Home and Away

Recognizing and Departing from Habit

Ever notice a repeating vocabulary in your work? We will identify the words we tend to favor in our poems as a starting point for various explorations including: what purpose have our home-base words afforded? what do these words let us know about ourselves? how might poems be made of that recognition itself? what poems have others constructed from this identification? Moving forward, we will think about what forms and focuses might propel the writer into fresher territory. We might “translate” a poem on sight, from a language we don’t know, for instance, or respond to a prompt that requires a number of prescribed words or uses a distracting form. Ultimately, we will consider these questions: what is the experience of leaving the home base of the particularized? And how does this all relate to the experience of writing poems in general? We will discuss the relationship of habit to the writer’s sensibility, and how the reuse of words and themes has the power to deepen or dilute the ambition of the writer.

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.