Poetry with an Emphasis on Versecraft ("Formal Poetry")


The following is a list of courses offered in this program at Western. The official University Catalog contains more detailed and specific information about degree requirements for this major.

 CRWR 600 - ORIENTATION (1 credits)

Focus on learning mastery of online tools, attending faculty and student readings, and meeting with non-residency mentors during first summer; focus on attending presentations and participating in workshop sessions during second summer; and focus on presenting student thesis as well as attending and participating in other readings during third summer. Must be repeated three times for credit. Prerequisite: Admission to the program.


The primary genre reading course for the first semester of the program. Students study a wide variety of sub-genres, including romantic suspense, historical romance, detective fiction, and thrillers, among others, to build a detailed understanding of the specific tropes and hallmarks of each sub-genre and how to apply them to their own work. Prerequisite: Admission to the program.

 CRWR 610 - Genre Fiction Writing and Reading Survey (6 credits)

A broad genre fiction reading and writing survey course for Out of Concentration students, surveying romance, mystery, speculative fiction, westerns, and young adult category work. Students focus primarily on understanding genre tropes and writing exercises that illuminate them. 

 CRWR 631 - SCANSION IMMERSION (2 credits)

Focus on an intensive review of prosody – how to make meter and rhythm work in the poetic line as well as how to discern that structure in the works of others. Prerequisite: Admission to the program.

 CRWR 632 - PUBLIC PERFORMANCE (2 credits)

Focus on the quintessence of public speaking, particularly as it applies to the performance of poetry, delivery of lectures, and participation in panels, understanding of the craft of using their voices and their physical presence to deliver creative, critical and pedagogical work orally to the public, and how to participate in conversations with the greatest possible skill and grace. Prerequisite: Admission to the program.

 CRWR 633 - POETRY AND MUSIC (2 credits)

Focus on exploring some of the complex relations between these two arts, from theoretical discussion to the practical aspects of writing everything from song lyrics to choral odes to opera libretti. Prerequisite: Admission to the program.


Focus on tracing the development of the metrical tradition in English poetry from the beginning to the present. Students read poems in all the major forms (Anglo-Saxon Strong Stress Meter, the ballad, classical imitations, blank verse, the sonnet, iambic tetrameter, etc.) along with historical and theoretical commentary. Students also model such forms and scan their own work and that of others. Students will also trace the development of theories of versification and prosody in English. Students read a wide range of works, many of them by poets, in which they describe their craft and that of others, and they compare theories of and approaches to metrical poetry. In this course students are expected to produce a wide range of short essays on various traditions of versification, along with at least one substantial research paper. Prerequisite: Admission to the program.


Focus on a two-pronged study, first of the historical development and evolution of English, and second, work to understand translating poetry, studying and comparing translations, reading theories of translation and attempting translations. Prerequisites: Proof of second-year, or its equivalent, of reading competency in a foreign language, and admission to the program.


Focus on emphasizing advanced topics in metrical composition, e.g. stanza forms, longer forms and sequences, narrative forms, nonce forms (including free verse forms). Students not only practice the forms, but read and scan them along with delving into the history, criticism and theory. The course also selects several major traditions in verse theory and explores them in depth, e.g., linguistic theories of verse; structuralist theories; relations between verse and music; attempt to imitate classical forms in modern languages; etc. Prerequisite: Admission to the program.


Focus on an exploration of the theory and practice of rhythm and rhyme, including all variations, their sources and their traditions in consideration of aesthetic, linguistic, and anthropological theories. Prerequisite: Admission to the program.

 CRWR 646 - NARRATIVE POETRY (6 credits)

Focus on examination, analysis, study, and writing in the narrative genres and modes of poetry, from the ballad to the epic and novel in verse. Prerequisite: Admission to the program.


Focus on examination, analysis, discussion, and writing in all the modes of comic verse, including all the modes of satire (Menippean, Horatian, parodic), to verse-based comic approaches such as light verse, doggerel, children’s verse, and more. Additionally, an exploration of dramatic techniques of verse from ancient Greece through the Renaissance, and to modern writers such as T. S. Eliot and up to the present. Prerequisite: Admission to the program. 


Focus on close analysis of the best reviews and criticism of the past and present, and practice writing such pieces themselves. Also a wide range of techniques and materials available to teachers of poetry to communicate much of that history. Prerequisite: Admission to the program.


Focus on challenging students to write filmic stories in three distinct genre categories, forcing a growth and flexibility to create meaning across a spectrum of setting, time, and circumstance. Dialogue is permitted but is de-emphasized in favor of a more visual narrative. Prerequisite: Admission to the program.


A guided discussion on pedagogy theory and practice with weekly questions on points of interest, suggested readings, and the opportunity for writing teachers and aspiring writing teachers to discuss challenges and insights about the practice of teaching. Prerequisite: Admission to the Program.

 CRWR 694 - CAPSTONE - GENRE FICTION (3 credits)

Culmination of the student's education at Western. In consultation with his or her adviser, the student completes a single work of genre fiction OR a collection of shorter genre fiction works (such as short stories or novellas) of publishable quality, suitable for public reading, and for thesis binding. Prerequisite: Admission to the program.

