Notebooking Daily University: Poetic Explorations 'Memory' 6-Class Course


Welcome to Notebooking Daily's first ever self-paced poetry writing class, Poetic Explorations. This is a 'six-week class' done on your own time, at your own pace, and it will be much more open-ended than a standard class because everyone's different, and not everyone has time constraints yadda yadda. I will have more detailed courses this coming year, but this is a bit of a Christmas present to interested poets of a few communities especially.

What type of class is this? This class is heavily reading and prompt based, and self-driven, so it can be repeated multiple times as a generative/research project. You will read a wide variety of poetry driven by your preferences, you will create and generate potential source material in your 'poet's notebook', you will write 3 prompt poems, 1 highly-scaffolded poem which will be built over the duration of the course, and another somewhat-scaffolded poem which also will be built over the class's duration. And if you're able to get the book, you'll have 2 additional poems, one of which will have undergone a thorough editing process. This class focuses mainly around the theme of 'Memory' but there is a bit of intro to poetry stuff and an introduction to literary magazines as well, which is where you'll ideally be publishing your poetry some day.

Who is this for? Beginning poets as well as experienced poets. 

Class Book List (I have no Amazon affiliation or anything): "In the Palm of Your Hand" edited by Steve Kowit. I can't recommend this book enough for poets at all levels, but if you absolutely can't afford to buy a used copy for $5.50 with shipping included (and it's definitely worth it, even though we'll only be using a couple chapters in this short term class) I highly recommend reading/writing prompts for the rest of the book to further your 'class' experience. The rest of class reading materials will be free online and if you can't get the book, that should still be a good experience.

What is a Writer's Notebook? A place where you jot down interesting facts, bits of dialogue, ideas, fragments/snippets that come to you, as well as thoughts on poems you're reading and things you might do which are similar. This can be a physical notebook, or a google doc file. I recommend Google Docs over notepad or a similar notes type app because Docs has that cloud backup in case your device dies. Backing this up is also a good idea every so often, you can do that by emailing it to yourself. When doing the Notebooking activities, you should write which day you're doing at the top of the entry for easy referencing as you'll be going back to previous entries for brainstorming and writing activities.

Where should I do my brainstorming activities? I recommend in a Google Doc file. Here is a template you can use. If you prefer to handwrite, it will require some typing later, but that has its benefits if time isn't an issue.

How long should I dedicate to each activity? As long as it takes for the reading and notebooking activities, the brainstorming activities should each be 5-minute timers (per list) and the writing activities should take around 20-30 minutes. The idea is the class should take roughly 2.5 to 3 hours with close reading and the writing activities, but the good thing about self-paced classes like this is, you take as long as you like. If you want to read more poems than I 'require', heck yeah! If you want to read multiple poets' work, that's even better. If you have a ton of things happen in the previous day you want for your 'notebooking', or lots to say about pieces you read, or you get started on a poem and it takes off and you need four more hours to make a truly magnificent poem in one-go? I've been there, do it!

How do I write a poem in 30 minutes? First—you do you. Take extra time for the main part of writing if you'd like, spend an hour revising immediately after, I know I do sometimes. But, for the 'method', I suggest this breakdown for timers for the writing activities: 5 minutes for organizing and outlining, getting a rough idea of how you might meet the requirements, and where you might end up whether that's a message, observation, 'point' or it's just the order of requirements/major parts of the poem. Sometimes you'll be discovering almost everything, but it helps to have a target so even if you are figuring everything out as you go, you have a safe landing pad if you feel lost or like you're not making any progress. After the rough brainstorming/organizing/outlining, spend 20 minutes writing the poem. Don't feel locked into that outline/organization, but it can take the pressure of 'what next' off and allow you to feel freer in you initial discovery/exploration of the idea/narrative. Then the final 5 minutes you'll use to wrap up/land the poem, and read it over looking to see if there's anything that needs revising, tightening, or cutting if it doesn't line up with where the poem ended up going. If you're making major cuts, I recommend copy/pasting the original onto a page below the edit in progress in case you change your mind. You can lose what is the soul of a poem in a whim decision during editing, saving progress drafts helps you find the right version of the poem often.

Why only six classes? This is a 'lite' class meant to be accessible and repeatable. And it's free so if you like these classes, keep an eye out for our workshops and content classes in the new year. 

