English 395
Poetry Reading/Writing Laboratory  / Fall 1999
Charles Bernstein
Wednesdays 2-5, 438 Clemens Hall
office hours Wednesdays, 9-10, Thursdays 10-11:00, or by appointment
645-3810  bernstei@acsu.buffalo.edu

This is a nontraditional "poetry immersion" laboratory.  The class will focus on experimental approaches to reading and writing poetry and is open to those both familiar and unfamiliar with contemporary poetry.  Indeed, the lab will be useful for those wanting to explore new possibilities for writing, whether or not they have a commitment to writing poetry.

The lab will be structured around a series of writing experiments, intensive readings, production of individual chapbooks for each participant, and performance of participants' poems. The "Wednesdays at 4" poetry series is an integral part of the class: the readings, which will take place in the Screening Room of the Center for the Arts, are scheduled to make it possible to attend during class time and some of this Fall's visiting poets will meet with the lab before their readings.  Requirements will be equally divided between assigned reading of a range of 20th century poetry poetics and assigned writing experiments, which will include collaborations, work with the visual and sound elements of poetry, and explorations of a wide variety of unconventional poetic forms. The emphasis in the lab will be on new and innovative approaches to composition and form rather than on poems emphasizing narrative or story telling.

We will be collaborating fully with Professor Susan Howe’s poetry workshop, combining the classes for the visits of the our guest poets and for a final group reading of all lab and workshop participants, which will be the last Wednesday at Four event of the semester. The two classes will also jointly edit a poetry magazine (or magazines) consisting of the original work of participants.

Each week you should send out part of your week’s writing to the listserve created just for this workshop. First, you must subscribe to the listserve. To do this send an email message to
the message should say only:
sub wreading-L
after you have subscribed, send all posts to: wreading-L@listserv.acsu.buffalo.edu

Weekly reading primarily consists of books by the visiting poets
Weekly writing assignments in the lab will be based on the experiments list as well as responses to the assigned readings and the Wednesdays at 4 events.

For every Wednesday at 4 reading, write something in response: how was the performance of the poems, what did you think of the poems?  Compare each new reading with the previous ones. For the weeks when a poet is visiting the class: write two questions for her or him: put these questions at the top of your response.

Each week I have given you four experiments or exercises to do. Choose three or do all four (or substitute one of the experiments from the supplemental list of experiments at the end).  Please label each experiment. As part of each week’s assignment, please include reaction and responses to the experiments. Did you find the experiments interesting, why, why not?; what does the experiment show or explore? If possible, use the assigned readings and books as source material. Imitations / translations of assigned poems are always welcome.  After the assigned work, go on to write poems in any style or manner you choose.

The overall assignment for the lab is to put together a chapbook of your writing from the semester and also possibly do a magazine of class writing, depending on group preference both in our class and in Susan Howe’s class. You will have time to assemble the chapbook or magazine during the last weeks of the semester. Some extra meetings may be required if we do a magazine.

Bring in your assignments each week, numbered according to week, as in syllabus (so you start with #2); altogether you should hand in 13 assignments (including the final chapbook).  Please keep a copy of whatever you hand in.  And remember to post as much of your work as you can on wreading-l.

Advanced Track
For students who have taken a Poetics Program class prior to this, an advance track is available, consisting of supplemental readings (in cases where the assigned readings are familiar) and alternative writing assignments. Please consult with me if you qualify for this option.

The most important requirement is attendance at all workshops and at the Wednesdays at 4 readings. Grades will be based primarily on attendance, class participation and handing in / posting on wreading-l each week’s assignment. (Students who miss more than three classes or three responses will receive a grade no higher than C+; students who miss no more than three classes and hand in all 13 "responses" will receive a grade of at least B-. For the purpose of this calculation, if you do not comment on the Wednesday at 4 reading, your response will not be given full credit.)

