Jeff Oaks

The Writing Life, Writing Prompts, Essays on the Ordinary

Change: Weight/What Can’t Wait

I was thinking today about what we’re being “encouraged” to do:

  1. Change from one LMS to a new one at our university. Okay, not terrible.
  2. Change our teaching from single mode—ftf—to multimode—ftf, in-line, recorded, etc. Very confusing because of # 6.
  3. Change/Challenge my pedagogical paradigms and habits in I think significant ways because of the Black Lives Matter voices and needs which are so powerfully visible now. Absolutely necessary and requiring a lot of listening, rethinking old assumptions, ways of speaking, acting, thinking, processing.
  4. Change our daily personal habits because of the virus. Absolutely necessary shifts in ways of living, being in touch with others, reacting.
  5. Contain and channel my rage at the political mess in the country into something other than self-harming behaviors. Necessary and often deeply lonely work.
  6. Translate my own administrative “leaders’” incomprehensible language and expectations into something we can actually do without being driven mad.

Any one of these would be a challenge, but all stacked on one another has paralyzed me at times, I admit. I’ve gone to bed early too many nights.

Still, I try to wake up and concentrate on what I can. I tell myself I’m not going to get any of this perfect. For me, 4 is more or less done. I’m learning #1 this month. #3 I commit to and figure out tangible things I can do everyday. #5 is difficult for me but I’m trying to stay out of a deep circuitry of depression and despair. I am deciding to ignore #6 until they speak in some humane way.

As I Begin to Think About Teaching in the Fall

I again realize I don’t know that much really about how other people do this thing called writing poems.

I do think that the not knowing what we’re doing isn’t written about enough. How poets go into mystery and keep going back, bringing back bits and pieces sometimes, sometimes rescuing or producing or guiding a whole body/song/character out of silence or pain or a few vowel sounds, even out of boredom.

Some teachers teach it as simply practice, some as a kind of calling, some as a need, some even as a kind of delight. It’s all of those things of course, or the great stuff is, balancing meaning and delight and need and ambition on razors’ edges of language and breath

and any false move can make it collapse like a house made of teaspoons.


I used to, in my early days as a teacher, simply say Bring in a poem for next week, and the students did. The first ones would be usually dependent on cliches and language students had been told poets use—e’er, thine, wouldst, do run—and in the workshop I’d quietly just replace them with the students’ “real” voice, more contemporary diction and syntax. Slowly I’d lessen their dependence on rhyme or metaphor or symbol so they could see and learn to use all the other kinds of language that go into poems. I’d quote famous poets as challenges. We’d look at books that both changed and confounded me.

Then as I grew more used to those cliches/moves, I’d try to head them off with prompts that forced students into creative states by making them work with certain words or sounds or constraints first, things that made it harder for them to rely on cliches or the ways they’d been taught to use language to make poems. I learned to talk less and read out loud from example poems. I had students write more imitation poems. Try to write a poem like that but using the material of your life, I’d say.

Some students blossomed under one kind of teaching, some resisted. No way of teaching always reached everyone. I got used to that. Sometimes the resistors argued with me and lost. Sometimes the resistors disappeared and I asked myself why and tried to change, to be clearer or softer in my tone or remember that there are circumstances I cannot control that arise between teacher and student. Sometimes they found better teachers in my colleagues.

So, now, in a time in which so many things have changed, “changed utterly” as Yeats says in his poem “Easter, 1916,” for the rebels of the Easter Uprising, I wonder which approach to teaching will be the best for the students whose lives have had to undergo radical shifting. Should I still start by having them read Sharon Olds’ “The Takers,” and shock them with what a poem can talk about? Should I start with Terrance Hayes’ poem The Blue Terrance and ask them to, in the next twenty minutes, write their own poem about where they come from, using the same language Hayes uses (I come from, I come from, I believe, I will not)?

Where do they come from? What do they believe? What will they not do/say/put up with? The first few weeks will let me know all those things. And I may have to reconfigure everything then, change my approach. I’ve done it before. My guess this time is they’re exhausted by screens and lectures and listening. They miss being in rooms full of other humans who are trying to learn something new. It can be awfully lonely to be trying something new all by yourself.

So we need to talk about that. Probably a lot. Make some spaces where they can experiment and maybe test out some lines, ask some questions, spend some time (specific, dedicated, bounded time, not this uneasy open-ended time we have now) listening to a poem being read, listening to someone (me at first probably but soon them) talk their way through a poem, then talk their way through changing a poem without destroying it, which is very hard to do for some of them, indeed for many of us.