Can I repeat the course? Of course! I'll be editing in instructions for how to do that and get a totally/mostly unique experience in the coming days.

Why is this free? I wanted to give a little Christmas gift to a few communities and I'd planned on classes last year but ran out of time. I'm dedicated to getting a few together like this, but more detailed and longer with discord for interaction, some even with live workshopping. If you appreciate this class and would like to donate, I always dedicate all donations to Notebooking Daily to submission fees, getting every penny to a lit mag or press as I'm really trying to get some collections published and those fees add up. Donations of any size are greatly appreciated, however, this is free, there is no obligation to make a donation at all. I know what it's like to live off potatoes and chili and ramen, even outside of college. Times can be tough. If you're in a position to, and you really enjoyed the class, feel free to Say thanks with a donation of any amount.

So, without further yackin', LETSGO!

Class 1: 

Order the book. It's worth it. These first two classes I won't use it so if you're just ordering now you have time for delivery.

1.0: Video Activity: Check out these short videos of experienced poets giving advice to young/new poets.

"Billy Collins on How to Write Poetry" from his 2016 NPR interview. 

1.5: Reading Activity: First, read the first seven poems in Poetry 180. Read them over twice, on the second pass you'll be picking a favorite and a least favorite. Reading new poetry and reading widely is extremely important to your growth as a poet, as you've heard from a few poets now. As you're reading be sure to be paying attention for themes, double meanings, and what the poet is 'getting at', what the 'point' is. 

2: Notebook Activity:  First. check out this short video from famous poet Carol Anne Duffy talking about the importance and function of a writer's notebook (it's short, don't worry). In your writer's notebook write some notes about your favorite poem/s including at least a couple quotes from the poems you read. Pick a top 3 and a bottom 2-3, specify top and bottom. Also jot down anything you recall from the past few days that was interesting, intriguing, funny, or stuck out for some reason. I recommend you use this template or your own google doc file.

3: Brainstorming Activity: Today you'll be generating three lists. Set a timer for five minutes for each, and try to come up with as many as you can until that timer rings, the more the better.

List 1: Think of as many good memories you had with a grandparent or elder as you can.

List 2: Brainstorm times when you accomplished something you had to work for, or things which did not come easily to you.

List 3: Brainstorm positive memories you have from childhood in general.

4: Writing Activity: In the final 30 minutes (5 minute timer for outlining/organizing/brainstorming, 20 minute timer after that for the main composition of the poem, 2 minutes to wrap up/finish the poem, 3 minutes to read it and check for obvious errors, things that don't fit or places to expand), write a poem which uses part of one of the quotes you wrote in your notebook from the poems as the title of the poem, and also include the word "Memory", and at least one interesting/unique simile. It shouldn't be a simile you've ever read.

Class 2: 

Be sure you're completing all of the activities before moving on. Classes will build upon the previous classes, so skipping activities will mess up future classwork. You ordered the book right?

1: Reading Activity: Last class you read poems from 7 poets in Poetry 180. I definitely recommend reading the rest of the anthology. Today you'll read at least 5 poems from both the poet you ranked as your favorite, and 3 more from the poet you ranked as your least favorite. Here are links to all of the 7 poets.

And you will also read this excerpt from "A Poet's Glossary" by Edward Hirsch which quotes a bunch of famous and brilliant poets about what they see poetry 'is'.

1.5: Video Activity: Just this short video from Galway Kinnell, answering "what is poetry?". You'll notice a bit of the 'what is poetry' theme but it's a good one to think about early in the endeavor, and a good question to return to along your journey.

2: Notebooking Activity: In your writer's notebook write some notes about what you read today including at least a couple quotes, and some unique words. Write at least a little bit also about events or ideas in the poems which either sparked an idea of your own, or which is similar to any events/ideas you've experienced/had. And finally, add in a couple interesting things you've learned this past month or so, or things you experienced in that same time period which made you laugh.

3: Brainstorming Activity: Today you'll be generating three lists. Set a timer for five minutes for each, and try to come up with as many as you can until that timer rings, the more the better. Pick one of the items from the first list you wrote last class which you will be focusing on for your 'class' poem.

