Poetry Sample Syllabi

This is Poetry Concentration Director David J. Rothman's introductory syllabus on meter, which poetry students take during their first semester in the program. Modeled on the syllabus of the late Robert Fitzgerald on the same subject, it is a systematic introduction to all the major meters in English, including free verse and nonce forms.

You will notice that in this syllabus and elsewhere on the site we do not use the term "formal poetry," because all poetry, including free verse (which you will find included in detail on the syllabus below), 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. The following syllabus is where we begin.

 

Graduate Program in Creative Writing, Application Information

 

Western State Colorado University
MFA in Creative Writing: Poetry with an Emphasis on Formal Verse
CRWR 636: Metrical Traditions and Versification I

Professor:        Dr. David J. Rothman

Email:              drothman@western.edu, rothmandavidj@msn.com

Prerequisites

CRWR 600, Summer Orientation

CRWR 631, Scansion Immersion

Course Description

“The third requisite on our Poet or Maker is Imitatio, to bee able to convert the substance or Riches of another Poet, to his own use...Not as a Creature that swallows what it takes in, crude, raw, or indigested; but that feeds with an Appetite, and hath a Stomacke to concoct, divide, and turn all into nourishment.  Not to imitate servilely, as Horace says, and catch at vices for virtue; but to draw forth out of the best and choosiest flowers, with the Bee, and turn all into Honey...”  – Ben Jonson, Discoveries

"There is no escape from metre; there is only mastery." -- T. S. Eliot, "Reflections on Vers Libre" (1917)

“The crux of the issue is measure.” – William Carlos Williams

Fighting Words

Say my love is easy had,
Say I'm bitten raw with pride,
Say I am too often sad-
Still behold me at your side.

Say I'm neither brave nor young,
Say I woo and coddle care,
Say the devil touched my tongue-
Still you have my heart to wear.

But say my verses do not scan,
And I get me another man!     – Dorothy Parker

“There is no rest, really, there is no rest, there is just a joyous torment all your life of doing the wrong thing.” – Derek Walcott

This one-semester course, along with MTV II, builds directly on the “Scansion Immersion” (CRWR 631) of the first summer intensive. The course traces the development of the metrical tradition in English poetry from the beginning to the present. Students read poems in all the major metrical forms (Anglo-Saxon Strong Stress Meter, the ballad, classical imitations, iambic tetrameter, blank verse, triple meters, free verse forms, etc.), and then do the same for the major fixed stanza forms (couplet, terza rima, quatrains, etc.), along with historical and theoretical commentary. Each week students also imitate the forms and scan their own work and that of others. Further, in a crucial part of the course often overlooked in other such classes, students study outlines of 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 scan and write poetry every week, and to produce a short essays on various traditions of versification, along with at least one research paper.

Course Objectives

Students who complete this course and MTV II will have a rich understanding of all the fundamentals of the major verse techniques used by poets writing in English, along with their sources, the history, criticism, theory, and practice of these forms. They will be able to scan, interpret, analyze and evaluate the execution of these forms in the work of others, and to imitate these forms in their own creative work.

Course Topics

  • What are prosody, versification, and scansion?
  • How did the formal elements of English versification develop over time? What are the sources?
  • What are the major metrical forms and stanza forms of English poetry?
  • How do poets and critics scan poems and analyze metrical structure and function?
  • How have poets used the elements of verse to create their own new works?
  • How can poets engage the traditions of versecraft to create new work?
  • How can poets develop a meaningful critical vocabulary to discuss their own versecraft and the versecraft of others?

Texts

Most of these books are in print, but some are not; most, however, are available on-line at reasonable prices, or in libraries. Also, feel free to draw on the Western library as a resource – you may well be able to get some of the books via library loan – this kind of service is included in your tuition. We will be using many of these books in other courses as well and they constitute a good start to a prosody / versification library if you do not yet own them. Please be sure to get the correct edition of each book as some of them are quite different in other editions.

Books

Baer, William. Writing Metrical Poetry: Contemporary Lessons for Mastering Traditional Forms. Cincinnati, OH: Writer’s Digest books, 2006.

Ferguson, Margaret, et al., eds. The Norton Anthology of Poetry, 5th Ed. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 2004.

Finch, Annie and Kathrine Varnes. An Exaltation of Forms. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2002.

Greene, Roland, Stephen Cushman et al., eds. The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. Fourth Edition. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012.

Gross, Harvey, ed. The Structure of Verse: Modern Essays on Prosody. Revised Edition. New York: The Ecco Press, 1979.

Häublein, Ernst. The Stanza. The Critical Idiom Series, vol. 38. London: Methuen, 1978. [Available inexpensively on ABE and Amazon.]

Hollander, John. Rhyme’s Reason: A Guide to English Verse. 1981. New, Enlarged Edition. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989.

Kinzie, Mary. A Poet’s Guide to Poetry. Chicago, IL; University of Chicago Press, 1999.

Maynard, Theodore. The Connection Between the Ballade, Chaucer’s Modification of It, Rime Royal, and the Spenserian Stanza. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America, 1934. [Hard to find, but worth it.]

Preminger Alex and T. V. F. Brogan, eds. The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994. [Now superseded by the 4th edition, ed. Green, but still worth acquiring because of Brogan’s entries. Not required, but useful.]

Spiller, Michael R. G. The Development of the Sonnet: An Introduction. London: Routledge, 1992.

Steele, Timothy. All the Fun’s in How You Say a Thing: An Explanation of Meter and Versification. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1999.

Thompson, John. The Founding of English Metre. 1966. Introduction by John Hollander. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989.

