What is Found There: Surprise in the Lyric Poem

“It is difficult to get the news from poems,” William Carlos Williams tells us, and he isn’t wrong; but still we keep on coming back to poems for the new. The lyric poem is a conduit for new experience, or for familiar experience reformulated. When we read (and when we write), we’re actually seeking a balance of what we know and what we don’t—or don’t know yet. So part of the poet’s job is to learn how to surprise, where, and by how much. After all, it is only in surprising the reader that we can also satisfy them, even though these two feelings are quite different from one another.

In this craft lab, we’ll consider what it actually means to surprise a reader, and what it takes to do so successfully. We’ll close-read a range of classic and contemporary poems, looking both to understand them and to appreciate our not understanding. We’ll talk about ways to get around cliché—the enemy of surprise. And we’ll focus not only on how poems end (often a place for memorable surprise) but also how their middles can swerve, digress and disorient us, in ways that are both pleasurable and not. This exploration will help us to write new poems and to question our own relationship to the politics of surprise. (When is surprise a manipulation? and who needs to be shaken from their comfortable expectations?) The lab will also provide prompts for building poems in multiple ways founded on both pleasure and revelation.

All participants will have access to a cloud recording of the craft lab for one month afterward.

Craft Lab Details

  • Professor: Jay Deshpande
  • Date: May 22, 2022
  • Time: 5–8 PM (ET)
  • Location: online via Zoom
  • Cost: $110
  • Earlybird discount: $15 off through SUN, MAY 15
  • Deadline for financial aid: FRI, MAY 20