List 1: For your first item take your chosen good memory with a grandparent or elder and brainstorm a list of 'things' (physical objects) which are associated with that memory. So, items that would be present, what people were wearing, features of the landscape/scenery/setting, cars, equipment, notable objects etc. Be specific.

List 2: List as many interesting colors you can think of. Not green or blue, but seafoam, magenta, tangerine etc.

List 3: List as many words as you can which are synonyms or similar to "pleasant" or "nice".

4: Writing Activity: In the final 30 minutes (5 minute timer for outlining/organizing/brainstorming, 20 minute timer after that for the main composition of the poem, 2 minutes to wrap up/finish the poem, 3 minutes to read it and check for obvious errors, things that don't fit or places to expand), write a poem which is inspired by one of the poems you read today. That can be talking about the same theme/s, maybe it uses a similar detail or two from the original poem, it starts in a similar narrative/lyric place but goes your own direction, it could use a quote as the title or an epigraph. You should also use one or two of the interesting colors that you brainstormed.

Book Assignment 1: 

Read the forewords and all the way to page 20, through the "I couldn't stop watching" section. This includes completing one of the prompt poems, and revising it with Kowit's guidance. Finish this assignment before Class 5.

Class 3:

Hopefully you've gotten the book. It's really worth it. There will be additional 'book' assignments per week, which you'll do at your own pace, reading and doing the prompts in the section.

1: Reading Activity: Read the following poems: 

"Fifth Grade Autobiography" by Rita Dove

"Walking with My Delaware Grandfather" by Denise Low

"Piano" by D.H. Lawrence

"My Papa's Waltz" by Theodore Roethke

"My Brother the Artist, at Seven" by Philip Levine

"Oranges" by Gary Soto (click the arrow on the right side of the page to get to the second half of the poem)

"Our First Shared Fig Newton, 1986" by Zebulon Huset

2: Notebooking Activity: In your writer's notebook write some notes about what you read today, including picking a favorite poem, and quotes. Also write down anything interesting from the previous week, keep your eyes peeled for descriptions, quirks you might include here while you're going about your everyday life. These notes will be used for future poems, so write as much interesting things as you can, whether it's news, dialogue, a situation you thought of or witnessed. And finally, go to this link of interesting colors, and write a list of your favorite 5-10 of those colors.

3: Brainstorming Activity: Today you'll be generating two lists. Set a timer for five minutes for each, and try to come up with as many as you can until that timer rings, the more the better. 

List 1: Going back to the memory from your first lists in the last two classes, the elder who you had that particular memory with is the focus for this brainstorm list. Write down everything about them that you can recall, including other good times, details about their life, stories you know about them (in short) etc.

List 2: List as many 'childhood adventures' as you can. These can be little adventures you went on in your childhood, or it might be things you make up or 'types of adventures' like 'summer camp bullies' or 'digging for treasure in the woods' or 'building a treehouse' or 'running away from home' etc. Be specific, especially with nonfiction list items. 

List 3: Write as many similes as you can which are a unique take on "as strong as an ox". What are some interesting things that are strong which we don't normally see in similes like "as strong as a garlic smoothie" or "as strong as an angry silverback gorilla" etc. 

4: Writing Activity: In the final 30 minutes (5 minute timer for outlining/organizing/brainstorming, 20 minute timer after that for the main composition of the poem, 2 minutes to wrap up/finish the poem, 3 minutes to read it and check for obvious errors, things that don't fit or places to expand), write a poem which includes the following five words "Fig", Waltz", "Piano", "Artist" and "Oranges" which includes one of the memories from Day 1's Brainstorming list 1 which you had not chosen to focus on. Be sure to include many specific details, and either include some observation, lesson, or use that memory as a way to view something happening in current events, or something from history or science. Don't just tell us an anecdote, use that anecdote to make us think about something.

Class 4

Today we'll be incorporating video with spoken word and poetic hip hop, it might not be your normal cup of tea, but give them a shot and definitely listen to each of them at least twice. The rappers go fast, and are poetically not-direct so understanding might not come immediately. To aid in your understanding, I'm also linking the lyrics to the songs. 

1.0: Reading Activity: Last class you read poems from 7 poets. Today you'll read at least 5 poems from both the poet you wrote in your notebook was your favorite, and at least 2 more from the poet you ranked as your least favorite. Here are links to poems for all of the 7 poets.

