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Have you ever been confused by a poem? Do you describe yourself as someone who doesn’t “get” poetry a lot of the time? In this class, we break down contemporary American poetry (1945 to present) into four loose categories that will allow you to open up any book or literary journal and understand what’s going on. Of course, the only way to truly understand an aspect of writing is to do it yourself. So, once we define those four categories, we’ll use them as models for our own poems.
Hugo House is temporarily moving! May 19 is the last date Hugo House will hold classes at its current location. Starting May 20, Hugo House classes will be held at 1021 Columbia Street, Seattle, WA 98104.
This class will be held at Hugo House First Hill: 1021 Columbia Street, Seattle, WA 98104.
Rich Smith is the author of Great Poem of Desire and Other Poems and All Talk, both from Poor Claudia. Find recent poems in Tin House, Okey-Panky, and Verse Daily. Rich was an actor and a playwright at the University of Missouri, but then started writing poetry and everything else took a back seat. He went on to Ohio University for his M.A. in Creative Writing, and then to the University of Washington for his M.F.A. Since then he has worked for community colleges and state universities, teaching everything from poetry to composition to “writing for the internet.” In addition to teaching for six years, Rich has also found work as a copywriter, a valet, a cook, a books columnist for City Arts, and now a books and theater critic for the Stranger.
Teaching philosophy: I borrow my broad teaching philosophy from a former teacher of mine, Richard Kenney, who says, “The syllabus is the syllabus for life: reading, writing, and conversation.” I like to establish a loose framework, a guiding theory or two, and then read and write around it to see if it holds up to scrutiny. For practice, I tend to assign lots of low-stakes exercises. Fun stuff you can scribble out on scratch paper or type into your phone, and that might turn into larger projects. If you’re interested in the pedagogy-nerd stuff that informs my philosophy, it might help you to know that for classes like this one I employ a more genre-based model. A number of composition scholars from various backgrounds inform my thoughts on this. These scholars include Sommers and Saltz and their work on student incomes, and also Bawarshi, Devitt, and Reiff on genre studies. Drawing from their work, I aim to design courses and create classroom environments that allow you rigorously to explore personal/professional interests and aesthetics, which may lead to greater investment on your part, and, in turn, to better writing. In order for that investment to pay off in the future, though, I want to teach you to be cognizant of the qualities that render your own writing "good," and to be aware of the fact that the definition of "good writing" changes based on what they are being asked to write and for whom. This applies to poetry just as well as it applies to memos. If you don’t know the rules of whatever poetry game you’re playing, then you can’t break them in surprising and interesting ways.
Writers I return to: Elizabeth Bishop, Frank O’Hara, William Gass, Walt Whitman, James Baldwin, Mary Ruefle, Dean Young, Toni Morrison, Christopher Hitchens, Jorge Louis Borges
Favorite writing advice: Be sure to take long walks.