Poetic forms can be frightening; they require intention and precision—in some cases, right down to the syllables in a line. But what happens when we start requiring them to work for us, and start using them to help explode moments, explore nuances in language, or deepen meaning? Furthermore, what becomes possible when we bend or break the rules, or when we think of forms not just as the precise way a poem is written (sonnets versus ghazals), but where it comes from (like the now-infamous “after” poem)?
In this class, we’ll be discussing work from Patricia Smith, Diane Seuss, Evie Shockley, and Kaveh Akbar, among others, and with the help of a few prompts, we’ll write and workshop some formal poems ourselves. Whether you’re an OG or tackling poetry for the first time, this class is for you. Consider it a sandbox where we’ll play around to see which toys work for us, build a sandcastle or two if we want, and maybe tear a few down.
Class meetings will be held over video chat, using Zoom accessed from your private class page. While you can use Zoom from your browser, we recommend downloading the desktop client so you have access to all platform features.
- A safe environment where your work will receive rigorous but kind feedback
- An engaging discussion about the nuance of forms, when they’re useful, and when to break them
- Drafts of at least five poems
- A chance to workshop your work at least twice
- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes
You'll be asked to read 1-3 short poems a week to discuss, along with writing at least one poem of your own. You'll also be asked to actively participate in weekly workshops of others' poems.
1. Welcomes, Wishes, and a Little In-Class Writing
2. SuperSonnet (When the Girls Do it Better)
3. Aftermaths: Poems and Their Progeny
4. Say My Name: Taking the Muzzle off the Ghazal
5. I Said What I Said: Poetry and Repetition
6. Parting Ways: Picking Apart The Pantoum
Destiny O. Birdsong is a Louisiana-born poet, fiction writer, and essayist whose work has either appeared or is forthcoming in The Paris Review, Boston Review, Catapult, African American Review, and elsewhere. Her debut poetry collection, Negotiations, was published by Tin House Books in October 2020, and was longlisted for the 2021 PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry Collection, and her debut novel is forthcoming from Grand Central in February 2022. She earned both her MFA and PhD from Vanderbilt University.
“Birdsong’s poems reveal the ways that so many borders—nation, race, gender—are structured to maintain hierarchies of allegiance and care. . . . The emergencies of the present are scored through with the fault lines of the past. Birdsong’s poems transform as they touch.”
“Birdsong seamlessly shifts narrative perspectives, tones, and syntax, skillfully controlling enjambment and white space. Despite grim motifs, her work harnesses levity through sardonicism, riveting diatribe, and unromantic resilience. . . . Birdsong’s striking imagery and contagious fervor are a potent salve against apathy and foreboding."
“The terms of Destiny O. Birdsong’s NEGOTIATIONS are scalding and tender. . . . Birdsong excavates a national history and her speaker’s personal histories, tracks how their intersections and aftermaths wreak havoc in the woman who survives. But Birdsong’s NEGOTIATIONS endgame is not simply survival—it aims to flourish.”
"She showed several approaches to each form, and we talked about how and why each worked. Beyond this, she was unusually skilled at understanding what each of us was trying to do, both in our class assignments and in the individual pieces submitted for private critique. Her comments, questions, and suggestions were unfailingly positive but --- at the same time --- helped me think of other ways to approach pieces that I'd often revised without feeling satisfied. All the students in our group were serious about our work; our styles and backgrounds were quite different; Destiny had/has a beautiful gift for seeing what each of us was trying to do.”
"We liked showing up with fresh work and seeing what each of us had done with the form --- and sometimes forms that had seemed too daunting one week became clearer when we heard what another person had done (and how) . . . The majority of us developed trust in the group as readers (i.e., feedback was consistently positive but USEFUL). This was in no small way due to Destiny's teaching. Every one of us wanted the class to continue . . . .”
"I feel so inspired after taking this class with Destiny. She’s encouraging of new work, thoughtful in her critiques, and generous with her knowledge and enthusiastic spirit. Highly recommend!!”