Plain American

The Narrative Lyric

Brooklyn’s own Marianne Moore talked about writing in “plain American which cats and dogs can read,” and this workshop will begin with the communal enjoyment of narrative lyrical poems in that diction. We will work toward writing in a “plain American” narrative mode that allows a reader to know what is going on, as well as incorporating a lyrical register that pays attention to rhythm, cadence and the relationship between sound and content. Metaphor as that which “makes it new” (Ezra Pound) will be practiced as the atomic center of our poems, and William Carlos Williams’s concept of “no ideas but in things” will serve as the compositional motif of the class. In the process we will consider these questions: where do we look for poems, how do we hear the ones asking to be written, how do we continue to listen until we find what can be found? Readings will include poems by Whitman, Neruda, Elizabeth Bishop, Lucille Clifton, Yusef Komunyakaa, Philip Levine, Marilyn Nelson, Frank O’Hara, Grace Paley, Sylvia Plath, Wislawa Syzmborska, Kim Addonizio, Sherman Alexie and Dean Young.

Workshop Details


Jessica Greenbaum’s first book, Inventing Difficulty, was awarded the Gerald Cable Prize and praised by George Steiner as a “first book by a poet very much to be listened to.” Her second book, The Two Yvonnes, was chosen by Paul Muldoon for the Princeton Series of Contemporary Poets and recognized by Library Journal as one of the Best Books of Poetry in 2012. She is the recipient of the 2016 Alice Fay di Castagnola Award from the Poetry Society of America and a 2015 fellowship from the NEA. She teaches in the World Trade Center’s Health Program for 9/11 first responders and at Barnard College. She has been the poetry editor of upstreet since 2004 and lives in Fort Greene.