The Involuntary Practice

Procedure and Constraint in Poetry

At its root, writer’s block is about the problem of authority: how good are my ideas? How do I control and harness them? But that principle is patently false, since poems occur in the strange marriage of chance, surprise, inspiration and taste. In this workshop, we’ll generate poems by exploring different creative practices that do away with the idea of the all-knowing author, making us instead into delighted automata that discover the poem laying itself unwittingly at our feet. In short, we’ll consider five operations for reinvigorating the voice by letting go of authority in its conventional forms. Studying erasure, Oulipo operations, procedures of extraction and collage from different sources, creative translation, and computer-assisted automatic writing, we will rethink what intention really is and discover how the poet lives in the act of collection, not just composition. Readings will include works by Georges Perec, Mónica de la Torre, John Ashbery, K. Silem Mohammad, Paul Legault, Raymond Queneau, Frédéric Forte, Srikanth Reddy, Jen Bervin, Anne Carson, Jonathan Lethem, Timothy Donnelly, Mary Ruefle, Kenneth Goldsmith and Solmaz Sharif. Weekly work for the course will be done asynchronously on Wet Ink, and the professor will provide video introductions to material and a one-on-one Facetime conference with each student.

Workshop Details


Jay Deshpande is the author of Love the Stranger (YesYes Books, 2015), named one of the top debuts of 2015 by Poets & Writers, and the chapbook The Rest of the Body (YesYes Books, 2017). A Stegner Fellow at Stanford University and the winner of the Scotti Merrill Memorial Award and Narrative‘s Annual Poetry Contest, he has also received fellowships from Kundiman, Civitella Ranieri and the Key West Literary Seminar. His poems have recently appeared in Denver Quarterly, Washington Square, LARB Quarterly Journal and Horsethief. He holds a BA in English from Harvard and an MFA in creative writing from Columbia University, and he has taught workshops for Poets House, the Academy of American Poets, Rutgers and the MFA program at Columbia University.