Turco, Lewis. The Book of Forms. 1968. Third Edition. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 2000.

Articles and Poems

Uploaded material as deemed useful, mostly poems and articles, will appear in the packet assignments and are included below under the relevant week.

NB – Remember that many of the writers here, although all are excellent, will disagree, often quite intensely, on a number of issues, including terminology and scansion techniques. And recall that many of them are very fine poets themselves. This is part of what we will discuss, and it’s part of where the intrigue comes in. To begin with, you should know that much of the material in Finch and Varnes strikes me as useful but I strongly disagree with some of the approaches there, particularly the scansion systems, which strike me as just so 19th century…

Assignments

Each week you will scan some verse, write your own imitation of the form in question and scan it. In addition you will write two short essays:

1) A 3-4 page metrical analysis of a poem in any metric from the first half of the course, due Sunday, October 20 by midnight;

2) A 5-page prosodic analysis of a poem (or section of a poem) in one of the fixed stanza forms we study in the second half of the course, due Sunday, December 8 at midnight.

Please hand in assignments by midnight on Sunday (MST) of each week. So, for the first week, you will send me an Anglo-Saxon Strong Stress Alliterative Meter exercise by midnight MST on Sunday, September 1, posted on the Blackboard assignments page. Please make your assignments pdf’s, to make scansion easier, rather than trying to include scansion marks via keyboard. Please also make the entire assignment one document, and make sure it is dated, has your name on it, has numbered pages, indicates which assignment it is (e.g. “Week 1: Anglo-Saxon Alliterative Strong Stress Verse”). I will respond in kind. Make sure your assignment has your name on it!

Discussions

I will also be setting up discussion threads for all of you to compare notes, but I will only provide my specific grading comments on the week’s exercises to you individually. I encourage you to open your own threads for discussion if you wish, including posting your own poems for discussion.

Electronic discussions are an important part of the class, through which you will practice readings and criticism, which are crucial to your growth as a writer – you must post at least twice each week in order to receive credit in the class. I will not be responding to every post, but I will be checking the discussion boards regularly for your participation.

Finally, we will arrange real-time group discussion every two weeks or so (alternating with your other class). You should also feel free to email or call me at any point if you hit a snag. Please do remember that I won’t be able to talk by phone every day, but I am definitely available to help.

Evaluation Procedures and Grading Policies

Each of the 15 exercises will be worth 5% of the overall grade, for a total of 75%. The first essay will be worth 10%, the second 15%. Voilá: 100%.

Course Grading Scale

100%-90% = A

89%-80% = B

Evaluation of Student Work

CRWR 636 will use the following grading scale for all grading. I have taken the terms from the late, great Robert Fitzgerald, who used them to evaluate student exercises in his own courses on versification:

• “NB” = “A”: student demonstrates complete mastery of the assignment.

• “NTB” = “B”: student demonstrates solid mastery, but with occasional flaws.

• “NTG” = “C”: student demonstrates working with the assignment, but has not mastered it.

• “NG”= “D”: student wrestles with the assignment, but ineffectively or incorrectly.

• “RNG” = “F”: student shows little evidence of understanding the assignment.

• “0”: assignment is absent or incomplete.

Students must average at least a “B” on the above scale for the collective assignments in order to meet minimum requirements for this course.

Late Assignment Penalties

  • Half-grade penalty per day that an assignment is late.
  • The instructor will notify support team members (i.e., mentor teacher, school administrative representative and regional coordinator) if a master’s degree candidate misses too much class or submits assignment(s) over ONE week AFTER the due date. The team will meet and discuss ways to support the candidate in the course work.

Course Incomplete

  • Only given in extreme circumstances that involve a medical, family or personal emergency. The candidate must provide supporting documentation.

Syllabus

The first half of this class closely follows what we did in our intensive “Prosody Intensive” this summer. That’s very much on purpose – the key to learning this material is repetition. It takes time and practice to learn these techniques. This is just the beginning. Each time you go through the material anew it should carry more resonance because of the greater amount of practice you have already put in.

The second half of the course takes up the fixed stanza forms of English, in order of increasing complexity: couplets, terza rima, quatrains, cinquains/quintains; Venus and Adonis stanzas; rime royal; ottava rima; Spenserian stanzas. In order to make everything fit into the semester we have to double up some weeks on the forms, but by the end of the course you will have taken a look and tried your hand at every major fixed repeating stanza form in English, period.

For each packet, read the relevant passages in the reference works (Baer, Finch & Varnes, Hollander, the Princeton, Turco); consult the longer works as they apply. I have not annotated page numbers for these selections here as most of these books are organized by index and the passages are easy to locate. Steele’s book is not a handbook per se but the index is also quite useful in searching out what he has to say about specific forms. Also, each week we will look at poems in the various metrical forms from the Norton, but as there is such a wide variety, I have again not annotated titles and page numbers here – we will decide which ones to focus on each week, though you should of course feel free to range widely in your own reading. I will always try to post some major poems in the packets, but of course when we study ottava rima I’m not going to upload all of Don Juan…follow your bliss and ask questions if you have them.

And one final note….although you have seen much of this material, remember that there is a lot here…don’t worry if you can’t read every scrap of it or if some doesn’t makes sense. Do as much as you can, get the exercises and writing done, and keep swimming. It’s a way of being in the world, not a task. You will return to all of it many times. Do your best.

Part I: Metrical Forms

1. Week of Monday 8/26. Topic:  Definitions of Prosody and Versification; Imitation of Anglo-Saxon Strong-Stress Alliterative Meter

Read:   Baer, Chaps. 1, 2

Finch & Varnes, “Introduction”

Gross, “Introduction”

Holden, Jonathan. “Poetry and Mathematics.” In The Measured Word: On Poetry and Science, ed. Kurt Brown. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2001: 90-104. Upload.

