What’s the Big Idea? Writing Ambitious Poems in Times of Uncertainty
How can poetry help us to process and respond to uncertainty? How might it teach us to grieve as well as heal? To counter isolation with connection? To generate energy and urgency around the crucial problems of our time? Poised, as so many of us are, between information-overload and a feeling of powerlessness in the face of injustice and strife, writing offers us the opportunity to tackle “the big stuff,” to transform our communities and ourselves through poetry’s magic. In this class, we’ll write brave poems that address timeless topics like death, love, God, war, and injustice, as well as timely issues such as global pandemic, climate change, and the presidential election. We will encourage each other to write about subjects that both attract and repel us through their enormity, inspired by a diversity of readings that may include Anna Akhmatova, Amiri Baraka, Elizabeth Bishop, Anne Carson, Paul Celan, Allen Ginsberg, Linda Gregg, June Jordan, Harryette Mullen, Wilfred Owen, Claudia Rankine, and Walt Whitman. We’ll discuss different approaches to these “big” topics, including tone (earnestness, humor, etc.), point of view, use of research, and form, but our focus will be on generative writing and experimentation. By the end of the class, students will have written and revised four new poems, expanded their identities as poets and people, and formed a community with other poets whose words aim to take on the world.
Sarah Rose Nordgren is the author of Best Bones (2014), winner of the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize, and Darwin’s Mother (2017), a finalist for the 2018 Ohioana Book Award, both from University of Pittsburgh Press. Her poems and essays appear widely in periodicals such as Agni, Ploughshares, The Kenyon Review Online, Copper Nickel, and American Poetry Review, and she creates video and performance text art in collaboration with Kathleen Kelley under the name Smart Snow. Among her awards are two winter fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, an Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council, and fellowships and scholarships from the Sewanee and Bread Loaf Conferences, the Vermont Studio Center, and the Virginia Center for Creative Arts. Nordgren holds a BA from Sarah Lawrence College, an MFA in poetry from University of North Carolina Greensboro, and a PhD in English and Creative Writing from University of Cincinnati where she also earned a Graduate Certificate in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. She currently lives in Cincinnati.