Writing Parents, Family and Ghosts

Speaking of parents, Philip Larkin once wrote, “They fill you with the faults they had / And add some extra, just for you.” Are we conditioned always to see our parents and families through partial light, masks, evasions, buried layers and closed doors that they refuse to open to us? In writing about family, how do we not fall into that cliché imaginary that delineates our family story as a binary of victims and villains—a binary that reveals nothing and teaches nothing? In this double-session, online workshop, we’ll braid elements of narrative, elegy and ekphrasis to achieve layered, complex portraits of family members. In the first session, we’ll begin with generative poetic exercises, then map out the strategies that poets like Ocean Vuong, Terrance Hayes and Sharon Olds use in specific poems to draw intimate and complex portraits of family members. Students will generate drafts of at least four poems, and in the second session, we’ll workshop one of the poems. We’ll aim to write with descriptive specificity and make use of cultural artifacts—music, photographs, films, movies, popular dances—as resonant portals of memory and time travel. Our goal will be to conjure, honor and complicate our long-held notions of these human beings we share blood, genes, shape of mouth, impulses, compulsions, lineage and ancestors with. Class sessions will meet synchronously via Zoom, and assignments, poems and critiques will be shared via Wet Ink.

Workshop Details

  • Teacher: Gbenga Adesina
  • Level: I
  • Dates: Jul 5–Jul 12, 2023
  • Time: Wednesdays, 6:30–9:30 pm (ET)
  • Location: online via Zoom
  • Cost: $175
  • Class size: 5–10 students
  • Registration deadline: FRI, JUN 30, 2023
  • Earlybird discount: $15 off through SUN, JUN 11
Gbenga Adesina

Gbenga Adesina

Gbenga Adesina is a Nigerian poet and essayist. He received his MFA from New York University, where he was a Goldwater Fellow and mentored by Yusef Komunyakaa. His chapbook Painter of Water was published as part of the New-Generation African Poets series from Akashic Books, and his poem “Across the Sea: A Sequence” won the 2020 Narrative Prize. The winner of the 2022 Denise Bell Award from Brooklyn Poets, Adesina has received fellowships and support from Poets House, New York, the Fine Arts Work Center and the Norman Mailer Center, and he was the 2019–20 Olive B. O’Connor Fellow at Colgate University. His work has been published or is forthcoming in Harvard Review, Prairie Schooner, the Yale Review, the New York Times and elsewhere.