Hollander, introductory material

Princeton: “Prosody,” “Verse and Prose,” “Versification”

Rothman, “The Dark Pool.” Contemporary Poetry Review. http://www.cprw.com/the-dark-pool/. Posted November 24, 2010.

Stallworthy, “Versification” (Ferguson)

Steele, “Introduction” and Chapter 9, Part 1, “Accentual Verse”

Turco, introductory material

Relevant entries on “Alliteration,” “Strong Stress Meter,” “Anglo-Saxon Meter,” “Stress,” etc., from the reference works

Exercises: Scan Wilbur’s “Lilacs.”

Write and scan 10 – 20 lines of original Anglo-Saxon Strong Stress Meter.

2. Week of 9/2. Topic: Ballad Meter

Read:   Snodgrass, “The Folk Ballad” (Finch and Varnes)

Graves, “Harp, Anvil, Oar” (Gross)

Steele, Chapter 6, “Rhyme”

And see the reference works: “Ballad,” “Ballad Meter,” “Common Measure,” etc.

Exercises: Scan a short ballad of your choice (20 lines will do); Write and scan a short ballad (20 – 40 lines), or opening of a ballad.

3. Week of 9/9. Topic:  English Imitations of Classical Meters

Read:   Hadas, “All Composed in a Meter of Catullus: Hendecasyllabics” (in Finch & Varnes)

Schulman “Sapphics” (Finch & Varnes)

Warren, “Pronouncing ‘Carpenter’: Quantitative Meter in English” (Finch & Varnes)

Stevenson, “The Rhythm of English Verse (Gross)

Steele, Chapter 9, Part 4, “Imitation Classical Verse”

Exercises: Scan several Sapphics, indicating which kind you are writing and commenting on the inevitable problems and variations. Write and scan either several Sapphics or a poem in Catullan Hendecasyllables.

4. Week of 9/16. Topic: Iambic Tetrameter

Read:   Ridland, “Iambic Meter” (Finch & Varnes)

Fussell, “The Historical Dimension” (Gross)

Steele, Chapter 1, “Metrical Norm and Rhythmical Variation”

Nabokov, “Notes on Prosody” (long, but brilliant)

Exercises: Scan 20 lines of rhymed iambic tetrameter couplets of your choice. Write and scan 20-30 lines of rhymed iambic tetrameter couplets.

5. Week of 9/23. Topic: Iambic Pentameter / Blank Verse

Read:   Hecht, “Blank Verse” (Finch & Varnes)

Richards, “Rhythm and Metre (Gross)

Hollander “The Metrical Frame” (Gross)

Steele, Chapter 2, “Scansion and Metrical Variation”

Exercises: Scan some of Shakespeare’s blank verse, from any play. Write and scan 20-25 lines of bv.

6. Week of 9/30. Topic: Triple Meters

Read:   Hartman, “Anapestics” (Finch & Varnes)

Finch, “Dactylic Meter” (Finch & Varnes)

Steele, Chapter 8, “Trochaic and Trisyllabic Meters”

Exercises: Scan 20-30 lines of a triple-metered, rhyming poem. Write and scan 20 lines of rhymed, scanned anapestic tetrameter couplets.

7. Week of 10/7. Topic: Free Verse

Read:   Holley, “Syllabics,” Boisseau, “Free Verse” and Nims, “Off the Main Road” (Finch & Varnes)

Eliot, “Reflections on Vers Libre” (Gross)

Gerber, Natalie. “Stevens’ Mixed-Breed Versifying and His Adaptations of Blank Verse Practice.” The Wallace Stevens Journal 35.2 (2011): 188-223. Upload.

-----. “Getting the ‘Squiggly Tunes Down’ on the Page: Williams‘s Triadic-Line Verse and American Intonation.” In Rigor of Beauty: Essays in Commemoration of William Carlos Williams, ed. Ian D. Copestake. New York, NY: Peter Lang, 2004. 219-51. Upload.

Justice, Donald. “The Free Verse Line in Stevens.” Oblivion: On Writers and Writing. Ashland, OR: Story Line Press, 1998: 13-38. Upload.

Pound, “Treatise on Meter,” “Action and Incantation” (Gross)

Steele, Chapter 9, Parts 2 and 3, “Syllabic Verse” and “Free Verse”

Exercises: Pick a short fv lyric and write a one-paragraph analysis of it (please include the poem with the assignment). Write (and scan if need be) one fv lyric. In a brief paragraph, describe what you are doing with the metrics.

8. Week of 10/14. Topic:  Nonce Forms / More on Accentual-Syllabic Modulation

Read:   Finch & Varnes, as much of Part IV as you wish…though regard it with skepticism.

Halley and Keyser, “The Iambic Pentameter” (Gross)

Jespersen, “Notes on Meter” (Gross)Kinzie, Chapter 8, “Accentual-Syllabic Meter”

Princeton, “Equivalence”

Steele, Chapters 3 and 4, on “Rhythmical Modulation” and “Elision”

Wimsatt and Beardsley, “The Concept of Meter: An Exercise in Abstraction” (Gross)

Exercises: Pick a short nonce-metrical lyric and write a one-paragraph analysis of its meter (please include the poem with the assignment). Write (and scan if need be) one nonce-metrical lyric. In a brief paragraph, describe what you are doing with the metrics.

First paper due on Sunday, Oct. 20, Midnight MST: 3-4 pages of metrical analysis of a famous lyric poem in one of the forms studied in this course.