What is the structure I’ll use to do this? I don’t yet know. But I know there are structures already. I know I might have to invent one that works with my own way of teaching and can reach out to them wherever they are. I told some friends I might just set up a set of correspondences and write letters, but I’ll have to have some way of appearing too—on Zoom or Teams or something else—so they can talk to me in person, as a person, instead of only getting me through words. But how will it be? Would the Witch of the West get destroyed if Dorothy had seen that the Wizard was just a person, like her, who is a lucky imposter?

Final Project note for The Book as Art

Well, friends,

the time has come to open up a space for sharing our projects. I have now done that in the class’s Courseweb page.

I’m sorry that this pandemic cut us off from one another so abruptly, but I am trying to remember creative people who often feel more of other people’s suffering and worry an awful lot about the state of the world ALSO are the dreamers who figure out ways to live through and with anxiety. I’ve heard from some of you about your time in isolation, and I hope the rest of you are safe, sheltered, and caring for yourself the best you can. I hope the forum and sharing projects with one another will reinforce some of the solidarity and community we had in the actual classroom.

As always, feel free to reach out to me if you have a question or just need to talk/vent/invent.

SO: Please post photos of your whole project or a movie, if that’s possible. You can upload your work from today until the 22nd, which is about when I’ll have to start getting grades in.

NOTE: When you submit, remember that I need to be able to see the whole text as well as the images. Feel free to post close-up images of any special features you’d like me to notice. Feel free to add a note telling us what the process was like, what materials you used, any issues you faced.

If you don’t want to post (or can’t) send it to me at I know that some of you ended up working on very sensitive matter, so there’s no shame if you prefer to keep that between you and me.

If we had been in the classroom, I would have bought enough pizza for everyone. Lord, I miss that ritual now. If you can, reward yourself and your hard, engaging work this term with something. Maybe it’s a pizza but it could also be something like playing a favorite song and letting yourself dance for 3 minutes. It could be just sitting and breathing in. We made it to the end.

I’m not sure what the future will hold. I know that summer classes will all be online. No one’s sure about the fall. Much will depend upon scientists and doctors and folks working to treat and find a cure/test/something. Remember that someone has to write and record the history too, and that doesn’t have to be recorded merely by Historians. Writers and artists do this work too. This class has given you a few skills, I hope, and maybe some ways to work with your hands and whatever materials are around you, and to think of ways to connect images and words in some new ways. It’s a beginning. Folks on Youtube can be great teachers of skills. There are online resources everywhere it seems. There’s instagram and wordpress and soundcloud and a whole host of platforms where your work might be needed. If you write what you need to write, there’s bound to be other folks out there who will be grateful to hear it.

It’s been a pleasure to have gotten to spend time with all of you in class. You’ve been a great group to test this slightly-experimental class out on. I’m convinced that this class does have a role to play in the curriculum, and I’ll certainly offer it again, maybe in a year.

Thank you to Jacob for being an enthusiastic and encouraging teaching assistant, always willing to help me lug all that stuff downstairs, and for his passionate interest in the work of getting images and words to talk to one another.

Thank you for all your inventive, smart, funny, and joyous work. I hope you continue it wherever you are and in whatever ways you can.


Notes to the poets: week of April 6th

Hi all,


I’m checking in on a Thursday, which makes me late a bit. This has been an odd week of irritations and realizations as we’ve been readjusting to living in a one bedroom apartment with a dog. My husband in March took up smoking again because he was so anxious, and then in April he’s decided to give it up again. It’s been very hard for him to process all the anxiety everywhere. For my part, I was drinking whole pots of black tea and then wondering why I felt so crazy every morning as I was talking to colleagues on Teams, then trying to send out emails to a number of folks, then comment on student poems on Courseweb, and and and I always felt like I wasn’t doing something else I should be doing—keeping a visual journal for my The Book as Art class, working on a manuscript I told myself I’d get to now, or reading anything at all. Yesterday, thinking we were giving ourselves a treat and being good citizens, we ordered a big meal of pizza and steak and cheese grinders from a local restaurant (with a slice of chocolate cake for me!) and it took two hours to reach us.  We of course ate it but it was not exactly a treat by then; it was another sign that we were in a world that the old expectations wouldn’t necessarily work in anymore.


