The Poetry Book: Text and Design


Putting a book of poetry together is a difficult and complex task. The poet must consider not only the order of the poems but also the internal narrative of the book as a whole: how its constituent parts “speak” to each other; how key themes and patterns are developed and articulated; how to begin the book and, even harder, how to end it. Yet, students often encounter poetry primarily through anthologies, with the result that first affiliations are fragmented and obscured. In this class, we take the opposite tack and explore the book of poetry as an event in itself. We read and discuss books by English-language poets across two centuries—from William Blake’s artisanal, hand-tinted works to Frank O’Hara’s portable “lunch poems.” How have individual writers sought to shape readers’ experiences through the patterning of content? What kinds of creative decisions—from cover to typeface—affect the appearance of a poetry book? What happens when a poet’s work is edited posthumously? Or when a book appears in multiple, evolving versions? What is hypertext poetry, and has it really abolished the poetry book as traditionally understood?