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, which was selected for the 2011 Kundiman Prize, and Contradictions in the Design, both from Alice James Books. His third book, Constellation Route, is forthcoming in January 2022. He’s received fellowships from Kundiman, the Kresge Arts Foundation and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. His poems, stories, and essays have appeared in Best American Poetry, Kenyon Review, New England Review, Necessary Fiction, Brevity, among others.