Please be sure to include your name and the date of the class on everything submitted! Keep your original!  If you are sick, please indicate that on the assignment for the week missed and hand in two assignments the next class.  Because of the grading system, it's better to have a very brief response than to skip a week.

All assignments must be handed in by the last class.

Required Books at Talking Leaves

Robert Creeley, Selected Poems
Jeff Derksen, Dwell
Dominique Fourcade, XBO
Bill Griffiths, Nomad Sense
Lyn Hejinian, Cold of Poetry
Kit Robinson, Ice Cubes
Susan Stewart, The Forrest
Catriona Strang, The Clamorous Alphabet (CD)

1. Sept. 1 Introduction

2. Sept. 8
READING: Creeley, Selected Poems (1), to p. 106
1. Alphabet poems:  make up a poem of 26 words so that each word begins with the next letter of the alphabet.  Write another alphabet poem but scramble the letter order.
2. Alliteration (assonance):  write a poem in which all the words in each line begin with the same letter.
3.  Serial sentences:  Select one sentence each from a variety of different books or other sources.  Add sentences of your own composition.  Combine into one paragraph, reordering to produce the most interesting results.
4. Write a poem consisting entirely of things you'd like to say, but never would, to parent, lover, sibling, child, teacher, roommate, best friend, etc. etc.

3. Sept. 15: Bill Griffiths: reading and class visit
READING: Nomad Sense
See also Griifths’ web site: http://www.indigogroup.co.uk/sulpha/
About Griffiths: http://www.bath.ac.uk/~exxdgdc/lynx/lynx44.html
Additional poems: http://www.bath.ac.uk/~exxdgdc/lynx/lynx51.html, http://jacket.zip.com.au/jacket06/griffiths.html
1. Substitution (1): "Mad libs".  Take a poem (or other source text) and put blanks in place of three or four words in each line, noting the part of speech under each blank.  Fill in the blanks being sure not to recall the original context.
2. Substitution (2): "7 up or down".  Take a poem or other, possibly wellknown, text and substitute another word for every noun, adjective, adverb, and verb; determine the substitute word by looking up the index work in the dictionary and going 7 up or down, or one more, until you get a syntactically suitable replacement.  (Cf: Clark Coolidge and Larry Fagin, On the Pumice of Morons.)
3. Write a poem made up entirely of neologisms or nonsense words or fragments of words.  [cf: Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky" (http://utl1.library.utoronto.ca/www/utel/rp/poems/carroll6.html), Schwitter’s “Mertz Sonata” (http://www.ubu.com/historical/schwitters/schwitters1.html), Khlebnikov's Zaum, Peter Inman's Platin, David Melnick's Pcoet.]

4. Sept. 22
READING: Hejinian, Cold of Poetry (1) to p. 139
Hejinian interview on LINEbreak at EPC (http://epc.buffalo.edu)
Writing: Cut-ups/chance operations (see "Make Your Own System!" by Mac Low in handout):
1. Acrostic Chance.  Pick a book at random and use title as acrostic key phrase.  For each letter of key phrase go to page number in book that corresponds (a=1, z=26) and copy as first line of poem from the first word that begins with that letter to end of line or sentence.  Continue through all key letters, leaving stanza breaks to mark each new key word.  [cf: Jackson Mac Low's Stanzas for Iris Lezak.]  Variations include using authreading through her or his work, using your own or friend's name, picking different kinds of books for this process, devising alternative acrostic procedures.
2.  Tzara's hat.  Everyone is a group writes down a word (alternative: phrase, line) and puts it in a hat.  Poem is made according to order it is randomly pulled from hat.  (Solo: pick a series of words or lines from book, newspapers, magazines to put in the hat.)
3. Burrough's Foldin:  Take two different pages from a newspaper or magazine article, or a book, and cut the pages in half vertically.  Paste the mismatched pages together.
4.  General cutups:  Write a poem composed entirely of phrases lifted from other sources. Use one source for a poem and then many; try different types of sources: literary, historical, magazines, advertisements, manuals, dictionaries, instructions, travelogues, etc.

5. Sept. 29 Susan Stewart: reading and class visit
READING: The Forest
1. Write a poem trying to transcribe as accurately as you can your thoughts while you are writing.  Don't edit anything out. Write as fast as you can without planning what you are going to say. (See "Not-So-Automatic Automatic Writing Exercise" in handout.)
2.  Cento: write a collage made up of fullline of selected source poems.
3. Dream work:  Write down your dreams as the first thing you do every morning for 30 days.  Apply translation and aleatoric processes to this material.  Double the length of each dream. Weave them together into one poem, adding or changing or reordering material.  Negate or reverse all statements (I went down the hill to I went up the hill, I didn't to I did).  Borrow a friend's dreams and apply these techniques to them.
4. Synchronicity: Write a poem in which all the events occur simultaneously.

6. Weds., Oct. 6 Clayton Eshleman reading (no class visit)
READING: Eshleman poems: "At the Hinge of Creation",
VISUAL and SOUND POETRY on the web: tour the visual and sound poetry at UBUWEB http://www.ubu.com/
Write poems with a strong visual or "concrete" element  including combination of lexical and nonlexical (pictorial) elements, play with alphabets and typography, placement of words on the page, etc. Alternatately: write a “sound poem”. USE HTML if possible.

7. Oct. 13: Jeff Derksen and Catriona Strang: Reading and Class Visit
READING: Derksen, Dwell; additional poems at http://www.acs.ucalgary.ca/~amathur/jeff.html and an interview with Derksen plus and essay at: http://www.bway.net/~arras/issue1.htm
Strang, The Clamorous Alphabet (CD); text for cuts 9 and 25 at http://www.speakeasy.org/subtext/poetry/strang/
Writing: Collaboration:  Write poems with one or more other people in the workshop or friends.  Try alternating lines (chaining or renga), writing simultaneously and collaging, rewriting, editing, supplementing the previous version.

8. Oct. 20 Dominique Fourcade: Reading and Class Visit
1. Diachronicity: Write a poem in which all the events occur in different places and at different times
2.  Write a poem consisting entirely of overheard conversation.
3.  Nonliterary forms: Write a poem in the form of an index, a table of contents, a resume, an advertisement for an imaginary or real product, an instruction manual, a travel guide, a quiz or examination, etc. (See "Index/Table of Contents Exercise" by Lee Upton in handout.)
4.  Excuses list: write a poem made up entirely of excuses

9. Oct. 27 Robert Kelly and Gerrit Lansing reading (no class visit)
READING: Kelly: go to: /authors/kelly/
also, many Kelly poems available on Literature on Line, go to
and then click on Literature on Line
Lansing handout
Writing: "translation" (see my "Homophonic Translation" in handout):
1. Homolinguistic translation: Take a poem (someone else's then your own) and translate it "English to English" by substituting word for word, phrase for phrase, line for line, "free" translation as response to each phrase or sentence. (Cf: Six Fillious by nichol, McCaffery, Fillious, Brecht, Higgins, Roth.)
2. Homophonic translation: Take a poem in a foreign language that you can pronounce but not necessarily understand and translate the sound of the poem into English (ie French "blanc"to blank or "toute" to toot).  [Cf Louis and Celia Zukofsky's Catullus]. (Rewrite to suit?)
3.  Lexical translation:  Take a poem in a foreign language that you can pronounce but not necessarily understand and translate it word for word with the help of a bilingual dictionary.  (Rewrite to suit?)

10. Nov. 3: George Lakoff Lecture (no class visit)
Read in and around Lakoff on the webl:
Writing: 1. Erasure: Take a poem of your own or someone else's and crossout most of the words on each poem, retype what remains as your poem.  [cf: Ronald Johnson's RADI  OS from Milton.]
2. Transcription:  Tape a phone or live conversation between yourself and a friend.  Make a poem composed entirely of transcribed parts.
3. List poem (1): write a poem consisting of favorite words or phrases collected over a period of time; pick your favorite words from a particular book.
4.  Brainard's Memory:  Write a poem all of whose lines start "I remember ..."  [Cf. Joe Brainard's I Remember.]

11. Nov. 10: Lyn Hejinian & Kit Robinson: reading and class visit
READING: Hejinian, Cold of Poetry (3): 141-196
Hejinian home page at the EPC; see esp. excerpt from My Life
Robinson, Ice Cubes
1. Imitation:  Write a poem in the style of each of the poets you have read in this semester: try to make it as close to a forgery of an "unknown" poem of the author as possible. Try this with the other poets you both like and dislike.
2. Write a poem without mentioning any objects.
3.  Backwards: Reverse or alter the line sequence of a poem of your own or someone else's.  Reverse the word order.  Rather than reverse, scramble.
4.  Write an autobiographical poems without using any pronouns.

12. Nov. 17:
READING: Creeley, Selected (2), pp. 106-215
Creeley at EPC
Writing: 1. Canceling: Write a series of lines or rhymes such that every other one cancels the one before ("I come before you / to stand behind you").
2. List poem 2: write a poem consisting entirely of a list of "things", either homogenous or heterogenous (common lists included shopping lists, things to do, lists of flowers or rocks, lists of colors, inventory lists, lists of events, lists of names, ...).
3.  "Pits": Write the worst possible poem you can imagine.
4.  Attention: Write down everything you hear for one hour.

13. Dec. 1: Creeley visit; Screening of Letters Not about Love (Hejinian/Dragomochenko)
READING: Creeley, Selected (3): 216-353

14. Dec. 8 Student Reading


Group sonnet:  14 people each write one ten word line on an index card.  Order to suit.

Doubling:  Starting with one sentence, write a series of paragraphs each doubling the number of sentences in the previous paragraph and including all the words used previously.  [cf: Silliman's Ketjak]

Write a poem with each line filling in the blanks of "I used to be  but now I am ".  (I used to write poems, but now I just do experiments; I used to make sense, but now I just make poems.)

Write a poem while listening to music; switch types of music.

Write a poem just when you are on the verge of falling asleep.  Write a line a day as you are falling asleep or waking up.  (Cf: Silliman's CircleR.)

Chronology: made up a list of dates with associated events, real or imagined.

Write a series of ten poems going from one to ten words in each poem.  Reorder.

Write a poem composed entirely of questions.

Write a poem made up entirely of directions.

Write a poem consisting only of opening lines (improvise your own lines, then use source texts).

Write a poem consisting only of prepositions, then of prepositions and one other part of speech.

Write a series of eightword lines consisting of one each of each part of speech.

Write a poems consisting of oneword lines; write a poems consisting of twoword lines; write a poems consisting of threeword lines.

Write a series of poems or stanzas while listening to music; change type of music for each stanza or poem.

Elimination: cut out the second half of sentences.

Sprung Diary:  write a diary tracking and intercutting multiple levels of thoughts, experiences, anticipations, expectations, from minute to major.  (Cf. Hannah Weiner's Clairvoyant Journal.)

Make up more experiments

Remember: Poems can be in prose format!
Rewrite and recombine, collage, splice together the material generated from these experiments into one long ongoing poem!

Compiled by Charles Bernstein from Bernadette Mayer & workshop's Experiments list, and various other sources 1/90, 6/93.  (C) 1994 by Poets' Ludicrously Aimless Yearning (PLAY). Dispense only as appropriate and under the supervision of an attending reader.  Individual experiments are not liable for injury or failure resulting from improper use of appliance.  Any profits accrued as a direct or indirect result of the use of these formulas shall be redistributed to the language at large. Management assumes no responsibility for damages that may result consequent to the use of this material in educational institutions or individual writing projects.