Surprise and Revelation: Building and Overthrowing Expectations in a Poem
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How is surprise created? Often, it’s an effect of poetic structure: the order in which information is presented to the reader. One piece of information introduces a set of assumptions or possibilities, and the next piece of information calls those assumptions or possibilities into question. In this class, we’ll examine how poems—from beginning to end—constantly strive to create and manage a set of expectations for the reader, and how those expectations are resisted or subverted to intensify, complicate or otherwise enhance the work at hand. This will be a generative workshop. In addition to daily discussions, there will be exercises for both creating new poems and revising existing work. The goal will be one new poem each day. After the week is over, I’ll conduct a follow-up conference with each student (by Skype or phone) to discuss work generated in the class.
Matthew Olzmann is the author of two collections of poems, Mezzanines (selected for the Kundiman Prize) and Contradictions in the Design, both from Alice James Books. A recipient of fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and the MacDowell Colony, his writing has appeared in Best American Poetry, Kenyon Review, New England Review, Brevity and elsewhere. He teaches at Dartmouth College and in the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College.