Part II: Stanza Forms

9. Week of 10/21. Topic:  Couplets

Read:   Häublein, relevant sections [Consult him each week….]

Kinzie, Chapter 9, “Stanza and Rhyme: The Role of Echo”

Steele, “‘The Bravest Sort of Verses’” (Finch & Varnes)

Steele, Chapter 7, “Stanzas”

Harold Whitehall “Rhyme: Sources and Diffusion.” Ibadan 25 (1968): 21-26. Upload.

Wimsatt, “One Relation of Rhyme to Reason: Alexander Pope.” MLQ 5 (1944): 323-38. Rpt. in his The Verbal Icon. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1954. Widely reprinted. Upload.

Exercises: Scan 20 lines from Pope. Write and scan 20 lines of your own rhymed heroic couplets. Strive for wit. N.B.: When writing the stanza forms, strive to make your stanzas all part of one poem, not separate poems.

10. Week of 10/28. Topic:  Terza Rima

Read:   Stefanile, “The Self-Engendering Muse” (Finch & Varnes).

Binyon, “‘Terza Rima’ in English Poetry.” English 3 (1940): 113-17. Upload.

John Wain, “Terza Rima: A Foot Note on English Prosody.” Rivista di letterature moderne n.s. 1 (1950): 44-48. Upload.

And don’t forget the reference works, esp. Häublein, Brogan, Baer and Turco…

Exercises: Scan a well-known piece of terza rima…some of Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind,” Frost’s “Acquainted with the Night,” etc. Write and scan 18 – 24 lines of scanned tr.

11. Week of 11/4. Topic:  Quatrains

Read: Hollander, “The Quatrain” (Finch & Varnes)

Exercises: Scan 20 lines of any great poem in rhymed, metrical quatrains. Write and scan the same, using any standard quatrain form.

12. Week of 11/11. Topic:  Cinquains/Quintains and “Venus and Adonis” Stanzas

Read:   There’s very little here! We may read “Time-Beguiling Sport: Number Symbolism in Shakespeare’s ‘Venus and Adonis,’” by Christopher Butler and Alastair Fowler, from Venus and Adonis: Critical Essays, Ed. Philip C. Kolan (New York, NY: Garland Publishing, 1997): 157-70…which I will upload if I decide to use it, but other than that…consult the reference works.

Exercises: Scan 3 or 4 stanzas of Shakespeare’s V & A. Write and scan….well, you know the drill…three or four stanzas of V&A stanzas.

13. Week of 11/18. Topic:  Rhyme Royal

Read:   Maynard (and as always…the other reference works)

Exercises: Scan one stanza of RR. Write and scan two stanzas of RR.

Week of 11/25: Thanksgiving Break – eat the bird.

14. Week of 12/2. Topic: Ottava Rima

Read: Osherow, “Ottava Rima” (Finch & Varnes)

Helen Vendler, “Renaissance Aura: Ottava Rima Poems,” Chapter 10 of Our Secret Discipline: Yeats and Lyric Form. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University, 2007. Upload.

Exercises: Scan three stanzas of Don Juan. Write and scan several ottava rima stanzas of your own (remember – they need not be humorous…).

Second paper due on Sunday, Dec. 8, Midnight MST: 5 pages of prosodic analysis of a sequence of stanzas in one of the major stanza forms, e.g., a passage from Pope, a canto of Byron, a section of The Faerie Queene, etc.

15. Week of 12/9. Topic:  Spenserian Stanzas

Read: Maynard

Gwynn, “Spenser’s Eponymous” (Finch & Varnes)

Morton, Edward Payson. “The Spenserian Stanza before 1700.” Modern Philology 4.4 (April 1907): 639-654. Upload.

Pope, E. F., “”The Critical Background of the Spenserian Stanza.” Modern Philology 24.1 (1926): 31-53.

Exercises: Scan three stanzas of your choice from The Faerie Queene. Write and scan two stanzas of SS.

Academic Polices

The Electronic Classroom

The electronic classroom depends upon an evolving technology. Please remember that although our MFA cohort is a tight community in many ways, Blackboard is not a social networking site and I do not check it by the hour. You can expect that I will check on discussion threads three or four times a week, and respond according to the needs of each module. I will also seek to respond to direct emails within each class in 3-4 days, and assignments will receive feedback and/or grades within two weeks. If something is urgent, the best thing to do is to send me an email outside the class, on the WSC server, directly, or to call my cell phone. Please remember: a discussion thread is not a messaging system, but a diffusion system, and I may not even see everything there, or recall it, as there are multiple communications systems up across our program (course modules, discussion threads, email, assignment boards, etc.). If you have a question that you feel has not been addressed, please be patient, and also please don’t hesitate to contact me directly if you think I may have somehow missed it. I also try to grade papers quickly, weekly if possible, but there are times when it will take longer to get things back to you. As in standard academic classrooms, it may take up to three weeks to return papers, though in general I will be far more prompt than that.

Special Needs Students

The MFA in Creative Writing and Western State College seek to provide reasonable accommodations for all qualified persons with disabilities. This College will adhere to all applicable federal, state and local laws, regulations and guidelines with respect to providing reasonable accommodations as required to afford equal educational opportunity. It is the student’s responsibility to register with Disability Services and to contact the faculty member in a timely fashion to arrange for suitable accommodations.

Academic Dishonesty/Plagiarism

The MFA in Creative Writing operates on the assumption of honesty, integrity, and fair play by all involved. When students commit academic dishonesty of any kind, this trust is violated, whether the student acted inadvertently or deliberately. Faculty members may fail the student for the particular assignment, test, or course involved, or they may recommend that the student drop the course in question. These penalties may vary with the gravity of the offense and the circumstances of the particular case.

