← Back to Teaching

Introduction to Creative Writing: Poetry & Fiction


If writing is thinking and discovery and selection and order and meaning,
it is also awe and reverence and mystery and magic.

—Toni Morrison, “The Site of Memory"


This course is an introduction to the theory, practice, and reading of poetry and prose. And yet, before we even discuss what this class will cover, perhaps the first question should be this: why bother with poetry or prose at all? Because literature gives voice to human experience and allows it to become part of the powerful play to which each of us contributes a verse and—too—because literature is a craft (thinking, selection, and order) that is also an art (awe, reverence, mystery, and magic). It’s easy to get caught up in the repetitiveness of daily life, with its mundane tasks (brushing our teeth, going on a run, reading a book, eating and sleeping) and its endless commercialism (iPods, iPads, iPhones and iTunes). But poetry and prose refuse the iterative, the ordinary, and the commercial. They insist that we humans have souls and that we must stop and find the stillness to hear the words of our hearts, our bones, our breath. It takes time and quiet to read and to write, and it takes spirit and nerve to hear the poetic—that’s quiet but present—all around us.

As such, the most important goal or objective of this course is to still students—to slow students down—so that their eyes may re-see, their ears re-hear, and their heart may pump anew. At the center of this process of re+vision is a close attention to language, to that miraculous and mysterious word on the page. To become a committed writer, students must first be committed readers. Before students start their own practice of craft and their own creation of art, they must be willing to figure out how others have already remade the world through words.

So, first, students in this class read. They read a lot of poems, a lot of stories—for all the reasons people usually do: to be entertained, surprised, inspired, comforted, agitated, and to participate in their own culture’s representation and re-memory of itself. Second, students practice. They write a lot of exercises, both within and outside of class. They take notes. They start translating the world around them—the iterative, the ordinary, and the commercial—into those words on that page. Finally, of course students write and revise. For this last part, I turn the classroom into a craftspace, one where we all smith words. Thus, students respond to each other’s work, both in writing and out loud, and since no writer can produce a publishable piece the first time around, students revise their workshop poems and short stories for a final portfolio. What I expect most of all from my workshops are hard work on the part of the writer, careful reading and discussion on the part of the class—lively, appropriate, forthright, and tireless.

Download a sample assignment from Introduction to Creative Writing (PDF):