(yes, for me the first link is a google search and this has some broken links, it also has been a long time since I updated it, there's plenty in the first link)

1.5: Video Activity: Today we'll delve a little into the spoken/performed side of poetry and watch 3 videos. I want you to watch each one at least twice, and be sure that you're checking out the lyrics link to better follow the songs as I mentioned at the beginning of today's instructions. Lyrics Genius is surprisingly good with their lyrics explanations, but do sometimes get things wrong, just a warning, and advice to check their annotations out.

Philip Kaye "Repetition" (link to the words)

Sage Francis "Inherited Scars"* (link to the lyrics)

Aesop Rock "Blood Sandwich"** (link to the lyrics)

*Content warning, this song contains references self-harm
**Content warning, this song contains violence to animals

2: Notebooking Activity: Just do your notes about the pieces you've read and watched including quotes, parallel thoughts, ideas sparked by the poems/songs, things you liked as well as things you really didn't like. Also jot down anything you recall from the past few days that was interesting, intriguing, funny, or stuck out for some reason.

3: Brainstorming Activity: Today you'll be generating two lists. Set a timer for five minutes for each, and try to come up with as many as you can until that timer rings, the more the better. 

List 1: Brainstorm as many 'life lessons' or 'advice' as you can. Try to include lessons/advice that you associate with the elder from your previous brainstorming activities. Think things like "procrastination makes things worse" or "be careful who you trust" or "lead with kindness"

List 2: List interesting or unusual words which you like. They shouldn't be impossible to use or "hasn't been used in 400 years" type words, more like 'juxtaposition' or 'flecks' or 'maelstrom' or 'percolated' or 'cusp'. Don't overthink it, especially not until you have at least 8 or so even if they're not that strange. 

List 3: First list 5 foods that have very distinctive flavors or textures on their own lines. Next to each of those items, put 2-5 words you'd use to describe the food's flavor or texture. If you finish before the five-minute timer goes off, continue with new food and its descriptions until time expires.

4: Writing Activity: For today's writing activity you're going to be writing fragments (2-8 lines) around items you've brainstormed. When I say writing fragments I mean, you'll take what you've written in the brainstorm, and expand on that, giving it context (telling us what got you to that situation, why that item is important, how that lesson/advice was witnessed in real life etc.) add in description, but you're not trying to write a full poem here. Just expanding, doing small discovery work. Why are those things important, how do they function in the memory or lesson. It might not have a direct connection, and sometimes it will still be unclear at this point, that's ok. Get your fragment out and move on to the next one. 

Timer order: First 5 minutes, look back to the following brainstorm lists and find 6-10 items that stand out to you as being interesting or especially important to the chosen memory that you've written about multiple times now. Pick items from these brainstorm lists:

Day 1 List 3

Day 2 List 1

Day 3 List 1

Day 4 List 1

For the next 20 minutes power through those fragments, pick the ones most important to the memory you've been working with for the first that you write. If you are torn between two ways to approach the fragment, write them both quickly. Try not to spend more than 5 minutes on any individual fragment unless you're willing to keep going until you've finished all of the fragments, but even then, don't spend more than 10 or so minutes, these are just fragments.

For the next 5 minutes (if you're planning on a 35 minute cap for the activity) look over what you've written and see if you can organically work in any words from either today's list 2 (Day 4 List 2), or Day 2's List 2 or 3. Don't shove the words in where they don't fit, but if you can make them fit, nice.

Then 5 minutes to read over the fragments and see if they make sense, and look to see if you can rephrase anything that is especially plain, or boring. You want to be interesting in your poems, unique, but don't feel like you need to over-complicate or change your voice. Remember you're looking to say things concisely, evocatively, and without using more words than is necessary.

Book Assignment 2: 

Read page 30-35, the "Shards of Memory: Playing with Time" section. This includes completing the 'notebook' assignment, and one or both of the prompt poems. Complete this assignment by the end of the 6-weeks.

Class 5

Today we'll be looking at literary magazines for the first time. You will read one short journal, then sample a few others. There are thousands of them out there, and there's a good chance you'll be submitting to them for publication yourself, so it's good to have an idea of what's currently being published. 