Academic dishonesty can be divided into four categories and defined as follows

  • Cheating: Intentionally using or attempting to use unauthorized materials, information or study aids in any academic exercise.
  • Fabrication: Intentional and unauthorized falsification or invention of any information or citation in an academic exercise.
  • Facilitating academic dishonesty (collusion): Intentionally or knowingly helping or attempting to help another to commit an act of academic dishonesty.
  • Plagiarism: Intentionally or knowingly representing the words or ideas of another as one’s own without proper citation.

Appropriate Classroom Behavior

The MFA in Creative Writing faculty are committed to creating and maintaining an interactive learning environment. Rude, sarcastic, obscene, or disruptive behavior and/or harassment have a negative impact on everyone’s learning and therefore are not allowed in the program. When a student disrupts class in the before mentioned ways, the course professor will remove the student from the class. This code applies to all courses, whether they are conducted in a classroom or on-line.


Graduate Program in Creative Writing, Application Information


Here is Ernest Hilbert's syllabus from his summer intensive on the writing of libretti. This two-week intensive is generally taken by students at the end of the MFA, in their third and final intensive, but is also open to the public. We believe it is as strong a course in this art as any in the world.


Western State University of Colorado

MFA in Creative Writing: Poetry with an Emphasis on Formal Verse

Summer Intensive 2015 / CRWR 633: Poetry and Music

Professor:        Ernest Hilbert

Location:         Taylor Hall 229

Times:              Monday through Friday (July 14-18), and Monday through Wednesday                             (July 21-23), 1-4 PM

Office: Taylor Hall 208C

Office Hours: M, T, W, Th: 10:00 – 11:00 AM

Phone: 215-275-2477 or 970-943-2590

Email: ehilbert@western.edu

Prerequisites

CRWR 600, Summer Orientation

CRWR 631, Summer 1 Intensive: Scansion Immersion

CRWR 636, Metrical and Verse Traditions I

CRWR 637, History of the English Language / Studies in Translation

Course Description

In ABC of Reading, Ezra Pound proposed that “poetry atrophies when it gets too far from music.” How do musical elements of poetry affect us as readers and listeners? How does one write for musical settings? Before the modern era, poetry was often sung. In fact, from its earliest uses in ancient cultures, poetry has served alongside music to entertain and enlighten in both religious and secular performance. The class will address the complex musical elements of the language and ways they may be used in both written and musical environments. The class will also focus extensively on practical aspects of writing for musical setting and constructing finished song lyrics and opera libretti. Each course begins with an archival recording of a poet reading and a student recitation of the poem.

Course Objectives

This hands-on workshop, combining musical, prosodic, and theatrical elements, will examine the ways in which a librettist or song-writer goes about preparing a text for musical setting. Progressing through both brief lectures an intensive maieutic method, students will confront their own evolving thoughts about the relationship between poetry and music. As a centerpiece of the course, students will compose a one-act opera libretto (write synopsis, select characters and setting, determine thematic focus, write both recitative and arias, arrange stage directions) and engage in detailed discussion of theories addressed in assigned reading material.

Course Topics

  • How does one begin an opera? How does one establish a relationship with a composer, find a suitable topic, and secure permissions?
  • How does one develop characters and create distinctive voices?
  • What tactics do opera librettists deploy when writing for a composer?
  • How does opera differ from fiction? From poetry? From theatrical drama? From movies?
  • How does a story emerge and how should it be told in order to be set to music?
  • How do song lyrics relate historically to lyric poetry?
  • What qualities are added by a composer to existing sonic effects present in a poem?
  • What can be accomplished in a song that might not be possible in a poem?
  • What do we mean when we talk of the “music of poetry?”

Readings/Textbooks/Recommended Further Reading

What follows is a list of books I will draw upon for the course. You need not have read them beforehand, but you may want to acquire a number of them at some point after the course, in order to continue exploration of particular topics. There will also be a number of handouts in class.

Philosophy and Critical Theory

Aristotle. Malcolm Heath, trans. Poetics. New York: Penguin, 1996.

Auden, W. H. “The World of Opera.” In Secondary Worlds, T.S. Eliot Memorial Lectures. London: Faber and Faber, 1968. [The Edward Mendelson-edited Complete Works of Auden, Prose, issued in installments by Princeton University Press, has only reached 1962 with its fourth volume. However, reading copies of Secondary Worlds may be found on the secondary book market at reasonable prices.]

Bridges, Robert. “A Letter to a Musician on English Prosody.” In The Musical Antiquary, Volume I, October 1909-July 1910. London: Oxford University Press, 1968.

Conrad, Peter. Romantic Opera and Literary Form. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977.

Freytag, Gustav. Elias J. MacEwan (trans). Technique of the Drama: An Exposition of Dramatic Composition and Art (English translation of Die Technik des Dramas, 1863). Chicago: S.C. Griggs, 1896. [This volume is scarce. However, a serviceable reproduction of the text is readily available in print-on-demand format for little money.]

Frye, Northrop, ed. Sound and Poetry. New York: Columbia University Press, 1956.

Hollander, John. “The Poem in the Ear.” In Vision and Resonance: Two Senses of Poetic Form. New York: Oxford University Press, 1975.

Kerman. Joseph. Opera as Drama. New York: Random House, 1956. Reprinted, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.

Kirby-Smith, H.J. The Celestial Twins: Poetry and Music Through the Ages. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1999

Patel, Aniruddh. Music, Language, and the Brain. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Pence, Charlotte, ed. The Poetics of American Song Lyrics. Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2011.

Rupprecht, Philip. Britten’s Musical Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Symonds, John Addington. Essays Speculative and Suggestive. “Is Music the Type or Measure of All Art?” London: John Murray, 1907.

Weisstein, Ulrich, Ed. The Essence of Opera. New York: Norton Library, 1964.

Winn, James Anderson. Unsuspected Eloquence, A History of the Relations Between Poetry and Music. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981.

History

Abbate, Carolyn and Roger Parker. A History of Opera. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2012.

Kildea, Paul. Britten on Music. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Lehman, David. A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs. New York: Nextbook, 2009.

Schmidgall, Gary. Literature as Opera. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977.

Smith, Patrick J. The Tenth Muse. A Historical Study of the Opera Libretto. New York: Schirmer Books, 1970,

Wilder, Alec. American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972.

Practice and Application

Crist, Bainbridge. The Art of Setting Words to Music. New York: Carl Fischer, 1944.

Istel, Edgar. Art of Writing Opera-Librettos, Practical Suggestions. New York: G. Schimer, Inc., 1922. [This volume is scarce. However, a serviceable reproduction of the text is readily available in print-on-demand format for little money.]

Thompson, Virgil. Music with Words: A Composer’s View. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989.

Libretti and Song Compilations

[Excerpts from numerous other libretti will be supplied in class by the instructor]

Auden, W.H. (ed. Edward Mendolson). The Complete Works of W. H. Auden: Libretti and Other Dramatic Writings, 1939-1973. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993. Particularly the introduction by Mendolson.

Fellowes, E.H., ed. English Madrigal Verse 1588-1632. Oxford: Oxford University Press at the Clarendon Press, 1920.

Gioia, Dana. “Sotto Voce: The Libretto as Literary Form.” In Nosferatu: An Opera Libretto. St. Paul, Minnesota: Graywolf Press, 2001.

Gottlieb, Robert and Robert Kimball eds. Reading Lyrics: More Than 1,000 of the Century’s Finest Lyrics. New York: Pantheon, 2000

Mason, David. The Scarlet Libretto. Los Angeles: Red Hen Press, 2012.

Muldoon, Paul. The Word on the Street: Rock Lyrics. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013.

Stein, Gertrude. Four Saints in Three Acts. New York: Random House, 1934.

Taylor, Deems [Preface]. The Complete Gilbert & Sullivan: Librettos from All Fourteen Operettas (Complete & Unabridged). New York: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 1998.

The Opera Libretto Library: The Authentic Texts of the German, French, and Italian Operas With Music of the Principal Airs. New York: Avenel Books, 1984.

Syllabus

Sessions will focus on original composition, student discussion, and classroom critique of original work. In the course of this eight-day intensive workshop, students will learn how to analyze poetry for its musical elements, compose a one-act opera libretto, create characters and voices, compose arias, duets, and trios, select texts for oratorio, and compose successful song lyrics. The class will listen closely to archival recordings of recited poetry, opera, oratorio, and song from the Middle Ages to the present day.

Advance assignments: Read the Malcolm Heath translation (preferred) of Aristotle’s Poetics. Select a poem written in English since 1900 that makes use of a strongly musical style, which is to say one rich in assonance, consonance, alliteration, rhyme (internal or terminal), and rhythm. Select another poem that displays use of a plainer style, closer to prose, with less emphasis on the named qualities. Now do these poems succeed or fail? How much is too much? How little is too little? Read “Acoustics” segment of Ernest Hilbert’s essay “Without a Net: Ernest Hilbert on Optic, Graphic, Acoustic, and Other Formations in Free Verse” from Contemporary Poetry Review.

M, 7/15. Topic: Introduction

  1. Opening remarks, aspects of aesthetics, ancient uses of sung poetry. Aristotle’s concepts of tragedy and aspects of mimetic poetry distinguished from verse. Melos, lexis, and opsis; protasis, epitasis, and catastrophe; peripeteia and anagnorisis.
  2. Archival recording and class recitation: “Lake Isle of Innisfree” by W.B. Yeats and “Kill Poem” by Frederick Seidel.
  3. Audit of archival recordings: Dylan Thomas reciting “Fern Hill” and William Carlos Williams “The Road to the Contagious Hospital.” Whitman as symphonic poet (excerpt from “Song of Myself”) vs. Emily Dickinson as hymnist (“My life closed twice before its close”). Free verse and syntactical parallelism vs. common meter and hymnody.
  4. Handouts for following class: (1) Arthur Symonds, “Is Music the Type or Measure of All Art?” from Essays Speculative and Suggestive, (2) Robert Bridges, “A Letter to a Musician on English Prosody” from Musical Antiquary I, and (3) J.D. McClatchy short essay on the role of the librettist. Libretto for Hilbert and Sung’s Red Silk Thread.
  5. Assignment for following class: invent a setting, story, and three principal characters for a short opera. Be prepared to discuss character personality and motivation within the story and justify choice of setting. Read act 1 of Red Silk Thread.

Workshop: Audit of recordings will be followed by discussion with the instructor. Discussion of musical and plain poems selected by students.