So, I’m taking a big breath today, and getting back to what needs to be done. My plan is to comment on two or three poems you’re posting on Courseweb per day.  I have a couple of big pieces from a couple of you and I’m hoping to send you some audio notes on because I realized that typing out all my comments would be completely exhausting.


I also wanted to call your attention to the poems I’ve been posting every day on Courseweb as my attempt to keep practicing the art even in the midst of the anxiety of the moment, and to give you a view into how I’m trying to respond to the world as it shifts and changes. My plan is very simple: to write at least 10 to 15 ten syllable lines every day. Some days have been quite a lot more. They’re not all perfectly good. Some will sound silly to me when I look back at them at the end of the month, which is when I’m reading them and not before.  So, no need to comment on them!  I’m just putting things down first as clearly as I can and without lying if I can. I’m not worrying about being smart or funny or beautiful or literary.


For those of you who have not posted on courseweb, you are still required to give ME poems. You don’t have to post them on CW but you will need to get me something.


Or you can write and let me know that you’ll be fine with the B I’ll give you at the end of the term for the work you’d done thus far (and which I’m fine with giving you, by the way, because I know this hasn’t been easy for some of you and because you can easily petition to have that grade turned into a Pass if a B is going to spoil things for your GPA).

Working Methods: some notes

First things first: get up. This can be harder than it sounds.

Second step: do something other than go lie down on the couch in the living room and turn on the tv. Note: this is much harder if you have once again slept all night on the couch. Second note: if you have a dog, this is much easier because you will get an immediate disapproving look.

Third thing: take care of the dog, who requires at least a ten minute walk to pee and poop. When you return, you must feed the dog and get him some clean water to replace the slimy puddle that is yesterday’s clean water.

Sometimes I eat breakfast and sometimes I don’t eat before working. I can’t see much difference in production either way.

In the absence of my normal coffeehouse routine, I ordered a six cup orange teapot from Amazon one day. When I got to my husband’s apartment, I found he only had some 8 oz coffee cups. I was microwaving water every half an hour.  Ordinarily, at the coffeehouse, I order a pot or a 16 oz drink and sit for an hour or two and then order something else and then I’m done. So the teapot substitutes for that time now. I sit down for as long as it takes to drink an entire pot of tea. Generally, this takes me about two hours.

English or Irish Breakfast, two bags, some lemon and honey.

Then I sit in front of the computer and check in with my students on Courseweb, my colleagues on Microsoft Teams, and the rest of the world on email.  (Social media I probably checked while I was walking the dog or while he was eating his kibble or in the gray areas between me getting out of bed and trying to resist the pull of the couch. I do have the phone close and on while I type this, incidentally, so I might be kidding myself about how much I’m checking it.)

This morning there’s nothing on Teams (thank you colleagues who are trying not to work on the weekends so we all get some kind of break!). On Courseweb there are still two Senior Seminar student poems I need to respond to, but I’m not going to do that immediately because they are both very complicated pieces. I’ve so far been only able to tackle a couple such pieces a day. Their poems have always been and still are complicated and ambitious, just as I hope they’ll be, so it’s been useful to have some time to really respond. I do feel the difference between writing by hand my comments and typing them out, however.  The latter takes about twice as much time. I also note the difference between reading them on a screen versus reading them on a printed page; it’s easier for me to read any thing as a printed page than on a screen. I can see the beginning and ending of a printed page or set of pages in the way I can’t on a screen. I know what I’m getting into when I hold the thing in my hand. I don’t know when I have to scroll and scroll. I have to keep more notes to keep my reading and then my comments coherent.

So, let’s say that’s the first half-hour of the day. It often isn’t the end of work but just the noticing of what work there is to do today. Sometimes I make a little list to the side of the computer:


Check in with G about S



Comments on L and N’s poems for SSP

Tamara and Sarah

Check in on D and K…


If I start all this by 8, I’m usually done by 10, and I take a little break.

When people ask me why I work so much in a coffeehouse at least a fifteen minute drive from my house, my answer is always the same: to escape distractions, which for me are mostly in my house—distracted eating, video games, and napping. I can’t really do the last two in the coffeehouse and any eating I do has to be paid for, so I can actually concentrate on what I’m supposed to do. And the drive time is just enough of a threshold to keep me from getting up and wandering back home. The pleasant things a coffeehouse offers me that my house doesn’t are the freedom from feeling the need to clean and a constant buzz of white noise from other people’s conversations, which is a feeling of not being alone. I can choose to overhear conversations or not. I am sometimes thrown an interesting word or phrase from another table.

