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Rachelle offers multiple-week and single-session workshops and craft talks to adults and teenagers through organizations and institutions such as Catapult, Just Buffalo Literary Center, Juniper Institute for Young Writers, and UMass Amherst. Visit events for upcoming workshop dates, or contact Rachelle at rtoarmino@gmail.com to book her to teach for your organization.

poetry as play

William Carlos Williams thought of the poem as a field of action. I like this spatial representation and emphasis on happening, but I substitute action with play. As a field of play, the poem becomes a world where collaboration is not only possible but critical. The poet demarcates the space and invites readers to enter and respond—effectively, to play, a prerequisite for meaning-making.


In this workshop, we take the spirit of playfulness as our entry into poems. You could also say that this workshop is for pranksters, jokers, and rascals—for poets who can take a joke and readers who like to be in on them. We’ll look at poems that tease, riff, goof around, game the system, and break the rules; poems that have a mischievous premise or prompt, that muddy our expectations of poems and offer us new ways of making them; poems that have a bite, that deploy humor to cut against seriousness, earnestness, and pain; poems that take devices to a delightful extreme; and poems that draw on aspects of comedy, satire, irony, and camp to say what they need to say. The reading list for this workshop will include work by Sommer Browning, CAConrad, Mark Leidner, Bernadette Mayer, Gabriel Ojeda-Sagué, Sasha Debevec-McKenney, Jack Spicer, Mathias Svalina, and many others.


This workshop is open to poets of all levels and is most suited to those in the beginner to intermediate range. Students will read and discuss work by a mix of contemporary and canonical poets; generate material for new poems using the techniques, activities, and prompts that we review together in class; workshop their peers’ poems and have their own poems workshopped; and leave with the beginning of a submission packet of three workshopped poems, including one that has undergone a significant revision.

the poem is a house i build then live in

 

Whether you're looking at a blank page or full draft that just isn't working, it might be worthwhile to play around with form. The Italians called the building blocks of poems stanzas, their word for rooms. William Carlos Williams imagined the poem as a field of action—more simply put, a space where something happens. But whether we imagine poems as rooms, fields, or universes, to get to the happening we need to understand the space. Is it the size of a postage stamp, or does it seem to yearn outward forever? Does it have nooks, crannies, and hideaways, or is it something spare, cool, and illuminated, where no syllable will go unnoticed?

 

This writing lab focuses on the forms of poems and the ways form sets expectations—and opens up new possibilities—for rhythm, breath, diction, punctuation, and, ultimately, meaning. Our method will be both tactile and imaginative: How might a poem function if it were a shopping mall, a hand mirror, a basketball game, a cul de sac? We'll return to traditional forms like the sonnet, ghazal, haibun, and villanelle—including the exciting ways poets have disrupted, reimagined, and subverted them—and look at contemporary innovations like Jericho Brown's duplex and Kayleb Rae Candrilli's marble run. We'll study what makes these forms work—how they look, move, and tick—and discuss the room their various constraints make for wildness and surprise. Participants will learn how to build poems in these forms; will be encouraged to break their rules and make them their own; and, drawing on the various objects, activities, and buildings around us, will be invited to try inventing forms of their own.

 

everyday writing and sheltering in place

 

Surprise and spontaneity have receded from our daily experiences since early 2020. As we shelter in place and shift our experiences of work and play online, where encounters are predetermined and continuously fine-tuned by algorithms, how can we find the whimsy and chance we need to draw art from our everyday lives? In this workshop, we study how writing can come from routine and rote activities, and experiment with bringing those ideas to digital landscapes, interactions, and media. We'll play with news headlines, search histories, memes, hashtags, and more to reimagine the internet rabbit hole as an everyday meander. We'll look at work across genres that draws on marginalia and is grounded in everyday experiences, texts, and observations—from Frank O'Hara's Lunch Poems to Sheila Heti's excel-sheet journals—and discuss how to adapt these techniques to spark new writing of our own. Participants will learn how to eavesdrop, excerpt, and effectively steal language from the world around us—whether IRL or online and at home—and will leave with a poem, story, creative essay, or other piece of writing crafted from collages of the everyday.

the long poem

On writing the long poem, A.R. Ammons once said it's about "finding a single image that can sustain multiplicity." In this workshop, we focus on the formal conceits of endurance and excess in which meaning is made through the experience of elaboration, duration, and accumulation. We'll discuss key moments in the long poem's lineage—from its roots in epics to its reimaginings in Modernist poetry—and look at its various treatments and adaptations by contemporary poets. We'll study the affordances and accommodations of the form, including the room it makes for multivocality, research, journalism, narrative, dialogue, argument, manifesto, and other genres and materials. And, of course, we'll write never-enders of our own—poems that dwell, obsess, collect, stretch, extend, catch several winds, take their time, linger a little longer, can't stop, can't get enough, can't let go, push past the point they originally thought they would and then some.

single-session workshops and craft talks

The Turn: Every piece of good writing—whether a poem, short story, essay, novel, tweet, or TikTok—requires setup and payoff. The moment the text begins to pay is called the turn, and we rely on these shifts in tone or thought to surprise our readers and keep them engaged. In this craft session, we'll study different kinds of turns—from the sonnet's volta to the essay's pivot—and how they work to open up a piece of writing by allowing it to change its terms.

The Line Break: Every time one line ends and another begins, the poet has the opportunity to enhance and transform the reader's experience of the poem. Line breaks work by drawing our attention to specific sounds, words, and phrases; inviting us to imagine multiple and alternative readings; allowing us to experience the visual shape of the poem as it works in concert with its content; creating moments of surprise, delight, and reflection; and instructing us to slow down or speed up, to pause and absorb a particular impact or rush with eagerness and curiosity. In this craft talk, we'll look at some of the most common ways to break the line in free verse and study their effects so that we can use them in poems of our own.

Poems Out Loud: There's writing, and then there's the performance of writing. Capturing an audience's attention comes with its own set of challenges—but it can be fun, too. Whether reading for a live audience or digitally over Zoom, how can our voices stand out? In this workshop, we'll examine the reading styles of a variety of great poets and practice performing styles of our own.

Eavesdropping, Excerpts, and Everyday Poetry: In this workshop, we bring together poetry and eavesdropped exchanges. Participants will learn how to effectively steal language from the living world around them, and will leave with a poem crafted from collages of excerpted conversations and everyday observations.

Broken Essays: In this workshop, we explore the technique of collage in crafting fragmented memoir. Participants will combine collected found text with fragments of their own writing to give shape to nonlinear personal essays.

Wearable Poetry: Ever loved a poem so much you wanted to wear it? In this workshop, we explore the relationship between what we say and what we wear. Participants will learn about the history of embroidery as a woman's art of resistance alongside the contemporary ways we wear words, and leave the session with pieces of clothing showcasing their own workshopped and embroidered micro-poems.

Teachers Are Writers: In collaboration with Western New York Network of English Teachers, Just Buffalo Literary Center offers this workshop series for school teachers and educators so they will have the opportunity to explore their own creative work, engage in ongoing conversations about process, and grow as writers.