New: A Collection of Poems from the Goshen Workshop, April 2004

Notes Toward a Syllabus                        Engl 312 Poetry Workshop

April 26-30, 2004                                                                      Jeff Gundy


     I see no reason to spend your life writing poems unless your goal is to write great poems.

-Donald Hall


    I must be willing to fail.  If I am to keep on writing, I cannot

bother to insist on high standards. 

    I must get into action and not let anything stop me, or even slow me much.

       -William Stafford


 But now that I’m out here,
his advice comes so clear: fling yourself
farther, and a bit farther each time,
but darling, don’t drop.

              -Julia Kasdorf

 Writing poems is, as my hero William Stafford also wrote, “one of the great, free human activities.” Yet writing is also bounded, conditioned, constructed in all sorts of ways: by social and religious and gender contexts, by personal histories, by our individual ambitions and inhibitions, by language itself.

 In our brief time together I hope to explore, contest, challenge, and even make use of those limits, to encourage all of us to make new poems that take advantage of the great freedom poetry offers.

 My expectations for you are simple: that you:

 Because our class time will be so short, I hope we can do some things to get a running start. I have all sorts of ideas about what we might do with our time: workshopping each others’ poems, writing new poems in class and outside, reading poems and poetics and manifestos and composing our own, working in small groups and one-on-one, walking in the woods . . . But before doing much further plotting, I hope to hear back from you.

 Tentative Schedule for the week.

NOTE: the particular activities noted here will quite likely be adjusted/altered as we go. But please make careful note of the times and plan to attend all sessions.

 Monday, April 26: Class time 9-12, 2:30-4:30


Part 1: Introductions (personal/poetic)

Procedures and processes

Working with each other, and each other’s words

Part 2: Looking before and after

Generating new work

Writing Exercise #1


                        Writing Exercise #2


Poetry walk, weather permitting

Assignment: Revise/rework exercises, bring copies of 2 new poems on Tuesday

Tuesday, April 27: Class time 9-12,  2:30-4:30


            Part 1:Workshop poems from Monday

            Part 2: Continue workshop

Prose about poetry: manifestos and definitions


            Exercise #3 and . . .

            Night poetry hike, 9-10 pm (time is approximate)

                        Exercise #4

Assignment: Revise and rework, bring copies of 2 new poems on Wed.

Wednesday, April 28: Class time 2-4

            Workshop poems from Tuesday

            Exercise #5

Assignments: One More Poem!?

                        Further Decisions and Revisions

Thursday, April 29: Class time 2-4

                        Workshop; Polishing; Performing; ??

Grand Finale Reading by class members, 8:30 pm (or after Rabbi Gottlieb’s program)

Friday, April 30: Portfolio conferences 2-??

                         Reading by JG, 8:00 pm     

Final Assignment: Portfolio due asap after end of class.

Two Projects for the Week: 

Learning from Strangers. Get to know a poet (or more than one) who’s really outside your orbit, who does things that seem really alien and odd to you.

Read through a book of his/her poems, and then rewrite one of your poems, or write a new poem, using some of his/her modes and tricks.

 Manifesto Mania. Explore some of the famous manifestos, contemplate their various definitions, claims, conflicts, resonances, etc. A number of web addresses and excerpts are below.

If you feel inclined, write your own brief or expansive manifesto.

Web addresses and excerpts from some famous manifestos Wordsworth, “Preface to Lyrical Ballads.”

The principal object, then, proposed in these Poems was to choose incidents and situations from common life, and to relate or describe them, throughout, as far as was possible in a selection of language really used by men, and, at the same time, to throw over them a certain colouring of imagination, whereby ordinary things should be presented to the mind in an unusual aspect; and, further, and above all, to make these incidents and situations interesting by tracing in them, truly though not ostentatiously, the primary laws of our nature: chiefly, as far as regards the manner in which we associate ideas in a state of excitement. Humble and rustic life was generally chosen, because, in that condition, the essential passions of the heart find a better soil in which they can attain their maturity, are less under restraint, and speak a plainer and more emphatic language; because in that condition of life our elementary feelings coexist in a state of greater simplicity, and, consequently, may be more accurately contemplated, and more forcibly communicated; because the manners of rural life germinate from those elementary feelings, and, from the necessary character of rural occupations, are more easily comprehended, and are more durable; and, lastly, because in that condition the passions of men are incorporated with the beautiful and permanent forms of nature. Shelley, “A Defence of Poetry.”

