Someone asked me about the books that appear on my syllabus. For one class this semester, (I teach two), it was easy: I let the students pick half the list.

The class is a year-long undergrad workshop, with only seven students. Over the fall semester, they impressed me so much with their poems and hard work and seriousness that I allowed each one to pick an author. (Two picked Pizarnik)
The students chose:
Jimmy Santiago Baca, Healing Earthquakes
Alejandra Pizarnik, (a xeroxed packet)
C.K. Williams, Selected Poems
e.e. cummings, i-Six non-lectures
Mary Ruefle, Post Meridian
Phil Levine, Selected Poems
I added:
John Berryman, Selected Poems
Major Jackson, Hoops
Paisley Rekdal, The Invention of the Kaleidoscope
Thylias Moss, Rainbow Remnants in Rock Bottom Ghetto Sky
Lorca, Selected Poems
Christopher Davis, A History of the Only War
I mix my reading lists up each semester, to keep it fresh. We read a book a week. I often assign a few books that I’ve never read before. Sometimes I’ll assign a book or two that I've struggled with, hoping that the intensity of reading it in a group will help me find an entry point. And then there are the poets whose work I return to again and again. If it’s a regular workshop, I don’t usually look for an overt thematic link. I guess I hope the syllabus will function like a constellation: sparkly, non-linear, with some aesthetic dark space between the collections.

Originally Published: March 12th, 2007

Jeffrey McDaniel is the author of five books of poetry, most recently Chapel of Inadvertent Joy (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013). Other books include The Endarkenment (Pittsburgh, 2008), The Splinter Factory (Manic D, 2002), The Forgiveness Parade (Manic D Press, 1998), and Alibi School (Manic D, 1995). His poems have...

  1. March 12, 2007

    Jeff -
    Thanks for inviting us to read the blues and happies of you & other poets. Somehow there seems less room to "act a fool" on here than myspace. Not that I have anything against. Just saying. Gratuitous friends are strange(rs).
    Nice constellation analogy. So far the syllabus has been great. Some supernovas. 1 or 2 broken headlights.

  2. March 12, 2007

    hi natalie,
    you're right. blogging is very different here than on myspace. if you "act the fool" here they beat you. also, you have to wear a sportscoat when you enter the blog cabin. but they do put you up for the night, and the fire is warm, and the bathtub is filled with ink.
    broken headlight? are you sure it wasn't a poet walking blindfolded through a forrest holding a candle?