Here in the apartment, my husband usually working away on his computers in his bedroom, I have much to be grateful for but I’m having a difficulty getting anything new to start. And yet, I’ve already written about 800 words as of this sentence. But nothing that feels like it might be a poem or a story or something we might call literary. Just sentences that seem factual, that seem descriptive. If I were my own student, I’d tell myself to just write and not care so much, so I do try to do that as much as I can. I take my pictures of the landscape as I walk the dog. I occasionally work on a painting or drawing—something about the gestures in the visual arts feels easier, not fraught with having to “mean” something in the face of the news of the coronavirus or the corrupt and inept political leadership of the President. So I let myself pick up the charcoal and grind it against the white toothed paper I brought with me. Just lines, not even shapes.

After my mother’s death in 2013, I couldn’t imagine what I was going to write about for a bit, and I finally settled on just writing “lines” of poetry, usually 10 syllable lines. It could be about anything, I said, or nothing. I probably need to go back to that system.  When I did that, I usually found that if I wrote for about 12 to 20 lines, something interesting would appear, out of the boredom of the mind or out of the deep delight of the language itself or maybe both I don’t know, and I’d have something to follow at last.

Here’s one of those poems from my new manuscript, The Things.


Lines Where Something Was Supposed To Be


I can feel where the nouns ought to be most days.

But there’s often now an odd coming-up-short

when I go to grab that thing that one needs when one

needs to open a door in a conversation and cannot

find its name. My fingers flipper the air where

I know something I know should be solid, sayable,

and simply isn’t. The door thing. The thing you turn.

The thing, you know, you can lock and unlock.

The thing, oh my god, you can jiggle, you can try.

Helpful, a friend will say, oh you mean —-,

and it will burst out of me with relief, the word,

the word, the word, I say over and over again,

like the name of a kidnapped child returned.

At least you knew it was lost, friends will say,

meaning I’m not that bad yet, I’m not one of those

whose language is really going, whose memory

is leaking away in some home full of strangers in white.

Not yet is what I hear, my hand on the knob. Not yet.


(originally published at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)



Action Plan, Week of March 23rd: Senior Seminar

Dear Poets,

Here’s my action plan for class this week:

1) Because I don’t know what your situation is at the moment, I’d like all of you to write back to me (via email at sometime this week letting me know that you’ve a) received this note and b) how you’re doing at the moment and what you think you want to do for the remaining few weeks we have. None of this has to be fancy, so please don’t stress about it. If I don’t hear from you by Friday, I’ll write you directly.

2) What I am also going to ask you to do for Wednesday is to write and post a poem by tonight if possible, by tomorrow night if not. I’ve set up Discussion Boards for that. You will be required to respond to at least five of your colleagues’ poems by Friday.

3) I’d like to continue with my plan to read a big chunk of your work and give you feedback. My plan was to get that work by tomorrow (Wednesday) night and to give you all feedback by next Sunday. But, as I’m unsure where you are and what resources you might have, I’m going to leave that as your choice. Please let me know what you’d like to do this in your email to me.

4) I’d also like to shift gears a little and invite you to write and hand in a piece of prose (Yes, PROSE, so no line breaks) of at least 250 words, describing the room where you’re writing OR a window out of which you can look. Just let us see and feel where you are.
Here’s mine:

It is 4:30 am on Tuesday the 24th of March. I am in Springfield, MA, sitting in the dark at the small dining room table in my husband’s apartment. Husband is still asleep in the next room. Dog is snoring, a dark mound on the gray couch nearby. On the stove in the kitchen, there’s a saucepan of water slowly heating to a boil. The noise the electric stove makes as it works reminds me of the creak of an old wooden ship feeling the pressure of the sea all around it, all its small parts moving back and forth with the swell of the ocean. I like being on boats, it turns out, even though I’m actually afraid of deep water. I like this feeling that I’m in the dark hold of a ship. I can write in it, it turns out. It focuses me. The windows in the apartment here look out at a parking garage which is always well-lit. Consequently, the curtains my husband’s put up are thick and usually closed. We opened them up yesterday to watch snow fall, at first barely visible and then becoming heavier and heavier until both of us were talking about our childhoods and what having a sudden day off from school meant.

