Posted in Teaching, Writing

ENG 126: Poetry Workshop, Session 1

The presence of double slash marks in one of our workshop poems led me to reflect on the ways we use slashes in writing and how they both connect and separate (and/or). In a passage of prose that quotes lines of poetry, we use slashes, or virgules, to indicate a line break. Some playwrights use a slash mark to indicate the start of the next spoken line when one character talks over another. Since that stylistic convention doesn’t figure in the plays that we read in Imaginative Writing, I’m including an example here. David Lindsay-Abaire uses slash marks repeatedly in Good People to denote Margaret’s, “Margie”‘s habit of talking over Stevie:

STEVIE: Margaret, listen for a / second—

MARGARET: (But she keeps going) I don’t think they did Christmas dinners though. And your grandmother had passed by then, so there was no dinner to go to. So your mother comes into Flanagan’s, and she’s out to here. (Indicates belly) When’s Jimmy’s birthday? (6)

As you read the poems for this week’s workshop, consider where the writers indicate pauses with punctuation and line breaks. In Imaginative Writing, Janet Burroway notes that “[t]he line directs the breath; the rhythm of the line is played against the rhythm of the sense, and this is one of the ways that poets alter, stress, and redirect their meaning” (305-06). As an example, she offers the opening lines of John Milton’s Paradise Lost:

Of Man’s First Disobedience, and the Fruit
Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal tast*
Brought Death into the World, and all our woe. (qtd. in Burroway 305-06)

Milton gives prominence to the apple, the forbidden fruit, by placing it at the end of the line. As Burroway observes, “the end of just about anything—line, paragraph, stanza, story—is the strongest position, and the beginning is the second strongest” (306). With that in mind, pay close attention to the first and last words of each line. Also look carefully at any caesuras, or pauses within the line (such as after “Disobedience” above). Do the poems include any enjambment, the running of a thought from one line to the next (“and the Fruit / Of that Forbidden Tree . . .”)? Are the lines of the poems end-stopped? In other words, does the end of each line coincide with the end of each thought?

To supplement our study of the poetic line, I have developed a short exercise to accompany your workshop comments this week.


  1. Read aloud the poem or stanza beside your name in the list below.
  2. Read the poem again, and consider how caesuras or enjambments would alter its effect.
  3. Revise two or more lines of the poem or stanza without changing any of the words. Change only line breaks and/or punctuation.
  4. At the end of your comment for the poet, include the revised lines and a brief explanation of the changes you made.

This exercise isn’t meant to be prescriptive. It’s not a way of saying, these are changes that the poet should make. Instead, it’s a way of showing how someone else might see and hear the words.

  • Brennan: “He is the Man”
  • Zane: “Change”
  • Mia: “Dependent”
  • Brandy: “Self-Preservation,” stanza 1 or 3
  • Trevor: “Self-Preservation,” stanza 2

As always, the points I have included below are not ones that you’re required to address in your comments. I offer them as suggestions only. I will address some of them in the follow-up remarks that I’ll post at the beginning of our next session.

He is the Man” and “Change

  • Where in the poems does the writer use assonance, internal rhyme, and slant rhyme?
  • How might the writer develop the exploration of one or both notions of change in the second poem?
  • Might these two thematically similar poems evolve into two stanzas of one poem, or alternately evolve into two poems in a longer sequence of poems on the same theme?


  • Where in the poem does the writer depict the abstract idea of dependence with concrete images?
  • Where do metaphors or similes appear in the poem?
  • Where might the poet add figurative language?


  • What discrepancy does the poet create with “slivers” in line one and “chunks” in line three? How and where might the writer develop that apparent contradiction?
  • Consider the sequence of pronoun shifts (I > we > I > they > I). What does the distancing effect of third person indicate about the poem’s speaker or persona? What change, if any, does the return to first person signify?
  • Why might the writer have chosen to use double slash marks?

Remember to check your CVCC email and Blackboard regularly for updates and assignments.

Works Cited

Burroway, Janet. Imaginative Writing. 4th ed. Pearson, 2014.

Lindsay-Abaire, David. Good People. TCG, 2011.

*Seventeenth-century spelling of taste.

16 thoughts on “ENG 126: Poetry Workshop, Session 1

  1. I believe that “Change” has assonance on the long vowel “o” seen in examples such “no,” “know,” and “tomorrow.” “He is the Man” has an internal rhyme with “man” and “plan.”

    I enjoy these poems, and I like the wordplay in “Change.” Both poems are pretty short. While I think the brevity works for “He is the Man,” “Change” would be improved with extra stanza or two to expand to wordplay. Currently it feels a bit like the bare minimum.

    He is the man with no plans,
    Who doubts
    His chance.
    Crying his thoughts
    In silence he knows
    How he will die.

