Music to My Ears: Conventional Tools for Contemporary Poets

There’s a curmudgeonly passage in a bestselling fantasy novel that reads: “Poetry is a song without music. A song without music is like a body without a soul.” Anyone who appreciates poetry knows that such an assertion could not be further from the truth. And yet some of today’s poets balk at the notion of employing conventional techniques such as rhyme and meter, dismissing them as dated or patriarchal. While most contemporary poetry is written in free verse, this doesn’t mean that contemporary poems don’t have the same properties found in the fixed forms of yesteryear. These devices include rhyme and various poetic devices such as syllabics and onomatopoeia, all of which amplify a poem’s rhythm and music. In this craft lab, participants will examine poems that employ conventional tools, but with enough variation and experimentation that they bring fresh music to poetry. Poems for discussion will include the works of such greats as Gwendolyn Brooks, Laura Kasischke, Sylvia Plath, Harryette Mullen and Brigit Pegeen Kelly. Participants will engage in writing exercises that inspire them to pay closer attention to word choice, syllable count, and sound, including poetic forms that are not widely known, such as the shadorma from Spain and the luc bat from Vietnam. The fact of the matter is that language is music because words make sound. The challenge for the poet is to collaborate with what language already offers, and to elevate its beauty, possibility and pleasure.     

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

Craft Lab Details


Rigoberto GonzalezRigoberto González lives in Newark, NJ, and is the author of eighteen books of poetry and prose. His awards include Lannan, Guggenheim, NEA, NYFA, and USA Rolón fellowships, the PEN/ Voelcker Award, the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation, the Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American Poets, and the Shelley Memorial Prize from the Poetry Society of America. A critic-at-large for the LA Times and contributing editor for Poets & Writers, he is the series editor for the Camino del Sol Latinx Literary Series at the University of Arizona Press. Currently, he’s distinguished professor of English and the director of the MFA program in creative writing at Rutgers-Newark, the State University of New Jersey.