YES! I have officially finished this class and can look forward to the next one! Yay me!
This was my third course through the UCLA Writer’s Extension, and my least favourite. I hate to give negative feedback, especially in this case because I feel the problem was me rather than the class itself, so I’ll do my best to be impartial.
First, I took this course because I love language and have been intimidated by writing poetry most of my life. Given I’d just completed a class on short stories that leave little room to indulge in lyrical prose, I thought it would be a great way to beef up my description writing skills and have care free fun in the process. Unfortunately, this was the worst way to approach it, as Poetry is NOT fiction’s ugly spinster cousin. It’s a specialized art form second to none, and it deserves the same level of attention and interest as all the others. In fact, I found it harder than short stories, which are notoriously difficult to master.
The instructor was Kimberly Burwick and she did a great job, especially considering few to none of us were poets or aspired to be poets. Her deep love and enthusiasm for poetry was palpable, and she reached out weekly wanting to see how we liked the class while requesting our feedback. She would have been happy to shift in different directions if anyone had been interested, but I don’t think any of us made suggestions. I felt bad about my lack of interest so I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the irony one of my complaints about my first UCLA class was the lack of general chat options available in the course blackboard, when this one had two that none of us used.
I suspect I wasn’t the only one who had no clue what a poetry class would be like. I say that because we started with 12 students and lost about one a week, ending up with 5 regulars at the end. However, I feel strongly about saying this should in no way be taken as a reflection on the instructor or the course material. In all fairness, teachers in general have zero control over student motivations and engagement, and this is particularly true when the students are adults taking a class for personal interest.
Like my last class, this one was worth 5 credits and fully transferrable, so I expected the workload to reflect that, and it did…at first. It diminished considerably over the semester given we had fewer and fewer peer reviews to do each week. Of course, no one, not even me I’m ashamed to say, increased their involvement to compensate for all that “extra” time on our hands.
Grading broke down as 75% from participation and 25% from the final portfolio. To get full marks each week, we were required to read from the texts, the lecture, and weekly poem, and then create a thread in the discussion forum for each one. We were encouraged to ask questions to create a dynamic conversation, but apart from the instructor and a couple of truly engaged students, most of us just posted our amazingly insightful thoughts and dazzlingly brilliant interpretations without participating beyond the minimum required in the Syllabus. (Yes, I am being facetious at my own expense.) In addition, we had to submit a poem to the workshop and review each one of our peer’s poems. It seems like a lot, but few people posted more than a couple of paragraphs. Quality over quantity was the expectation.
Here’s where I started to lose interest. I found I wasn’t a fan of the required readings, and maybe because I didn’t relate to many poems, it made it that much harder to analyze and discuss them. The other problem is I realized I well and truly suck at writing poetry…ahem…like cringe worthily suck at it. Yikes, what an embarrassing discovery, and it certainly didn’t help my motivation. The feedback I received was gentle, kind, and more helpful than I expected, but also less thorough than I hoped. Mind you, there’s not too much one can say about a badly written cliché poem is there?
Therefore, it should hardly come as a surprise the final portfolio was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. How on earth could I select 6 of my crap poems and rewrite them into good ones? Thankfully, I did better than anticipated, but I struggled with my inner perfectionist for weeks, and in the end, I just had to let it go and accept my best was far from what I wanted it to be.
So, the bottom line is if you love poetry, contemporary poetry in particular, you will adore this class. I also don’t think you’ll find too many instructors more generous with their time and willingness to discuss the topics in depth. If you’re thinking of taking it for similar reasons to mine, go for it. Just realize that the course isn’t designed for us fiction writers looking for an amusing pastime, and nor should it be.
Finding out I had no idea what poetry was about and realizing I’d made erroneous assumptions based on my past superficial dabbling, was an unhappy surprise because I really wanted to love this class. But, no matter how disappointing it’s been to find something I couldn’t do well no matter how hard I tried, I did learn a lot about how to write amazing concrete images that make a scene come alive. I don’t think I could have learned that anywhere else, and I know I’ll carry those lessons with me in every story I write from this point forward.
The Cheeky One