1: Reading Activity: For today you'll be reading a sampling of current literary magazines. These are the types of publications that you'll be someday (or are already) submitting to, so it is good to be familiar with what a number of them publish. I'm not a fan of the 'spam' or 'shotgun' submission approach, send out a lot yes, but have an idea of what types of poetry those journals publish by reading at least some of the most recent issue and look for editor interviews/notes about what they want in their submission guidelines. But I digress. For today you will read the following:

A) The current (November 2023) issue of Thrush Poetry Journal. It is only 7 poems and many are short, yet it's still a wide variety. Thrush is a simple-looking, but longstanding and well-respected literary magazine. They are also free to submit to (once every six months) and tell you which poem they liked the most which is nice as it helps you determine what to send the next attempt six or more months later.

B) At least 2 poems from each of the following journals. You have free rein on which title or author to pick, feel free to change you pick if after looking at the length or style of the poem you're like... nahhhhh. But also, don't be afraid of trying to read something out of your normal 'box'. Give each journal a fair shot, you'll be ranking them.

Cortland Review (Issue 91)
Roanoke Review (2023 Issue)
The Penn Review (Issue 72)

2: Notebooking Activity: Just do your notes about the pieces you've read today including quotes, parallel thoughts, ideas sparked by the poems, things you liked as well as things you really didn't like. Rank the 5 journals that you read pieces from today 1-5, 1 being your favorite and 5 being your least favorite. Be sure to mention other observations of the journals themselves which you have. Also jot down anything you recall from the past few days that was interesting, intriguing, funny, or stuck out for some reason.

3: Brainstorming/Research Activity: Today you're collecting and expanding slightly. If you have been typing your brainstorming it'll be easy, copy/paste. However, if you're handwriting, you get the added opportunity to think about how you've phrased things, and maybe make them a little more interesting/unique. 

First, collect your fragments from last class. Give them another glance and look for places to tighten, to make the phrasing clear and unique.

Next, look back over the following Brainstorming Activities: Day 2 List 1 and 3; Day 3 List 1 and Day 4 List 1. Pick a few more of those items relating to the memory you'd picked to focus on which you didn't use for fragments, and write at least two new items for any of those lists. You should have five more items, now brainstorm/expand more details and context for those new items, essentially turning them into 1-3 line fragments.

Finally, look over your Brainstorming Activity Day 4 List 1, and fragments, and pick 1-2 of them which would apply to the memory you'd picked to focus on. If none apply, brainstorm 1-2 life lessons or pieces of advice that could be the 'point' of that memory/story.

4: Writing Activity: It's finally time to put together your memory poem! Tell us about the memory which you've been writing about and use that as at least a pretty big part of the poem, and be sure that there's a life lesson or 'point' to the poem.


1) Use your brainstorm lists and fragments and tell us the story of that pleasant memory with an elder.

2) Think about how other poets we've read have handled using memories to make an observation, to pass along advice or tell some universal wisdom, or in some way make a point.

3) Be sure that you're using a bunch of those fragments and take the time to transition them.

4) Bring it to life using vivid details, unique descriptions (remember those interesting colors and words not used enough from previous BAs), keep the reader interested in what will come next.

5) Consider bringing in parts of another story you worked with in brainstorming if it might fit, or scientific or historic facts that fit, they can help add depth.

6) Be sure that you have a 'point' to the poem. Some sort of observation, life lesson or piece of universal advice that you're relaying. The 'So What?' factor.

7) You can write the poem in any form or shape, but be mindful of the poem's sounds and include assonance at least a few times, it occurs naturally but when you're considering how to phrase things, lean toward uniqueness and good sounds.


Class 6

Today we'll be looking a bit more deeply into some literary magazines from the first time. 

1: Reading Activity: For today you'll be reading a deeper sampling of the journal that you noted as your favorite from last class in your notebook, and just a couple from the journal you listed as your least favorite. Here are archive pages, 1) From your #1 ranked journal read at least 5 more poems from two different issues (10 total), and 2) From your #5 ranked journal read at least one poem from two different issues.