    What I tried to do was place more emphasis on the key words by positioning them at the end or beginning of the lines, but I do not think it is really an improvement. The lines are too short now which feels weird to look at and read.

  2. To me this poem seems to be about someone stuck in a dark place they can’t escape – essentially an addiction. You can see this in the metaphor “The farther you run the harder the pull,” and in how the poem describes it sucking away your life but being rejuvenating for a time. I think it does this feeling excellently.

    I would be interested in others’ thoughts on this, but to me having the word “Everyday” on a line to itself feels very strange to read.

    I find the title interesting. Is it saying the character in the poem is dependent on the force pulling him? Maybe the title means the character needs to become dependent on himself to break out of this cycle? Could the title be describing how this force is dependent on the character for its existence?

  3. The opening stanza is extremely well done and something I strongly connected with. The idea that in passing we exchange casual greetings and make everything look alright, and at night, alone, our true feelings come out. The line “I’m a sheet in my own bed” is going to stick with me.

    I’m not sure how to articulate my issues with the second stanza, it’s not the style or the content, those are great. It feels out of place, like the mood and tone of are very different than the first and last stanza. It seems like it could be removed it and the emotional impact of the poems would still be mostly the same (this isn’t an entirely fair argument, since gives context for the last stanza). It would also work well as its own poem if the writer got rid of the sliver imagery. It just doesn’t work for me in this context.

  4. “He Is The Man” was very interesting to me in that the tone of the title does not match with the poem itself. When we hear the phrase “he is the man,” we think of someone important, a confident or authoritative figure. However, the poem describes someone appearing to be very timid and insecure about themselves. I find this contrast to be very clever, as many people can relate to putting up a mask false-confidence when actually we could have no idea what we’re doing. It’s a lonely yet universal feeling, and I loved this poem because of it.
    I do think that this poem could have expanded on this theme a bit more, though. The way it is, the contrast at first feels a bit confusing. I would suggest making “he is the man,” and “with no plans” two separate lines. I would also suggest writing another stanza before the one already presented describing this sense of false-confidence.

  5. Right off the bat, I found that in the poem “Change,” the double meaning used in the word was both captivating and relatable. On one hand, the word “change” can be used literally. The writer wishes he has change to take him to new places. This could be seen as wanting money for travel. On the other hand, “change,” can be seen as bringing change to one’s life. The writer also talks of wanting to be set free; many of us, especially during this time of quarantine, may feel trapped in their current situation and are desperately looking for some sort of change in environment. Regardless of the interpretation, the writer will receive neither money nor a shift in lifestyle, leaving them to feel hopeless.
    I would suggest trying to incorporate more imagery into the poem. This is so that the readers feel emersed and would bring more depth to the message.

  6. “Dependent” was interesting because I found it could be read in two different ways. Obviously the poem is describing the title, a heavy dependence of something or someone. At first, I read it as someone being dependent on the writer, and while they don’t mean to be, this person is exhausting and draining. However, this could also be read as the writer themselves being dependent on something. I like that the poem is somewhat vague because it can be applied to multiple scenarios. However, the writing itself is a bit too face-value. I would suggest adding imagery, similes, etc., to give the poem more dimension.

  7. I believe both of the poems “He is the Man” and “Change” suffer from how short they are. I think that both could be improved by being more fleshed out with a few more stanzas. “He is the Man” does work fairly well as is but I still think that it could benefit from being longer. However, “Change” does not work very well at this length because it feels incomplete.

    In my pockets, there is no change.
    To find some
    would set me free
    And send me
    to a new place.
    But I know tomorrow will bring no change.

    I chose to separate the second second and third lines in the poem into four separate lines because its tone is different from the other two lines. the other two lines are more negative and focusing on what the narrator doesn’t have, while the ones I separated show what the narrator longs for.

  8. “Dependent” is an interesting poem which shows the struggle of addiction but it feels long. That’s not to say that it should be shorter but with the way it is currently written it feels like it drones on. The language is very straight forward and I think that is what causes this effect. The addition of figurative language would likely solve this issue and make the poem more engaging.

  9. I thought that “Self Preservation” was very interesting. It talks about the struggle of sharing kindness to others, even strangers, but how sometimes that can be draining if we don’t also learn to look after ourselves. I also liked that the poem ended on a lighter note, that despite our struggles, we will continue to grow as people (i.e. the use of terms like “first draft” in reference to the writer). I loved the imagery used, but the second stanza feels out of place. The writing itself is good, but it comes off as stagnant in comparison to the previous and following stanzas. Perhaps adding the slashes previously used? It seems like this was done on purpose, but the reasoning is unclear.

  10. I love the perspective on the idea of happiness and the search for it that is outlined in “Self Preservation”. This perspective is shown even in the title. Happiness is something that comes and goes, it is like hunger, something that we must constantly search for and obtain in order to survive.