He spent his day in the bedroom, which is also his office, talking to colleagues; I could hear their tinny voices as they talked to each other from wherever their homes were. He had meetings and interviews and learning sessions in there. He talked one-on-one with his manager and in groups of people working on particular projects. They set rates and debated valuations. No one said, Will the world be changed when this is over?

He broke for lunch around noon and we watched the news to see if anything had happened. He never got out of his sweatpants.

Meanwhile, I’d spent the morning deconstructing a brown paper bag and re-constructing it into a journal for my class The Book as Art. It kept my hands and mind busy if nothing else. All morning, I talked to no one except the dog and then only occasionally. I kept my phone nearby to monitor Facebook and Instagram and all the little cheering faces of friends with their little dopamine hits of likes and comments as we keep each other company. When I’d finished my brown paper book, I walked the dog to keep his boredom to a minimum. We took the stairs to get some exercise.

After all the enforced enclosure we’d been breathing, the snow was wildly bracing.

Action Plan, Week of March 23rd: The Book as Art

This week’s action plan:

1. Go to Youtube and watch videos about Book Making (avoid Book Art as a search term–that’s stuff that’s more sculptural) or Bookbinding. I recommend Sea Lemon as a source and her DIY Bookbinding Methods and Stitches. Try to give yourself two hours or so today or tomorrow to just do something you haven’t done before.

Remember too that you can improvise if you don’t have all the elegant materials owe had in class. Use what’s around you. THAT may actually be the best materials to work with, since it will really be the material of your life–junk mail, brown paper bags, grocery flyers, etc. Dental floss is a replacement for waxed thread. Scissors can act as bone folders if you turn them around and use their handles. And so on.

2. PLEASE everyone write me a paragraph or two about your ideas for your final project. I’m hoping to get them as soon as possible. By Tuesday evening would be great, but by this Friday (the 27th) by the latest. If I don’t hear from you, I’ll come looking for you. Don’t be afraid to talk to me about materials, issues you have, questions, fears, etc. I am here to help, even if I’m physically in Springfield, MA, sitting next to a Labrador retriever who is snoring while my husband works in the next room with his team.

So that’s it for the week. If you make something interesting, please take a photo and upload it onto Courseweb if you can. Or make a movie?

I send all best wishes to you all wherever you’re finding yourselves. Write me if you have questions, of course.

All best,

The Tigers of Consciousness


Normally an introvert, yesterday I snapped.  My whole body itched. I wanted a long drive or something, anything to get me out of the apartment where I’m parked now probably until May. My husband is working from home for his job (attending virtual meetings, having discussions with colleagues over proposals) while I sat on the couch with the dog who moves alternately between lying on the rug on the hard floor and sitting next to me on the static-y couch. He’s bored, bored, bored, I can tell. I’m bored. By 4 pm, M who seemed to be adapting well to this WFH situation came in to say that, you know, this working from home thing is getting boring.  It turns out that human interaction is actually important, actually feels important, even if it’s just seeing other people walk around. I used to joke that to “only” dogs it must feel sometimes as if they are the only dog left on earth, which is why some get so excited to see each other they’ll cry out, leap up, or start dancing at the sight of another dog coming toward them. It’s a relief not to be alone in one’s life.

This past week I’ve received a couple of emails from students which were as lovely as a teacher could ever ask for. People have missed class and our fellowship once a week. They have said how important it has been to have that time set aside to read poems to each other or make books with each other, to think about the delight of art, the endlessness of play and invention. How wonderful and important is the sense of there being no end to what you can imagine and how you might construct and reconstruct your feelings once you get them on the page or, in the case of The Book as Art class, make a place for them.

I was deeply touched by the emails which all spoke in different ways about the difficulties of being in the places where they are, which are either far away from the university—one, a whole ocean away!—or are complicated spaces, full of people who don’t have a clue about what studying at a university can open up in your life, by which I mean your imagination, your consciousness. It can be difficult to shelter-in-place when you’re in a place that is for a variety of reasons filled with fear or neglect or full of anger or even terror. In every email, though, there has been a recognition that writing was another place where people had found another place to call home, a place where one can speak and be listened to, can have feelings and not be mocked for them, and even where one can be “selfish”.

And it’s that word “selfish” that got me off the couch at approximately 3:45 am this morning to write. Selfish has been of course routinely condemned as a feeling, and especially now when some people are hoarding necessary materials and selling them to others in order to make money or when some people are loading up on unnecessary supplies and thus potentially taking from others in need. Selfishness that arises from greed or fear ought to be reined in, and is being rightly exposed by the news or checked by limits at the supermarkets. We must all stay in to avoid spreading what will be for many a very dangerous virus.