Thrush Poetry Journal (most recent issues are at the bottom)
Cortland Review (hover over the 'issues' tab in the menu and select an issue)

2: Notebooking Activity: Today write your notes about that favorite journal which you read at least ten poems from. Mention trends or themes you see in what they publish, favorite poems and their poets (so you can look them up later). Also jot down anything you recall from the past few days that was interesting, intriguing, funny, or stuck out for some reason. And finally, look over this list of 'Strong Verbs' and write down at least ten of them. You'll be using some of them later, but also if you continue using your notebook, you'll hopefully be using them in future poems as well.

3: Brainstorming Activity: List 1: List as many things as you can which you would consider 'wise' or 'insightful'. Try to be unique, sure a brain surgeon or Einstein, but also animals, myths, inanimate objects which contain wisdom. If you don't have many in your list, after the 5 minute timer spend a few minutes googling around for 'wise animals' or 'wisdom myths' and things like that to fill out the list a bit more. 

3.5: Revising Activity: Look back over your memory poem, you will be doing 5 separate editing 'passes' in this activity.

First Pass look for actual mistakes/errors/typos. They happen. This first read-through also reacquaints you with the whole piece, where it starts, where it ends, its moves, its metaphors, its theme and its 'point'. Read closely.

Second Pass look for places that don't do one of three things: further characterization (help us get to know you and the elder/other people important to the narrative of the memory), further narrative (progressing the actual story), or furthering your point. If it doesn't add to any of those things, decide if you either cut it, or transform it so that it does further one of those three things. Often just a little bit of tweaking or expansion can streamline good ideas that just don't quite jive in the first draft. But you don't any 'fat' which doesn't help the poem. If you have something you really like, but it doesn't quite fit, pop that into your notebook document, and maybe it will be just what another poem needs, or maybe it will be the beginning of a new poem.

Third Pass look for places where you can add in more details which further the narrative, the characterization or the 'point'. You really want us to be able to imagine the scene without bogging us down with too many details which don't add anything to the poem. Ideally in the second pass you've eliminated 'loose ends' but if there are any places where something is 'set up' make sure it has some sort of a 'pay off'. 

Fourth Pass is what I call the "funktification" pass. You're looking for plain or boring language. Words that get the job done but are not evocative, are overly passive, and especially common. Remember, the Samuel Coleridge adage "I wish our clever young poets would remember my homely definitions of prose and poetry; that is, prose,—words in their best order; poetry,—the best words in their best order." Picking those individual words is very important, so look for words like 'was' 'did' 'went' etc. Look back in your notebook at your list of underused words, interesting colors, strong verbs. Also look for idioms or common phrases. You don't want the reader to be able to fill-in what's coming next. Also look at your line breaks. End on either a strong, meaningful word, or try to create some intentional ambiguity, remember that the line break is an informal pause, so use it in that fashion as well.

Fifth Pass is mostly just to take inventory of what the poem has become, does it still have your voice and vision? Did your changes add in any errors/mistakes? Some typo slip through, or might there be a stronger line break? Clean it up here and you've got a more polished poem!

4: Writing Activity: Today you'll be writing a poem which incorporates three stories. You will 'feature' one, giving it the most spotlight, most words in the poem, but all three will in some way be incorporated. You will also use interesting words from previous brainstorming activities

Before you start the timers: Look back to your Brainstorming Day 1 List 2 and List 3, and Class 3 List 2 and find two of those stories (or come up with 2 other stories from your past), with a third either from history, or pop culture (think sitcom, movie, some form of popular narrative which fits with the two stories from your own life). These stories should work together in some way, a similar lesson learned, similar themes or subjects (baseball stories, rod trip stories, war stories, video game stories etc). Also snag a 5-7 of your interesting words from the previous Poet's Notebook brainstorming activities. You don't have to use them all, but work at least 3 of those in.

And that's it!

You should have 3 prompted poems, one highly scaffolded, edited poem, and 1 partially scaffolded poem (2 more if you did the book assignments) and a Poet's Notebook with lots to work with for future poems. I highly recommend using that 5-pass editing cycle on all of the poems you've written for class, and if it seems to work for you, or some variation on it, you have a new editing tool!

I will edit in an alternate set of journals and poems for repeat-students before too long, but there's definitely use in repeating the course choosing different poets/journals to focus on as well as different memories/stories. If you really enjoyed the class and would like to throw me $3 to submit my work to a journal I'd really appreciate it, you can donate here. But of course no pressure, I just hope you enjoyed the course! If you did please comment and let me know!