Why Don't We Call It "Formal Poetry?"

Are you interested in "formal poetry"? So are we -- though we do not use that term, because all poetry, including free verse (which we teach...), has form. Indeed, the only real alternative to "formal poetry" would be "formless poetry," and presumably no one wants to study or write that. This is why, instead of using the term "formal poetry," we emphasize "versecraft" to invoke the elusive techniques of how to make poetic art with words.

We emphasize this quality of verbal art because, in our view, poems do not differ from prose because of what they say — in prose we can tackle any subject, employ any diction, tell any story, use any figure of speech, even establish any rhythm — what we cannot do in prose, however, by definition is … write verse. And verse is not only a way of saying something; it also is a way doing something. Poems not only say things, they also do things that prose cannot do. That is why, in our program, what we study is the greatest possible range of how to do these things, from meters to stanzas, sonnet to ghazal, aubade to serenade, verse drama to verse satire. We assume that our students come to us with something to say — our curriculum helps poets master how to say it.

Graduate Program in Creative Writing, Application Information

Our Poetry with an Emphasis on Versecraft curriculum begins with the basics and moves systematically through the full range of verse technique in English. What that means is we start with meter (Anglo-Saxon strong stress, ballad meter, stress-based imitations of classical forms, blank verse, triple meters, free verse, etc.) then move to stanza forms (couplets, terza rima, quatrains, ottava rima…), received lyrical forms (sonnet, haiku, ballade, sestina, triolet, pantoum, ghazal…) and then into lyrical genres (elegy, aubade, pastoral, serenade, ode, and scores of others).

Blake Poplin, Poetry MFA 2015, receives his degree from Dr. David J. Rothman at the 2015 graduation banquet.

Western has a low-residency program, meaning faculty and students interact online and through conference calls during the academic year and then gather for two weeks in the second half of July on the Gunnison campus for classes, lectures, readings, discussions, and of course, writing. For MFA students there are three such intensives, one prior to the first semester, one between years one and two, and one in the third summer to wrap up the curriculum. MA students pursue an identical curriculum to MFA students, but only come for two summers and one academic year.

The first summer’s two-week residency course, CRWR 631 Scansion Immersion (2 credits), is fondly called Scansion Boot Camp by the students. In this intensive review of prosody, students study how to make meter and rhythm work in the poetic line by reading works of others in different meters and then each day writing a poem of their own. the second summer offers an intensive on the performance of poetry and other forms of public speaking. The third summer features a course on the writing of libretti.

Students pursuing a full load take two courses each semester during the year, using the extensive online services provided by the college on a standard Blackboard platform. Blackboard provides posting services, discussion boards, dedicated email within each course and many other services, allowing faculty and students to create a vibrant online community with every teaching and learning function imaginable. In addition, the poetry classes hold weekly conference calls to discuss the readings, hold workshops on original work, ask questions and simply chat.

Although our full community only gathers for several weeks a year each summer in Gunnison, we are in touch and often see each other and our students at readings and events around the country all year long; we also hold phone conferences for classes and the class bulletin boards are lively and engaging.

Caleb Seeling, Pub Cert Director, teaching


MA/MFA Poetry Scholarships: The Poetry Concentration is currently offering two scholarships for new full-time students who enroll in summer 2016. One scholarship is for $10,000/ yr., and the other is for $5,000/yr. Each scholarship is for up to two years, at the same amount each year. We are tremendously grateful to the Kenney Brothers Foundation for funding the larger of these scholarships. The other scholarship is internally funded by the GPCW.  Click here for the Scholarship Application and information.

Poetry Symposium

The annual Symposium on Poetry Criticism was co-founded by David J. Rothman and Jan Schreiber in 2010 and takes place during Writing the Rockies, the annual writing conference that comes at the end of each summer intensive. The Symposium brings together a group of leading contemporary poet critics to address a growing sense that critical writing — reviews as well as more global discussions of the state of contemporary literature — needs clearer direction. Aware that many writers and critics wished to shine a light on an activity most essential to a strong poetic culture, to make it less routine and more conscious and probing, Schreiber and Rothman initiated a conference that brings together some of the foremost poet-critics now active to discuss problems, objectives, and associated artistic and technical issues.


If you have questions about the Poetry Concentration or the Symposium on Poetry Criticism, email David J. Rothman at drothman@western.edu.

Faculty & Staff


Graduate Program in Creative Writing Faculty
BA Western State Colorado University, MA University of Colorado, Boulder, PhD University of California, Berkeley
Office Location:
Ernest Hilbert
Graduate Program in Creative Writing Faculty
BA, Rutgers University; MSt, Oxford University; PhD, Oxford University
Office Location:
Graduate Program in Creative Writing Faculty
BA Cornell University, MA in Creative Writing, Boston University, PhD in English, Louisana State University
Office Location:
Dr. David J. Rothman
Director of Graduate Program in Creative Writing; Director of Poetry Concentration
AB, Harvard University; MA, University of Utah; PhD, New York University;
Phone: 970.943.2058
Office Location: Taylor Hall 222B
Graduate Program in Creative Writing Faculty
BA cum laude in English and American Literature, Harvard College, Cambridge, MA, MFA in Acting, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Office Location: