Prof. Susan M. Schultz
214 Kuykendall
Office Hours: Thursday, 11-3 and by appointment

English 713
Friday, 2:30-5:00 p.m.
Kuykendall 408


Course description:

In his essay, “Documentary Poetry and Archival Desire,” published in the on-line journal, Jacket2, Joseph Harrington defines documentary poetry as designating “poetry that (1) contains quotations from or reproductions of documents or statements not produced by the poet and (2) relates historical narratives, whether macro or micro, human or natural.” Such poetry shifts the focus away from the solitary person toward more communal purposes. This poetry more resembles history, journalism, or your facebook or twitter feed than it does the verse of Elizabethan and Romantic poets. This is not meant to dismiss them, simply to identify what makes this form different from other modes of poetry. Many works of documentary poetry take on significant historical events; others make arguments about political, social, and/or cultural issues.

We will read widely and deeply in the form, beginning from a significant work outside of it, James Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, which includes photographs by Walker Evans. As we read across its history, emphasizing its present, students will be writing their own documentary poems, working their way into a substantial project of their own. Class time will be devoted, in equal measure, to discussion of the books, experiments in the form, and workshopping of student poems. There will be a class blog, in addition to in-class discussion, which students will be required to write on every week; we will also be interviewing some of the authors by way of the blog. I will organize office hours to talk to each student individually about his or her work. 

The course is open to non-poets, as well. While most of the readings are in poetry, your work may be in documentary prose. Suggestions for prose readings can be found in the "resources" section of the syllabus, and in conversation with the instructor.


Books are available at Revolution Books; you may order them elsewhere, too.

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, Agee & Walker, Mariner Books

Dictee, by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, University of California Press

Don't Let Me Be Lonely, Claudia Rankine, Graywolf Press

Coal Mountain Elementary, Mark Nowak, Coffee House Press

I, Afterlife: Essay in Mourning, Kristin Prevallet, Essay Press

from unincorporated territory [saina], Craig Santos Perez, Omnidawn

Things Come On: an amneoir, Joseph Harrington, Wesleyan

Green-Wood, Allison Cobb, Factory School

Recommended readings: Kaia Sand, Remember to Wave (Tinfish Press, 2010); Craig Santos Perez,

from unincorporated territory: hacha (Tinfish Press, 2007); jai arun ravine, and then entwine (Tinfish

Press, 2011).  And many more to talk about in my office hours.


--Good attendance (one unexcused absence, no more). 

--A substantive blog post once a week on the reading for that week, something on the order of 500-1000 words. 

Write your post in advance of class, not afterwards.  The blog's address is  I will ask to send you invitations. While this syllabus is open to the world, the blog will be closed to everyone except for us and our invited visitors.

--One poem a week.  I will make suggestions, but this is a graduate class, so you may work the course

toward your interests, obsessions.  I simply ask that you engage with the form, documentary poetry, and that you do research.  

--At least one conference with me.  Come see me EARLY in the semester to talk about your project.

--Keep a journal, blog of your own, scrapbook, document file, word hoard, whatever you need to keep your mind in

the course.  If you need something to jog your poetic mind, try Bernadette Mayer experiments:

--A final project of at least 20 pages, though I'd like you to aim for a book-length manuscript (I'm serious about this!)

made into a chapbook of your own design and production.  This chapbook must include a five page statement of your poetics. (We'll talk more about that later!)

--You must complete the course requirements to pass the course.  No plagiarism, except where called for in writing/composing your poems. 

--If you have, or think you might have, learning or other disabilities, please go to KOKUA on campus.  I'm happy to work with them, and you, to make this a successful semester.


Grading is always a sticky issue in creative writing courses.  But here is what I look for in your poems:

--Freshness of perspective, use of language, and form.  Willingness to take risks.

--A refusal to stop short.  Ask questions.  Do the research, do the thinking, do the revisions (based on peer and

instructor comments).

Here's the breakdown of percentages:

--20% participation

--20% blogging

--20% poems

--40% final project


Friday, January 13: Introductions, expectations, first exercises.  Definitions of "poetry" and "document."  Kinds of

projects to contemplate doing. 

Friday, January 20: Subjectivity and reportage: Whose stories are they?

Read Joseph Harrington's essay, here:

and Phil Metres's essay here:  

Read James Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (selections).

Suggested poem/prose: Make a collage of materials from the week's readings.  Feel free to add in your own words.