T, 7/16. Topic: Opera 1

  1. Archival recording and class recitation: “The Fish” by Elizabeth Bishop and “My Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke.
  2. Hilbert theory of three principal tenets of successful opera: Story, Singing, Spectacle.
  3. Examples of syllabic or “patter song” (opposed to melismatic) writing for music (Gilbert and Sullivan, “Major-General’s Song” from Pirates of Penzance), melisma (Mark Adamo, “I Love You” aria from Little Women) and the ways in which music and text inform each other.
  4. Gustav Freytag’s Pyramid from Die Technik des Dramas. Gary Schmidgall’s Hierarchy of musical concentration in language.
  5. Parts of libretto: Recitative, aria/air, duet/trio/quartet. Patter song. Melisma. Dipodic scansion. Solfège and spoken text. Voices in canon. Repetitive sequences.
  6. Finding a suitable topic. Historical vs. modern, adaptation (Mason/Gioia) vs. original work (Hilbert/Yezzi). Recognizable characters and stories. Locating principal themes. Use of particular language for character (Mason). Discussion of “pocket” or “chamber” opera. Narrative vs. symbolic, episodic style vs. portraiture.
  7. Short remarks on opera in English, major examples of modern opera in the language.
  8. Handout: (1) David Mason on “Opera Language” from The Scarlet Libretto, (2) Ernest Hilbert’s essay on modern opera “An Otherwise Threatening World,” (3) and “Aspects of the Later Twentieth-century Libretto” from Smith’s Tenth Muse: A Historical Study of the Opera Libretto.
  1. Assignment: Prepare an aria for one of the three characters: (1) exposition of character, (2) exposition of situation, or (3) pivotal scene displaying plot twist or emotional transformation. Read act 2 of Red Silk Thread.

Read: Handouts from Session 1

Workshop: Live Skype session with composer Stella Sung, who will discuss the collaborative and purely musical aspects of opera composition. Students will discuss choices made for their operas: period piece or modern, adaptation or original, characters. Students will be asked to give examples of language appropriate for a given character.

W, 7/17. Topic:  Opera 2

  1. Archival recording and class recitation: “Sunlight on the Garden” and “Bagpipe Music” by Louis MacNeice.
  2. Finding and working with a composer. Rights and properties. Green opera.
  3. Writing a key scene. Establishing setting (sing of what is physically present). Recitative/dialog.
  4. Henry Purcell and Nahum Tate, Dido and Aeneas, settings and styles of early opera in English.
  5. Discussion of assigned readings. Audit of scene one from Yezzi’s Firebird Motel. Yezzi’s use of couplets written-through as recitative, deployment of modern stage technology (radios) and traditional hymnody to create sense of alienation and suspension, lyric poem as aria, aria as poem.
  6. Bringing the characters to life. Relationships, interactions, movement, tension, traits. Magnetizing and directing audience attention. Examples from Act I, Scene 1 of Red Silk Thread.
  7. Practical considerations drawn from The Art of Writing Opera-Librettos by Edgar Istel, translated from the German by Dr. TH. Baker, G. Schirmer, Inc., New York, 1922.
  8. Handouts of (1) excerpt from Auden’s libretto for Rake’s Progress, two readings from Sound and Poetry: (2) “Lexis and Melos” by Northrop Frye and (3) “Words into Music: The Composer’s Approach to the Text” by Edward T. Cone,” and, from Virgil Thompson’s Music with Words, (4) “Nature of Opera” and (5) “After All.”
  9. Assignment: Prepare a duet between two characters. Read act 3 of Red Silk Thread.

Read: Handouts from Session 2

Workshop: Students will read out three arias written for characters.

Th, 7/18. Topic: Opera 3          

  1. Archival recording and class recitation: “The Niagara River” by Kay Ryan and “Nothing Gold Can Stay” by Robert Frost.
  2. Examination of the aria/lyric. Discussion of the notion of pivotal song (expression of character). Discussion of ways in which Stravinsky set Auden’s libretto. Audit of first two scenes of Act I of The Rake’s Progress. Scan for examples of terms discussed. Vaughan Williams’ choral Symphony No. 1, “A Sea Symphony” with settings from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.
  3. Discussion of assigned readings.
  4. Practical examples of techniques for setting contemporary opera. Excerpt from Vignettes of Two Lovers (LaRossa/Hilbert), aria from Last of Manhattan, “Of All Those Who Held it Would Come” from The Bridge (Felsenfeld/Hilbert).
  5. Handouts of (1) “Liturgy and Trope in the War Requiem” by Philip Rupprecht, (2) “On Writing English Opera” by Benjamin Britten, and (3) Dana Gioia’s “Sotto Voce: The Libretto as Literary Form,”
  6. Assignment: Title your opera and begin writing dialogue for recitative/arioso/speech leading up to and concluding the duet and aria.

Read: Handouts from Session 3

Workshop: Student reading of arias and critique.

F, 7/19. Topic: Opera 4 / Oratorio / Requiem

  1. Archival recording and class recitation: “Sonnet [Nothing was ever what it claimed to be]” by Karen Volkman and “Whitsun Weddings” by Philip Larkin.
  2. Discussion of Britten’s use of trope in War Requiem and thoughts on English opera. Example of Oratorio, Britten’s War Requiem, use of Latin Mass and lyric poems of Wilfred Owen. Abstract libretto, Gertrude Stein/Virgil Thompson’s Four Saints in Three Acts. Aaron Copland’s 12 Poems of Emily Dickinson.
  3. Handouts of liner notes from (1) Ned Rorem’s “Evidence of Things Not Seen” and (2) “An Opening Perspective” by Gary Schmidgall, from Literature as Opera.
  4. Assignment: If relevant, compose an opening chorus for your opera. If not, work on another aria, duet, or trio.

Read: Handouts from Session 4

Workshop: Students to explain text selection for oratorio or “found opera.”

