BECOMING A PLAIN-SPEECH RESONANCE POET: A Workshop
class will develop plain-speech resonance writing skills and explore
the work and techniques of the plain-speech resonance poets. In a
nutshell, the style is typified by maintaining an accessible narrative
thread, telling a story that ordinary people can understand, in
resonating language that is not obscure, while still managing to
accomplish a unique poetic take on things, in language that moves to a
rhythm, if not a prescribed classical meter. Plain-speech
resonance is the poetics of the way we speak, not the way the pompous
The list of
plain-speech resonance poets is long and varied. It includes (but
certainly isn’t limited to) the following poets as representative of
the genre: Wendell Berry, Elizabeth Bishop, Gwendolyn Brooks, Lucille
Clifton, Billy Collins, Rita Dove, Robert Frost, Donald Hall, Robert
Hass, Robert Hayden, Jane Hirshfield, Langston Hughes, Jane Kenyon,
Yusef Komunyakaa, Ted Koozer, Lisel Mueller, Howard Nemerov, Sharon
Olds, Mary Oliver, Kenneth Rexroth, William Stafford, Ruth Stone, Mark
Strand, and Nancy Willard.
reaches inside some of the classic influences to discover the quiet
techniques that yield the poetry of common speech. Frost referred
to what he was attempting as “the sound of sense.” Through it,
the literal tones and tunes, the over-sounds of ordinary human talk,
“the abstract vitality of our speech,” become transformed,
alchemically, into poetry.
The formula of
simplicity in plain-speech poetic communication, finding poetic
expression within a common style driven by passions to discover and
communicate, is often elusive. Staying within its form requires
that the poet focus on the need to communicate as conversation, not as
performance, not as formality. The persona that the poet assumes
is just another one of the folks being addressed, and the poet always
remains within the circle of audience as the poetry unfolds. The poet
discards the cloak of poetic formality, forsakes the forms of
fragment-poetry that make up a lot of the current culture’s poetic
The goal of the
class is to nurture and further develop plain-speech resonance skills
in those students who participate in the class.
will include the opportunity for students to distribute and read aloud
one or several poems that they have written, based upon the theme of
the weekly assignment. Each week’s assignment will derive from
the topic featured in the preceding class session. Student
submissions will then be discussed constructively and positively by the
instructor and other members of the class, with a goal of highlighting
the imagery, unique slants, sublimity and rhythms that make them into
Each week, some
class time will be devoted to studying representative work by one or
two of the poets whose styles typify plain-speech resonance
poetry. Students will be assigned several representative poems to
read and will be provided with on-line links to those poems.
Students will also be invited to bring in what they consider to be
poems written and published by others in the plain-speech resonance
style, so that their structures may be discussed. Comparisons
will also be made to contemporary poetry that is written in styles
other than plain-speech resonance.
will include a short in-class exercise that will invite and encourage
the creation of short, resonant plain-speech passages.
Week One: The
Wide Lake of Poetry - After introductions, the first session will be
devoted to exploring the dimensions of plain-speech resonance poetry
and to developing techniques for jump-starting the process of writing
it. We’ll begin by spending some time exploring what plain-speech
resonance is and what it isn’t. To do this we’ll compare the
formal poetic style of Emily Dickinson with the informal style that
comprised the hidden poetry of her extensive correspondence with
friends and family.Students will be encouraged to compose poetry that
speaks aloud of its own volition, even as it quietly rests upon the
printed page and silently seeps into the reader’s mind. The product
will be poetry that needs to be communicated, in words that need to be
understood – “the illusion of dramatic presence” - almost as if it’s
being told in a conversation, except that the audience isn’t talking,
because the poetry is so remarkable. An in-class exercise will
get the process started.In addition to a couple of representative
poems, readings to be assigned in week one will include a short article
by the instructor, entitled “The Wide Lake of Poetry,” as well as a
published conference paper on plain-speech resonance poetry, also by
Finding your Voice - This session will include evaluation and
discussion of poetic voice – what is it? How does one find it?
We’ll discuss and explore the impact of the poet’s self-image upon the
creative process. How does he/she visualize the active role of the poet
and the telling of the poem (not in a reading but within some idealized
setting the poet imagines when she writes). We’ll also evaluate
the effects upon poetic inspiration and output of the way the poet
visualizes the listener-reader. We’ll also explore “the Irony
Zone” as a technique for discarding intervening persona baggage when
Nature - The week’s theme will be Nature Poetry. In exploring nature as
a source of poetic inspiration, we will evaluate some of the poetry of
Mary Oliver and Wendell Berry. The in-class segment will include a
“stone session,” in which students select from a collection of polished
stones and derive poetic inspiration from interaction with the
inanimate energy that the stones represent.
In the weekly
assignment, students will be asked to write a poem that draws upon or
is inspired by a natural setting or theme.
explore the Vietnamese tradition of Ca Dao folk poetry.
Week Four: the
Power of the Visual Image - Discussion in week Four will focus upon the
significance of the image, not only in poetic rendering but also in
poetic inspiration. Seeing, feeling, touching the world and
reporting the impressions in poetry. An in class exercise will
involve photographic images. We’ll also re-visit the topic of the
imagined audience as an influencer of poetic style, that was first
explored in Week Two. Discussion in this regard will include a
brief exploration of “theory of mind” as it has been developed in
Metaphors – This session will highlight the importance of metaphors and
similes in the poetic process. We’ll talk about right and left
brain functions and how they come together in poetic renderings.
And we’ll explore the depths of the poet’s persona, in an effort to
encourage and develop the poet’s alliance with higher-self resources in
the composition of poetry.
session, we’ll also evaluate and discuss the practices of some poets to
adhere to daily regimens of poetic output, including William Stafford,
David Lehman, and Ted Kooser.
Masterpiece Presentations – In the final session, each student will
have an opportunity to read and present a selection of poems.
Discussion will focus upon appreciation of the work that is
presented. We will also talk about strategies for submitting
poems and getting them published.