Introduction to Creative Writing: Poetry and Creative Non-Fiction

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Introduction to Creative Writing:

Poetry and Creative Non-Fiction

 ENGL 010 900

University of Pennsylvania

Prof. Jason Zuzga


Thursday 5:00pm-8:50pm

Fisher-Bennett 139

Over the duration of this course, we will consider what occurs when a writer uses the first-person pronoun – the “I” or the “me”—to tell stories that begin with the self but travel elsewhere, as the self always does: through space, imagination, and time. We’ll approach writing as something that happens to a reader. As a course on both poetry and nonfiction, our major focus lies on identifying the conventions that poetry and prose impose on self-articulation and/or creative expression. We’ll also be interrogating these conventions as well, asking what—if any—limitations the “genres” of poetry and prose set on the writer’s process. (Or, perhaps, we may find ourselves discovering the abilities a certain genre allows a writer, as well.) What can exploration in one form or another, poem or prose, offer the writer?

What power and freedom exists when we as writers choose to criss-cross binaries/genres and make a hybrid text, a mash-up both poetry and prose (or, sometimes, “neither” poetry nor prose)? What can we do with language in both modes? What exactly are the material properties of language the writer might play with, as a painter must struggle with the constraints of paint and canvas? Who exactly is talking when the “I” comes to town but without the baggage of a stable “form”? Who speaks when “’I’ is someone else”?

We will hone our skills as writers, readers, and generous editors of one another’s writing in weekly workshops.

The bulk of classtime will be spent on workshopping, a process in which previously distributed student-writing first gets read aloud by the author, who then goes silent for our class discussion of the work. Authors remain silent as other students offer their experience of the work as readers—most immediately, this lets the writer see whether their intended effects are what in fact the writing evokes in different reader. As students, I expect you all to explain what you believe works in a given piece with specificity as to how you see “it” working.

I will leave time for the writer to ask questions or follow up on anything that was said, but the writer is not to defend themself against any comment(s). Simply take what is useful and leave what is not.

Always remaining sensitive to the vulnerability of each writer up for critique, you will often need to annotate your hardcopy as class sessions are underway… The workshop is a volatile, powerful intellectual and physical space, and we will often find ourselves having rushing thoughts that sometimes even involve a reversal of the opinion we came into class with regarding the piece. Your hardcopies will be returned to the writer the following week with written feedback that will also be given to me.

I will moderate with minimal intervention, more mediator than “instructor.” In the week after you are workshopped, I will also keep my hardcopy for further consideration and editing, returning it to you the following class. Each student will be working to create a final body of writing which is to include approximately five poems and 15-20 pages of prose… Or, of course, a work that is a combination of the two forms.

Workshop Rules:

  1. Raise hands – instructor will call on you. We will begin by going in a circle. Everyone must participate.

  2. No interruptions.

  3. Awareness and acknowledgment of other’s comments – this is a collaborative, accumulative activity.

  4. Kind and empathic conduct, especially keeping in mind the writer.

Each week will have a theme that we will discuss in relation to the week’s assigned readings at the beginning of class and use to focus our discussion in workshop. Occasionally, we will have an activity during classtime – a writing exercise or film viewing. The central goal of the course, though, is to maximize the amount of workshop time that each student’s work receives. We will likely not get through everyone’s work each class, though in some cases we may. We will begin workshop the subsequent class with where we left off. Everyone will get assigned a number, and we will stick to that order.

Each week we will read a selection of materials to use as models and on which we might practice critique. Most of this will happen during the week on the class Facebook secret group page which will be set up during the first class. You should post your analysis/response of the assigned reading to Facebook by Wednesday night at 11:59pm. But first, to further instill the spirit we hope to cultivate in workshop and in your writing, a bit of more formal University prose:

I. Preamble

When Benjamin Franklin founded the Pennsylvania Academy, he defined its mission as “education for citizenship.” In pursuit of this mission, the University of Pennsylvania is committed to achieving academic excellence, to creating an environment for inquiry and learning, and to cultivating responsible citizenship in the larger society.

The University of Pennsylvania is a community in which intellectual growth, learning from others, mutual tolerance, and respect for freedom of thought and expression are principles of paramount importance. In an environment that promotes the free instruction, and expanding their educational experience beyond their academic programs. Members of the Penn community participate actively in the greater Philadelphia, state, national, and international communities in which they reside. “Citizens” of the University community include students, faculty, staff and those otherwise affiliated with the University interchange of ideas, cultural and intellectual diversity, and a wealth of social opportunities, Penn students take advantage of the academic and non-academic opportunities available to them, deepening their intellectual insights through formal.

Accepting membership into the University of Pennsylvania community as a student entails an obligation to promote its welfare by assuming the rights and responsibilities listed below. Each individual member of this community is responsible for his or her own actions and is expected to respect the rights of others.

II. Rights of Student Citizenship

Membership in the University of Pennsylvania community affords every student certain rights that are essential to the University’s educational mission and its character as a community:

     a) The right to have access to and participate in the academic and non-academic opportunities afforded by the University, subject to applicable standards or requirements.

     b) The right to freedom of thought and expression.

     c) The right to be free from discrimination on the basis of race, color, gender, sexual orientation, religion, national or ethnic origin, age, disability, or status as a disabled or Vietnam Era veteran.

     d) The right to fair University judicial process in the determination of accountability for conduct.

III. Responsibilities of Student Citizenship

Students are expected to exhibit responsible behavior regardless of time or place. Failure to do so may result in disciplinary action by the University. Responsible behavior is a standard of conduct which reflects higher expectations than may be prevalent outside the University community. Responsible behavior includes but is not limited to the following obligations:

     a) To comply with all provisions of the University’s Code of Academic Integrity and academic integrity codes adopted by the faculties of individual schools.

     b) To respect the health and safety of others. This precludes acts or threats of physical violence against another person (including sexual violence) and disorderly conduct. This also  precludes the possession of dangerous articles (such as firearms, explosive materials, etc.) on University property or at University events without University authorization.

     c) To respect the right of fellow students to participate in university organizations and in relationships with other students without fear, threat, or act of hazing.

     d) To refrain from conduct towards other students that infringes upon the Rights of Student Citizenship. The University condemns hate speech, epithets, and racial, ethnic, sexual and religious slurs. However, the content of student speech or expression is not by itself a basis for disciplinary action. Student speech may be subject to discipline when it violates applicable laws or University regulations or policies.

     e) To refrain from stealing, damaging, defacing, or misusing the property or facilities of the University or of others. This also precludes the disruption of University computing services or interference with the rights of others to use computer resources.

     f) To be honest and truthful in dealings with the University, about one’s own identity (e.g., name or Social Security number), and in the use of University and other identification.

     g) To cooperate fully and honestly in the Student Judicial System of the University, including the obligation to comply with all judicial sanctions.

     h) To comply with all contracts made with the University, such as Residential Living Occupancy Agreements and Dining Services contracts.

     i) To comply with policies and regulations of the University and its departments (e.g., the University’s Guidelines on Open Expression, Anti-Hazing Regulations, Drug and Alcohol Policies, Sexual Harassment Policy, etc.).

     j) To comply with federal, state and local laws.


Since the University is an academic community, its fundamental purpose is the pursuit of knowledge. Essential to the success of this educational mission is a commitment to the principles of academic integrity. Every member of the University community is responsible for upholding the highest standards of honesty at all times. Students, as members of the community, are also responsible for adhering to the principles and spirit of the following Code of Academic Integrity.

Academic Dishonesty Definitions

Activities, that have the effect or intention of interfering with education, pursuit of knowledge, or fair evaluation of a student’s performance are prohibited. Examples of such activities include but are not limited to the following definitions:

     A.      Cheating: using or attempting to use unauthorized assistance, material, or study aids in examinations or other academic work or preventing, or attempting to prevent, another from using authorized assistance, material, or study aids. Example: using a cheat sheet in a quiz or exam, altering a graded exam and resubmitting it for a better grade, etc.

     B.      Plagiarism: using the ideas, data, or language of another without specific or proper acknowledgment. Example: copying another person’s paper, article, or computer work and submitting it for an assignment, cloning someone else’s ideas without attribution, failing to use quotation marks where appropriate, etc.

     C.      Fabrication: submitting contrived or altered information in any academic exercise. Example: making up data for an experiment, fudging data, citing nonexistent articles, contriving sources, etc.

     D.      Multiple submission: submitting, without prior permission, any work submitted to fulfill another academic requirement.

     E.      Misrepresentation of academic records: misrepresenting or tampering with or attempting to tamper with any portion of a student’s transcripts or academic record, either before or after coming to the University of Pennsylvania. Example: forging a change of grade slip, tampering with computer records, falsifying academic information on one’s resume, etc.

     F.      Facilitating academic dishonesty: knowingly helping or attempting to help another violate any provision of the Code. Example: working together on a take-home exam, etc.

     G.      Unfair advantage: attempting to gain unauthorized advantage over fellow students in an academic exercise. Example: gaining or providing unauthorized access to examination materials, obstructing or interfering with another student’s efforts in an academic exercise, lying about a need for an extension for an exam or paper, continuing to write even when time is up during an exam, destroying or keeping library materials for one’s own use, etc.

*If a student is unsure whether his action(s) constitute a violation of the Code of Academic Integrity, then it is that student’s responsibility to consult with the instructor to clarify any ambiguities.