But poets, or those who imagine and express this indestructible order, are not only the authors of language and of music, of the dance, and architecture, and statuary, and painting: they are the institutors of laws, and the founders of civil society, and the inventors of the arts of life, and the teachers, who draw into a certain propinquity with the beautiful and the true that partial apprehension of the agencies of the invisible world which is called religion. Hence all original religions are allegorical, or susceptible of allegory, and, like Janus, have a double face of false and true. Poets, according to the circumstances of the age and nation in which they appeared, were called, in the earlier epochs of the world, legislators, or prophets: a poet essentially comprises and unites both these characters. For he not only beholds intensely the present as it is, and discovers those laws according to which present things ought to be ordered, but he beholds the future in the present, and his thoughts are the germs of the flower and the fruit of latest time. Emily Dickinson on poetry

"If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire ever can warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other way?" Walt Whitman, “Preface to Leaves of Grass

  The greatest poet hardly knows pettiness or triviality. If he breathes into anything that was before thought small it dilates with the grandeur and life of the universe. He is a seer … he is individual … he is complete in himself … the others are as good as he, only he sees it and they do not. He is not one of the chorus … he does not stop for any regulation … he is the president of regulation. What the eyesight does to the rest he does to the rest. Who knows the curious mystery of the eyesight? The other senses corroborate themselves, but this is removed from any proof but its own and foreruns the identities of the spiritual world. A single glance of it mocks all the investigations of man and all the instruments and books of the earth and all reasoning. What is marvellous? what is unlikely? what is impossible or baseless or vague? after you have once just opened the space of a peachpit and given audience to far and near and to the sunset and had all things enter with electric swiftness softly and duly without confusion or jostling or jam. Frank O’Hara, “Personism, a Manifesto”

Everything is in the poems, but at the risk of sounding like the poor wealthy man’s Allen Ginsberg I will write to you because I just heard that one of my fellow poets thinks that a poem of mine that can’t be got at one reading is because I was confused too. Now, come on. I don’t believe in god, so I don’t have to make elaborately sounded structures. I hate Vachel Lindsay, always have, I don’t even like rhythm, assonance, all that stuff. You just go on your nerve. If someone’s chasing you down the street with a knife you just run, you don’t turn around and shout, "Give it up! I was a track star for Mineola Prep." Ezra Pound, Tenets of Imagism


  1. Direct treatment of the “thing,” whether subjective or objective.
  2. To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation.
  3. As regarding rhythm: to compose in sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of the metronome. Federico Garcia Lorca on the Duende

These black sounds are the mystery, the roots that probe through the mire that we all know of, and do not understand, but which furnishes us with whatever is sustaining in art.  Black sounds: so said the celebrated Spaniard, thereby concurring with Goethe, who, in effect, defined the duende when he said, speaking of Paganini: "A mysterious power that all may feel and no philosophy can explain."

The duende, then, is a power and not a construct, is a struggle and not a concept.  I have heard an old guitarist, a true virtuoso, remark, "The duende is not in the throat, the duende comes up from inside, up from the very soles of the feet."  That is to say, it is not a question of aptitude, but of a true and viable style - of blood, in other words; of what is oldest in culture: of creation made act.

This "mysterious power that all may feel and no philosophy can explain," is, in sum, the earth-force, the same duende that fired the heart of Nietzsche, who sought it in its external forms on the Rialto Bridge, or in the music of Bizet, without ever finding it, or understanding that the duende he pursued had rebounded from the mystery-minded Greeks to the Dancers of Cádiz or the gored, Dionysian cry of Silverio's siguiriya. Marinetti’s Futurist Manifesto

·  We intend to sing the love of danger, the habit of energy and fearlessness.

·  Courage, audacity, and revolt will be essential elements of our poetry.

·  Up to now literature has exalted a pensive immobility, ecstasy, and sleep. We intend to exalt aggresive action, a feverish insomnia, the racer’s stride, the mortal leap, the punch and the slap.

·  We affirm that the world’s magnificence has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing car whose hood is adorned with great pipes, like serpents of explosive breath—a roaring car that seems to ride on grapeshot is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace.

·  We want to hymn the man at the wheel, who hurls the lance of his spirit across the Earth, along the circle of its orbit.

·  The poet must spend himself with ardor, splendor, and generosity, to swell the enthusiastic fervor of the primordial elements.

·  Except in struggle, there is no more beauty. No work without an aggressive character can be a masterpiece. Poetry must be conceived as a violent attack on unknown forces, to reduce and prostrate them before man.

·  We stand on the last promontory of the centuries!... Why should we look back, when what we want is to break down the mysterious doors of the Impossible? Time and Space died yesterday. We already live in the absolute, because we have created eternal, omnipresent speed.

·  We will glorify war—the world’s only hygiene—militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of freedom-bringers, beautiful ideas worth dying for, and scorn for woman.

·  We will destroy the museums, libraries, academies of every kind, will fight moralism, feminism, every opportunistic or utilitarian cowardice.