A certain amount of selfishness is, I think, okay, even necessary. To want to live one’s life separate from one’s family of origin is often thought to be selfish (especially by one’s family!) but I know students whose family was abusive or neglectful or sometimes smothering and had to be escaped from, at least until the student could establish a life on her own terms. One student wrote a beautiful letter about feeling the difference now between her major, which she chose at 17 out of an abundance of love, so that she could be of service to others (and frankly make a living), and her love of writing which has been stirred and strengthened by her classes at the university. She called her love of writing “selfish,” as in it is primarily for herself that she imagines its use. It doesn’t cure anyone’s cancer or aid anyone in buying a house. I want to praise that selfish desire for writing, however, because it has clearly awaken her sense of self as a self, and not just as a useful and well-paid cog that gets out of a bed on a schedule, does certain things at certain times during the day, and then returns to a space to feed, clean, and renew itself with sleep. I think of the Wallace Stevens poem


Disillusionment of Ten O’Clock

The houses are haunted
By white night-gowns.
None are green,
Or purple with green rings,
Or green with yellow rings,
Or yellow with blue rings.
None of them are strange,
With socks of lace
And beaded ceintures.
People are not going
To dream of baboons and periwinkles.
Only, here and there, an old sailor,
Drunk and asleep in his boots,
Catches tigers
In red weather.


How important it is be, and sometimes how rare it seems it is to meet, an “old sailor,” a person who has seen things, has an internal mythology that’s so incompatible with one’s community!

And yet, most people I’ve found are full of tigers and red weather. They might not recognize it as a gift if they don’t live in a situation where those kinds of energies would be appreciated or turned to good use. They might hate the feeling of having desires in them which make life uncomfortable or which pinch or stab or irritate or pain them when all they want to do is sleep through the night like other people (we imagine) do.

The truly sad thing, I’d argue, is not to communicate with those baboons and periwinkles, those things that itch in your dreams and wake you up and make you sit in the darkness at 3 am. This shelter-in-place stuff, this “social distancing” stuff is a good time to make a list of all the cargo you’re carrying into port, where you’re going to be docked for the un-foreseeable future. What’s growling in your hold right now? (While you’re groaning at all these ship metaphors, I’m having fun!) What needs to get up and stretch its legs? Think of what Blake’s The Tyger is and what Rilke’s The Panther is reduced to. Think of how few of them are left and how you might resist their vanishing even now. This thinking of the self, of the many selves inside all of us, is a form of selfishness we might do well to consider speaking to and of at the moment.

I made my husband come with me to the supermarket, where we kept our distance of course from everyone but the woman at the deli who seemed tired but delighted to see us as I ordered the Honey Ham my growly inner tigers wanted. We stalked the aisles a bit and picked up more tea and honey, more pears, ice cream, nothing too extravagant or unnecessary. Two frozen pizzas because we just wanted something easy for dinner. We marveled at the aisles in which the only the word Lysol remained on the shelves, all the missing rolls of white toilet paper. But we also laughed at some of the unexpected absences—no small bags of Peanut M&Ms at the checkout line, no whipped cream cannisters on the refrigerated shelves, those gigantic bags of rice I could never imagine leaving the store finally gotten their day of freedom.

The Book as Art Goes Online

Hi all,

We are losing our face-to-face contact obviously. I am trying to keep it very simple. I’m also trying to not overwhelm your emotional resources or the university resources by using Zoom or some of the group meeting programs.


Here’s what I’m going to do:

I’d like to write a once a week post which I’ll put up on the discussion board, which you can respond to as you’d like—either in the threads or as private emails to me. You don’t have to respond to those posts though. Responses to my post is not an assignment. I’m trying to think of my post as a mini-lecture/talk, with perhaps some links to youtube demonstrations, prompts, interviews or interesting posts. Feel free to add your thoughts and/or links of your own.

I’m going to give you this week to do what we had already planned—gather materials, think about ideas, plan your project (especially if you weren’t sure what to do, this moment is a kind of historical moment you could make use of—tell us the story of your quarantine)—and then next Tuesday I’ll do a quick check-in with everyone to see where you are.