You may wish to print out recommended materials contained in the files. Sometimes these files may be large, so plan ahead!
Books required (Available at the Penn Book Center at the corner of 34th and Sansom St.:

The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson

On Kissing, Tickling and Being Bored by Adam Philips

Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson

Citizen by Claudia Rankine

How to Cook a Wolf by MFK Fisher

Seven Seasons in Greenland by Gretel Ehrlich

Sleeping with the Dictionary by Harryette Mullen

Action Kylie - Kevin Killian (you will need to order this online – if there is trouble obtaining enough copies, I’ll make it available in FILES on Canvas)

Slouching Toward Bethlehem by Joan Didion
Recommended books (excerpts from some of these may be offered):

My Dog Tulip by J.R. Ackerley

Troubling the Line—Trans and Genderqueer Poetry Edited by TC Tolbert and Trace Peterson.

Silence by John Cage

Soap by Francis Ponge

A Voice Through a Cloud by Denton Welch

Rooms Are Never Finished by Agha Shahid Ali

Proxies by Brian Blanchfield

Trash by Dorothy Allison

Poems for the Millennium, all volumes, Edited by Jerome Rothenberg

Shaking the Pumpkin, Edited by Jerome Rothenberg

A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid

My Brother by Jamaica Kincaid

Eunoia by Christian Bok (available online)

A Humument by Tom Phillips (available online)

Please be sure to always check the week’s folder in FILES for any recommended reading materials in addition to the books.
NOTE: For workshop, you must bring enough paper copies for the instructor and students. It’s up to you what to present, but it should be no longer than five pages. You are welcome to revise and resubmit any writing for workshopping a second time.
NOTE: For nonfiction, you will be submitting work one week in advance to give everyone enough time to consider it.

  1. Drafts and revisions of five poems.

  2. Draft and revision of a piece of creative nonfiction.

  3. Participation in course Facebook page – responses to the reading assignments should be posted there.

  4. 20-page final portfolio of work including a cover letter describing the material included with description of expectations of how a reader might experience the work. Final portfolio must be a total of twenty pages and include at least five pages of poetry and ten pages of prose or hybrid work.


  • 25% of the final grade will be based on workshop and general classroom involvement and participation including Facebook posts.

  • 25% on-time submission of work to class for workshop and on-time preparation of written feedback (the week after the material has been workshopped)

  • 25% of the grade will be based on the final portfolio

(5% Creativity, 5% Style, 5% lack of errors, 5% cover letter, 5% Courage)

  • 25% of the grade will be based on willingness to revise based on

Class One

May 26


Exercising the Senses and the Attention

  • Interviews with report

  • Games Writing Exercise -- exercising the senses and the attention

  • (Operation, Jenga, Twister)

  • First Memory Extraction Excercise

  • Read excerpts from ARK by Ronald Johnson

  • Clementine event

  • Look at “A Humument” by Tom Phillips and “Eunoia” by Christian Bok

  • Erasure Excercise

  • Listen to poets on PennSound



Class Two

June 2

The Materiality of the Word: Expression and Construction

(All the below will be in FILES on Canvas)

19-133 of Making Your Own Days: The Pleasures of Reading and Writing Poetry by Kenneth Koch

Mini-poetry-sampler including

Excerpt from Sleeping With the Dictionary by Harryette Mullen

Excerpt from The Gold Cell by Sharon Olds

Excerpt from Lemon Hound by Sina Queyras

Excerpt from Loop by John Taggart

Excerpt from Lunch Poems by Frank O’Hara
WORKSHOP (We’ll sign up #1-#5 – if we move along faster or slower than anticipated, we will adjust the scheduled. As is, everyone should have between three and six opportunities to have their writing workshopped. Students should submit for workshop one poem. Again, these should be printed out and STAPLED if more that one page with enough copies for instructor and other students)


Class Three

June 9

The Work of nouns and names

Action Kylie by Kevin Killian (in Files)


Class Four

June 16


Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson
Class Five

June 23

The thread and rhythm of information

Citizen by Claudia Rankine

(This is the final workshop for going over poems. Students being workshopped next week should distribute their pages of creative nonfiction)

Class Six

June 30


On Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored by Adam Philips

Watch “Swimming to Cambodia” in class, time permitting.

(Students up for workshop should submit 5-10 pages of prose)
Class Seven

July 8

Locating the Reader

This Cold Heaven: Seven Seasons in Greenland by Gretel Ehrlich pp1-150.
Class Eight

July 15


This Cold Heaven: Seven Seasons in Greenland by Gretel Ehrlich, finish
Class Nine

July 22


How to Cook a Wolf by MFK Fisher

Class Ten

July 29

Queer Moves

The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson



Class Eleven

August 1


Slouching Toward Bethlehem by Joan Didion

Due August 5: Creative Writing Portfolio (5 poems [page count open]+ 15-20 page prose) This will be sent as a double-spaced .docx Word file to the instructor. Margins and exact placement of the words is up to the student, but unconventional white space should be there for a reason. Otherwise, keep to one-inch margins. The student’s name should be on each page, and the pages should be numbered.

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