·  We will sing of great crowds excited by work, by pleasure, and by riot; we will sing of the multicolored, polyphonic tides of revolution in the modern capitals; we will sing of the vibrant nightly fervor of arsenals and shipyards blazing with violent electric moons; greedy railway stations that devour smoke-plumed serpents; factories hung on clouds by the crooked lines of their smoke; bridges that stride the rivers like giant gymnasts, flashing in the sun with a glitter of knives; adventurous steamers that sniff the horizon; deep-chested locomotives whose wheels paw the tracks like the hooves of enormous steel horses bridled by tubing; and the sleek flight of planes whose propellers chatter in the wind like banners and seem to cheer like an enthusiastic crowd. Surrealist manifesto of Jan. 1925

With regard to a false interpretation of our enterprise, stupidly circulated among the public, We declare as follows to the entire braying literary, dramatic, philosophical, exegetical and even theological body of contemporary criticism:

  1. We have nothing to do with literature; But we are quite capable, when necessary, of making use of it like anyone else,
  2. Surrealism is not a new means or expression, or an easier one, nor even a metaphysic of poetry. It is a means of total liberation of the mind and of all that resembles it.
  3. We are determined to make a Revolution.
  4. We have joined the word surrealism to the word revolution solely to show the disinterested, detached, and even entirely desperate character of this revolution.
  5. We make no claim to change the mores of mankind, but we intend to show the fragility of thought, and on what shifting foundations, what caverns we have built our trembling houses.
  6. We hurl this formal warning to Society; Beware of your deviations and faux-pas, we shall not miss a single one.
  7. At each turn of its thought, Society will find us waiting.
  8. We are specialists in Revolt. There is no means of action which we are not capable, when necessary, of employing.
  9. We say in particular to the Western world: surrealism exists. And what is this new ism that is fastened to us? Surrealism is not a poetic form. It is a cry of the mind turning back on itself, and it is determined to break apart its fetters, even if it must be by material hammers!

Bureaus de Recherches Surréalistes,
15, Rue de Grenelle
 Signed: Louis Aragon, Antonin Artaud, Jacques Baron, Joë Bousquet, J.-A. Boiffard, André Breton, Jean Carrive, René Crevel, Robert Desnos, Paul Élaurd, Max Ernst, et al. Breton’s First Manifesto of Surrealism , 1924

SURREALISM, n. Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express -- verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner -- the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by the thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern.

ENCYCLOPEDIA. Philosophy. Surrealism is based on the belief in the superior reality of certain forms of previously neglected associations, in the omnipotence of dream, in the disinterested play of thought. It tends to ruin once and for all all other psychic mechanisms and to substitute itself for them in solving all the principal problems of life. Dada Manifesto by Tristan Tzara, 1918

I'm writing this manifesto to show that you can perform contrary actions at the same time, in one single, fresh breath; I am against action; as for continual contradiction, and affirmation too, I am neither for nor against them, and I won't explain myself because I hate common sense.

DADA - this is a word that throws up ideas so that they can be shot down; every bourgeois is a little playwright, who invents different subjects and who, instead of situating suitable characters on the level of his own intelligence, like chrysalises on chairs, tries to find causes or objects (according to whichever psychoanalytic method he practices) to give weight to his plot, a talking and self-defining story. *

Every spectator is a plotter, if he tries to explain a word (to know!) From his padded refuge of serpentine complications, he allows his instincts to be manipulated. Whence the sorrows of conjugal life.

To be plain: The amusement of redbellies in the mills of empty skulls.

    DADA DOES NOT MEAN ANYTHING Dada Manifesto on Feeble and Bitter Love by Tristan Tzara

Is poetry necessary? I know that those who shout loudest against it are actually preparing a comfortable perfection for it; they call it the Future Hygienic.
People envisage the (ever-impending) annihilation of art. Here they are looking for a more art-like art. Hygiene becomes mygod mygod purity.
Must we no longer believe in words? Since when do they express the contrary of what the organ that utters them things and wants?* Herein lies the great secret:
Thought is made in the mouth.
I still consider myself very likeable. Heresy and the Individual Talent by Jeff Gundy

1. The Union of Surrealist Anabaptists proclaims the fusion of dream and reality into a surreality that contains both dream and reality, chaos and order, faith and doubt, past and future, culminating in the instantiation, reification, obfuscation, and final transcendence of all binary dualisms everywhere, hallelujah, amen.

2. All human beings, and all interested animals, plants and other creatures, are immediately declared both members in good standing of the Union of Anabaptist Surrealists and perpetually and simultaneously under its ban, as both eternally innocent and originally sinful. It is hoped that this dual and non-negotiable status for all will make schisms and internal turmoil more difficult if not impossible.


Donald Barthelme, “Not-Knowing” (I couldn’t find a good web source for this essay, but here are a couple of passages. It’s been reprinted in various places, including Georgia Review.

"Writing is a process of dealing with not-knowing, a forcing of what and how.... The not-knowing is crucial to art, is what permits art to be made. Without the scanning process engendered by not-knowing, without the possibility of having the mind move in unanticipated directions, there would be no invention.... The not-knowing is not simple, because it's hedged about with prohibitions, roads that may not be taken. The more serious the artist, the more problems he takes into account and the more considerations limit his possible initiatives."
--Donald Barthelme, "Not-Knowing"

"What is magical about the object is that it at once invites and resists interpretation. Its artistic worth is measurable by the degree to which it remains, after interpretation, vital -- no interpretation or cardiopulmonary push-pull can exhaust or empty it."
-- "Not-Knowing"