M, 7/22. Topic: Art Song

  1. Archival recording and class recitation: “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath and “One Perfect Rose” by Dorothy Parker.
  2. Discussion of art song, song cycles. Archival recordings of poets followed by songs. How are lyric poems and songs different?
  3. Discussion of “found opera” derived from existing poems. Archival recordings of Allen Ginsberg followed by audit of Philip Glass’s setting of poems in Hydrogen Jukebox. Discussion of Ned Rorem’s long cycle Evidence of Things Not Seen. Ib Norholm settings of Robert Bly, John Berryman, Edgar Lee Masters in “Americana,” Op. 89. Comparison of several settings of Christina Rossetti’s “Song” (“When I am dead, my dearest”) by several composers, including T. Wallace Southam, Lori Laitman, Leonard J. Lehrman, Vaughan Williams.
  4. Handout of “Whistle While You Read,” David Yezzi’s New York Times review of Reading Lyrics.
  5. Assignment: Complete story. Continue work on recitative. Write synopsis.

Read: Handouts from Session 5

Workshop: Students will explain the ways in which they have used particular musical elements in composition for emphasis or mimesis.

T, 7/23. Topic: Hymn, Air, Madrigal, Bop Prosody, Spoken Word, and Popular Song

  1. Archival recording and class recitation: “As I Walked Out One Evening” and “Fall of Rome” by W.H. Auden.
  2. Examples of air and madrigal from John Dowland. Discussion of troubadour/minnesinger tradition.
  3. Discussion of poems set as hymns, William Blake, “Jerusalem.” Poets writing rock lyrics, Paul Muldoon, “Julius Caesar was a People Person” and “Owls to Athens.” Rock musicians setting traditional poetry, Natalie Merchant’s Leave Your Sleep, “If No One Ever Marries Me” and “The Land of Nod.”
  4. An Evening of Elizabethan Verse and Its Music, W.H. Auden and New York Pro Musica Antiqua, “Sweet Kate of Late” and “I Saw My Lady Weeping.”
  5. How do lyric poems differ from song lyrics?
  6. Richard Wilbur’s lyrics for “Glitter and Be Gay” from Leonard Bernstein’s Candide.
  7. Reading free verse over music. Example: Jack Kerouac. Bop prosody. Improvisation. Scoring of poems by a composer, with Hilbert’s poems with backing rock band and orchestra from Elegies & Laments album.
  8. Handout: “The Poem in the Ear” by John Hollander in Vision and Resonance: Two Senses of Poetic Form.

Read: Handouts from Session 6

Workshop: Second Skype session with composer. Critique and review of libretti.

First full group table read of libretto.

W, 7/24. Topic: Presenting the Opera

  1. Archival recording and class recitation: “Advice to a Prophet” by Richard Wilbur and “Recuerdo” by Edna St. Vincent Millay.
  2. Final group table read.
  3. Discussion Hollander’s essay (time permitting).
  4. Broad review of topics covered.

Evaluation Procedures and Grading Policies

Course Grading Scale

  • 100%-90% = A
  • 89%-80% = B

Evaluation of Student Work

CRWR *** will use the following grading scale. I have taken the terms from the late, great Robert Fitzgerald, who used them to evaluate student exercises in his own courses on versification:

• “NB” = “A”: student demonstrates complete mastery of the assignment
• “NTB” = “B”: student demonstrates solid mastery, but with occasional flaws
• “NTG” = “C”: student demonstrates working with the assignment, but has not mastered it
• “NG”= “D”: student wrestles with the assignment, but ineffectively or incorrectly
• “RNG” = “F”: student shows little evidence of understanding the assignment
•  “0”: assignment is absent or incomplete

Students must average at least a “B” on the above scale for the collective assignments in order to meet minimum requirements for this course.

Late Assignment Penalties

  • Attendance – the candidate will earn a zero each week of the class if he/she does not attend discussions.
  • Half-grade penalty per day that an assignment is late.
  • The instructor will notify support team members (i.e., mentor teacher, school administrative representative and regional coordinator) if a master’s degree candidate misses too much class or submits assignment(s) over ONE week AFTER the due date. The team will meet and discuss ways to support the candidate in the course work.

Course Incomplete

  • Only given in extreme circumstances that involve a medical, family or personal emergency. The candidate must provide supporting documentation.

Academic Polices

Special Needs Students

The MFA in Creative Writing and Western State College seek to provide reasonable accommodations for all qualified persons with disabilities. This College will adhere to all applicable federal, state and local laws, regulations and guidelines with respect to providing reasonable accommodations as required to afford equal educational opportunity. It is the student’s responsibility to register with Disability Services and to contact the faculty member in a timely fashion to arrange for suitable accommodations.

Academic Dishonesty/Plagiarism

The MFA in Creative Writing operates on the assumption of honesty, integrity, and fair play by all involved.  When students commit academic dishonesty of any kind, this trust is violated, whether the student acted inadvertently or deliberately. Faculty members may fail the student for the particular assignment, test, or course involved, or they may recommend that the student drop the course in question.  These penalties may vary with the gravity of the offense and the circumstances of the particular case.

Academic dishonesty can be divided into four categories and defined as follows

  • Cheating: Intentionally using or attempting to use unauthorized materials, information or study aids in any academic exercise.
  • Fabrication: Intentional and unauthorized falsification or invention of any information or citation in an academic exercise.
  • Facilitating academic dishonesty (collusion): Intentionally or knowingly helping or attempting to help another to commit an act of academic dishonesty.
  • Plagiarism: Intentionally or knowingly representing the words or ideas of another as one’s own without proper citation.

Appropriate Classroom Behavior

The MFA in Creative Writing faculty are committed to creating and maintaining an interactive learning environment. Rude, sarcastic, obscene, or disruptive behavior and/or harassment have a negative impact on everyone’s learning and therefore are not allowed in the program. When a student disrupts class in the before mentioned ways, the course professor will remove the student from the class.