Friday, January 27: The Poet as Journalist

More Agee.  Read Muriel Rukeyser, "Book of the Dead" (xerox).  Listen to Rukeyser:

Locate half a dozen documents significant to you, and xerox them : they may include your birth certificate, marriage or divorce certificate, a death certificate, high school or college transcripts, adoption decree, land title (etc.). 

Suggested poem/prose: Write on copies of your documents, or write around them, or write with them somehow.

Suggested activity: take photographs of your neighborhood.  No touristic shots!  Put some photos on

our blog, with captions.  These captions may or may not be poems/proses.  They be as directly related to the photos, or not, as you wish.

Friday, February 3: Documentary Lyrics

Read William Carlos Williams, Paterson Book One. (xerox)

Suggested poem: alternate lists, statistics, and so on with lyric passages of your own composition.

Friday, February 10: Immigration, Language Acquisition (and Forgetting), Multi-Cultures

Read Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Dictee.

Suggested poem/prose: Take several of your personal documents and put them in sequence with a public document.  Then write an extra section of your own.

Friday, February 17: 9/11 as Case Study

Read Claudia Rankine, Don't Let Me Be Lonely.

Suggested poem/prose: write a poetic essay next to a photograph or document.

Friday, February 24: Documentary Poetry & Activism

Read Mark Nowak, Coal Mountain Elementary.

Suggested poem/prose: Compose a piece without any words of your own, using materials close at hand, like newspapers, magazines, whatever is still published on paper!

Friday, March 2: Deep Histories

Read Allison Cobb, Green-Wood.

Suggested poem/prose: take a long walk in your neighborhood.  Do research on your neighborhood. Use Cobb's work as your model, and go!

Friday, March 9: Documentary Poetry & Colonialism

Read Craig Santos Perez, from unincorporated territory (saina)

Suggested poem/prose: using an element of your family history, layer it with a national/regional/cultural history; experiment with the page as a field (see Charles Olson)

Friday, March 16: Personal History

Read Kristin Prevallet, I, Afterlife: Essay in Mourning.

Suggested poem/prose: Piece together a tragic event from your own history and write about it, using documentation.

Friday, March 23: The Political is Personal

Read Joseph Harrington,Things Come On: An Amneoir.

Suggested poem/prose: Find an element of family history that "rhymes" with political history, and write them in parallel.  See what kind of an "argument" you can make.

Friday, March 30: SPRING BREAK

Friday, April 6: Good Friday: no class

Friday, April 13: Workshop final projects

Friday, April 20: Workshop final projects

Friday, April 27: Prof. Schultz away.  

Friday, May 4: Workshop projects

Friday, May 11: In-class reading, celebration.


Above all: PennSound!

Muriel Rukeyser audio:

William Carlos Williams audio:

Theresa Hak Kyung Cha videos:

--see Project Muse (on-line, via Hamilton Library, requiring log-in) for essays on Cha's work.

--a blog post I wrote on Dictee & my daughter:

Claudia Rankine reading Don't Let Me Be Lonely:

--Interview with Rankine (one of several on-line):

--Alan Gilbert on Rankine's book:

--Tinfish Editor (SMS) on Claudia Rankine's book:

Mark Nowak Coal Mountain blog:

--on PBS Newshour:

--Nowak on docu poetry:

--Steel Wagstaff on Mark Nowak:

--Tinfish Editor on Nowak:

Allison Cobb: reviews of Green-Wood:

--Tinfish Editor on Cobb's book:

Kristin Prevallet PennSound page:

Joseph Harrington interviewed by Dennis Etzel, Jr.:

--review by Aaron Belz (scroll way down):

--Tinfish Editor on Harrington's work:

Craig Santos Perez interviewed:

--radio interview with Leonard Schwartz:

--”The Poetics of Mapping Diaspora” in four sections:


There's an amazing list sent me by Sergio Perreira in Portugal at the end of this blog post of mine; I've also

appended a list sent me by Dave Taylor, a friend in D.C.:

If you go to my Tinfish Editor's blog and punch "dementia blog" and "Alzheimer's" into the search engine, you'll get examples of my documentary work.  I also recommend my book, Dementia Blog (Singing Horse Press, 2008), if you're interested in what I'm up to, or in questions of memory and forgetting, old age, and institutionalization of the elderly. 

There's plenty of footage and tape-age at Penn Sound of DB.

Also look for archives of photographs, films, and other visual objects, and for objects themselves.