Poetic Postal Routes in ENGL 763

Letters to sections of the day’s reading in ENGL 763

This semester I am teaching ENGL 763 “Creative Writing Workshop: Poetry,” our graduate poetry workshop in which we read collections of contemporary poetry to study craft elements we can emulate.

We often use the space outside our classroom and have different craft stations so we can focus on one element at a time. Students work in groups of 2 or 3 as they go around and answer questions. The questions are often paired with quotes by writers, such as:

Mark Doty on Image: “Poetic description wants to do anything but reinscribe the already known; if we look deeply enough into anything, is what we find the opposite of what appears on the surface?”

William Butler Yeats on Syntax: “I never revise anymore except towards a more passionate syntax”

In addition to encouraging close reading one craft element at a time, the stations also help create variety during a long class period. They also let students move around and break up the sitting that they otherwise do during long class days.


Since the weather was beautiful last week, I wanted to find a way to get us outside. Fortunately, we were reading the fantastic poetry collection Constellation Route by Matthew Olzmann.


In this incredible book, Olzmann largely uses the epistolary form for poems. Some of the other poems from the collection use postal terms, such as the dead letter office, as titles for the poems.

Using this collection’s theme, I created a lesson plan that would let us enjoy the weather AND consider the craft elements in this book.

To have students consider the organization of the poetry collection, I wrote letters to each section that asked the book itself about its form, its audience, its order, and its diction. Students had “postal routes” to walk as they discussed these questions in their small groups. They would then write back and return to the letter to the mailbox we had on a picnic blanket outside the ECS Building.


This week I’m excited to do some sonnet stations as we discuss Diane Seuss’s Pulitzer prize winning collection frank:sonnets. After that, we have Victoria Chang’s highly awarded Obit, but I promise we won’t walk in any graveyards for that one.

Traci Brimhall, Professor

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