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

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 M.F.A. 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 M.F.A. 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.



M.A./M.F.A. Poetry Scholarships: The Poetry Concentration offers two to four scholarships for new full-time students each year, varying in value from $5,000 to $20,000, depending on need and available funding. Each scholarship is for up to two years, at the same amount each year. 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.