this course will be on making poetry: writing poems, sharing those poems, and revising them into the most alive versions of themselves. This course is an introduction to writing poems and assumes no prior experience. We will study and practice the various elements of poetic craft, such as sound, image, the line, revision, and more, and explore various forms available to poets. Reading widely and deeply is an essential practice for any writer, so we will read poems by a variety of poets, and discuss the choices they have made in individual poems. Poems written by students in the class will also serve as central texts. Students will gain a vocabulary for discussing contemporary poetry, and tools for the kind of specific, idiosyncratic observation that makes for good poems. You will be expected to engage vigorously with your own work, your classmates’ work, and a variety of published contemporary texts. 

Poetry Comics and other Image-Text Formations

Writing, in its physical, graphic form, is an inseparable suturing of the visual and the verbal, the “imagetext” incarnate.

-W.J.T. Mitchell

What’s even better than poetry or comics? Poetry Comics. In this class we will explore hybrid forms that draw from both poetry and comics to learn more about that which makes any made thing feel alive: the image. We will read works across media and aesthetic school that juxtapose language and pictures, including poetry comics and literary collage. Our readings are not meant to be comprehensive across all image-text formations, but they will launch us into a variety of terrains for further exploration. While our readings will mostly be contemporary, we will also look at historic origins of this hybrid form, such as illuminated manuscripts. Students will gain tactile experience in the making of image-text formations, and a vocabulary for discussing elements of craft for both poetry and comics, and their juxtapositions. Writing and drawing experience is not required, but you must be willing to write and draw anyway!

Queer Poetics

Queerness is a structuring and educated mode of desiring that allows us to see and feel beyond the quagmire of the present.

-José Esteban Muñoz

In this quagmire of the present, let’s turn our focus to queer poetics as a vehicle for utopian space-time dialogue. This course is a workshop on formal experimentation, lyric possibility, and queer methods of making meaning. One way to define Poetics, as Roland Barthes suggested, is as the study of “how meaning is possible, at what cost and by what means”. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick defined Queer as “the open mesh of possibilities, gaps, overlaps, dissonances and resonances, lapses and excesses of meaning when the constituent elements of anyone’s gender, of anyone’s sexuality aren’t made (or can’t be made) to signify monolithically.” Students will work at this juncture of Queer Poetics through close reading and creative and critical responses. Texts will include poetry and essays on poetics, along with films, archival sources, and hybrid texts. We will study a range of poetry in relation to its queer possibility, and examine its participation in and/or resistance to literary traditions and the certainty of formal and categorical boundaries. Our reading is not meant to be comprehensive. We will read with these questions, and others, in mind: How is queer meaning made? What roles do power, desire, and identity play in these practices? How is form (inherited and invented) a vehicle for dialogue between the present, past, and future? What is the role of queer poetics in the here and now?

(Please note: you do not have to identify as queer, or as any other such non-normative sexual/gender identity, to take or succeed in this class; you do need to maintain a genuine openness to the intellectual, critical, and creative possibilities of queerness. This openness will be evident through the written assignments you complete, as well as in the verbal dialogue you engage in with your classmates.)

“Just this last semester, I invited Oliver to give a Poetry & Comics reading and workshop at Mount Holyoke College, as part of our Trans/Queer Writers series. Oliver’s session was a model for what a visitor can do in a short period of time: He read some of his work, answered questions, then led the participants (a mixed group of undergraduates, grad students, and librarians) in a poetry-comics making workshop. Oliver was prepared with surprising prompts, funny anecdotes, and all the necessary supplies for participants to leave with mini-zines they’d created. His pedagogical engagement with this group was so easy and charming that even normally-shy students felt comfortable asking questions and sharing their work. After the workshop, I thought quite a bit about how I might adapt some of Oliver’s strategies in my own courses. I’d enthusiastically recommend Oliver’s workshops for writers of any experience, and hope he will come back soon!”
– Andrea Lawlor, Mount Holyoke College

“We had the absolute pleasure of hosting Oliver as a volunteer Workshop Leader at our organization and I was deeply impressed not only with his overall creativity and lesson planning skills but his student and volunteer engagement blew me out of the water with its kindness and consideration. His very presence creates a warm and inviting space. Add that to his great skill at scaffolding writing activities so that students of all ages, abilities, and levels can find a comfortable creative space in his workshop and you’ve got a great facilitator. He responds immediately and adeptly to student needs as they arise, approaching classroom management with the flexibility and tact necessary to succeed. He communicates in a timely manner and is willing to go the extra mile every step of the way. Every student who participated in Oliver’s workshop produced fantastic creative writing and every volunteer who supported let me know what a great example of literary leadership Oliver provided. If I could have Oliver back every single semester, I would do it in a heartbeat.”
-Neekta Khorsand, 826DC