    I also loved the use of the words “slivers” and “chunks” to describe happiness. They contrast each other very well and I also think that they tell us more about the narrator. Happiness is usually viewed through a romanticized lens but, in my mind at least, the words “sliver” and “chunk” aren’t very romantic. I think that this really shows the narrators view on happiness. The narrator is acutely aware of how fleeting happiness is and knows that they need to get it wherever they can, whether it’s in chunks or slivers.

  11. “He is the Man” and “Change”

    For me in “He is the Man”, the last line stands out from the rest, though it might be how it doesn’t end with an “-s” sounding word like the other lines.
    I agree with Mia with how “He is the man” is usually defined as a man with confidence or as a man that has what others don’t.
    With Change, I like how the first and the last lines end with “-no change”. Though the poem feels as though it needs more added to it, as it feels too short.
    I agree with Zane that both poems suffer from how short they are, especially “Change”, as it feels incomplete. Though both can be lengthened to help in giving more explanation on the context of what the poems are trying to explain. I feel like both poems could be evolved into two stanzas of one poem, though if the two poems were to become one, “Change” would have to be revised.

  12. “Dependent”

    In the poem “Dependent” the last stanza feels out of place with the other stanzas in the poem. The words used in the poem feels too light also, as though not being direct enough. It doesn’t feel strong enough, as though depicting any type of resistance or suffering of who “you” may be. It just sounds like they were trying to explain something but it’s their first time feeling it.
    Though the poem is good, revision should be made so more of the feeling that the piece is trying to describe is there and can be better felt and understood.

  13. I like how “Self Preservation” is written. To me, it feels like it is written in an explaining way, as though trying to describe what they feel is self-preservation. Though the explanation can differ from person to person, the poem feels as though it is trying to connect with others.

    Because as the sun rises, I know this. // The morning light fills the gaps they can’t reach and my etch-a-sketch fingers trace the lines of my face. // Another sliver. “What a wonderful first draft.”

    Though I am unsure if my revision changes much, I revised it in a way to end an explanation. Also in a way that it ends in a mindful way.

  14. Self preservation is an excellent poem in my opinion. From my perspective I see a piece that addresses a universal aspect of the human condition with both tact and grace. The relevance of the topic addressed and covered by this poem are universally relevant to all humans and increasingly applicable to humans that find ourselves living in the twenty first century. I think the message and main idea of the piece will only increase in the strength and validity of its connection to its audience until humanity alters its society to a drastic degree via an alteration of circumstance or mindset.

    Self Preservation
    Stanza Two Reorganization

    Some people are simply not built happy.
    They have to craft it, in tea and iced coffee.
    Find it, in the folds of their lover’s fingers and the crease of their smile.
    They feel it, leave their lungs in relieved sighs when they realize they are not the same person as a year ago.
    They feel it, in the slivers gifted to us on the bus or the grocery store.
    Yes, perhaps even in the moon curled over our tired bed frame.

    The revision above focused upon emphasizing the recurring elements found in subsequent lines though its implementation is of course up to the poets stylistic digression.

    Thank you for your attention and consideration,
    Trevor White

  15. Much like the poem Self Preservation which I reviewed above, the poem Dependent is an excellent piece in my opinion. From my perspective I see a piece that addresses a universal aspect of the human condition with both nuance and skill by allowing for the reader to decide what facet of their being that the poem is addressing. The relevance of the topic addressed and covered by this poem are universally relevant to all humans and increasingly applicable to humans that find ourselves living in the twenty first century due to the interconnected nature of existence within modern society. I think the message and main idea of the piece will only increase in the strength and validity of its connection to its audience until humanity alters its society to a drastic degree via an alteration of circumstance or mindset. The relevancy of dependency is universal due to the nature of human existence and of all beings that must consume stimulus and nutrients to survive.In terms of applicable feedback I may add a line or two that addresses the universal nature of dependence with the societal systems that exists.

    Thank you for your attention and consideration,
    Trevor White

  16. Change is a good poem in my opinion, the piece addresses the limited nature of an existence within a modern capitalistic society without subsequent monetary means. Money dictates almost every area of everyday life for the modern individual so the topic of the piece is extremely relevant to any that may read it. The poems commentary on the lack of financial mobility is also increasingly applicable within an economy in which the gap between those with an abundance of means and those that lack the means to simply exist comfortably continue to grow. Interestingly consolidation of wealth would not be a hindrance to the freedoms of anyone within a world in which the integration of technological means could allow each individual an enhanced standard of living so there will come a point where the poem is no longer applicable but hat would of course be a good thing and could be the authors intention via there call to action. In terms of actionable feedback I may add a line or two to address the fact that within differing circumstance one would be free even without money but of course that integration is up to you.

    Thank you for your attention and consideration,
    Trevor White

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