What you’ll be required to do:

This was the most difficult challenge for this class’s online conversion!  In a face-to-face class, it would be your attendance and your obvious working with materials toward your final project.  I can’t very well ask you all to film yourselves working for two hours, nor do I really want to watch you doing that.  So, I’m just going to trust you to do that—set aside at least two hours a week to play with materials toward your Final Project.  I’ll check in with you to make sure you’re proceeding. You are free to send me emails at any time, of course, if you have questions or concerns.

Final Project (due April 22 by 5 pm)—This date may change, as I think administration is thinking a couple things about graduation dates and grading options, but I think it’s a useful deadline at this point.

All that I need is your Final Project, which you’ll have to document for me.  I’m going to be a little loose here with requirements but here are the things I’d like to see:

1. At least ten pages of text and images. There should be a sequence to the text and the images, although as we saw in the texts we read, the text and images don’t have to follow the same sequence.  In other words, text and images could be working alongside each other (Carson), be in conversation with one another (Rankine), exist mysteriously next to each other (Galeano), or even be in disagreement with each other.

2. Elements of construction and arrangement should be obvious: the project could be a bound book, an accordion book, a folded book-object, or a book made out of rescue materials. Feel free to surprise me, of course! There are a lot of examples of unusual book forms on Pinterest. I have some pinned under my Jeff Oaks account there.

3. This is your last assignment, and I’ve been really impressed by the depth and range of stories, poems, and essays you’ve already presented. I will be looking for a similar depth and level of complexity in your work. Be vulnerable! Be willing to tackle the important questions in your life! And also be aware that if you “just” kept a journal that was both text and images about this quarantine time, THAT would be a terrific thing.


What I’ll need is either:

1. A set of photographs that illustrate the outside and the inside of the project (If it’s a book, then a photograph of the covers and of the inside pages. You might want to send me the text in a document in case it’s not clear from the photographs.

2. OR a movie in which you show and read from the book. Again, make sure that I can see important details.

AND an author’s note of at least 500-1000 words about the project—what your idea was, how you constructed it, what materials you used, and anything else that struck you as useful or interesting for me to know.  You can send this as a separate document.


(please let me know if this is impossible for you to complete. As you can probably imagine, there’s a lot of flexibility surrounding everything right now.)

Notes to the Senior Seminar In Poetry as we go online

Hi all,

We are losing our face-to-face contact obviously. I am trying to keep things very simple. I’m also trying to not overwhelm the university resources, or my or your emotional resources.

Here’s what I’m going to do:

I’d like to write a once a week post which I’ll put up on the discussion board, which you can respond to as you’d like to—either in the threads or as private emails to me. You don’t have to respond to those posts though. I’m trying to think of it as a mini-lecture/talk, with perhaps some links to readings, prompts, interviews or interesting posts. Feel free to add your thoughts and/or links of your own.

What you’ll be required to do:

A poem a week submitted on Courseweb by Wednesday at 6 pm.
5 100-250 word responses to poems by your classmates per week (by Friday at 6pm of every week.) Please be specific and remember to focus your comments on the poem.

Final Folder (due Wednesday, April 22 by 5 pm)—This date may change, as I think administration is thinking a couple things about graduation dates and grading options, but I think it’s a useful deadline at this point.

Final Folder will consist of:
15 pages of poetry,
with an author’s note of at least 250 words about the work you’re handing in to me.

(Please let me know if this is impossible for you to complete. As you can probably imagine, there’s a lot of flexibility surrounding everything right now.)

Lily Poetry Review

Committed to poets, poems and literary citizenship

Noah Stetzer

Sejal Shah

writer of fictions & truths


Postcards (from all over the MAP)

Heidi Rosenberg

Writer, Poet, Teacher.

Some Portraits and Notes on What I Heard

Flash essays on music, people, things I can't forget, and things I won't remember

Marissa Landrigan

The greatest site in all the land!

Seven Kitchens Press

Pie for everyone.

faith adiele

just your typical nigerian * nordic * american girl. who writes * speaks * teaches * travels. (yeah, i was obama first.)

Pitt in Edinburgh, a blog

In which we explore and report on the mysteries of Scotland

The Quotidian Diary

The beauty and quirk of the everyday, common and mundane


Writer. Teacher. Eater. Nerd.

The Poet's Grin

Poet Philip F. Clark invites you to a place for poetry, and the voices who make it.

Ryan M McKelvey

blind communion

Home Soil

Where Being in the World Means Being in Support of Others


Success is a journey, not a destination

Uncle Bardie's Stories & Such

The World's Greatest Blog. Not. Then again, anything is possible.