Kate Knapp Johnson

Undergraduate Discipline


Graduate Discipline

MFA Writing Program

BA, Sarah Lawrence College. MFA, Sarah Lawrence College. NCPsyA, Westchester Institute. Special interests include Jungian studies and religion; author of When Orchids Were Flowers, This Perfect Life, and Wind Somewhere, and Shade, which received the Gradiva Award; most recently published in Ploughshares, The Salt Journal, Luna, and The Sun; recipient of New York Foundation for the Arts Award. SLC, 1987–

Current undergraduate courses

Poetry Workshop: Poetic Process


In this reading and writing workshop, we will undertake three primary tasks: discuss close readings of poems and texts relevant to poetry and the creative process; find ways to generate new work of our own through exercises, models, and experiments; and, finally, workshop our own poems for revision purposes. Throughout this semester, we will explore the theme of poetic process, asking ourselves: How do we grow as artists? How can other arts and sciences inform our work? And what is the role of the unconscious in creativity and revision work? In-class readings will include a variety of contemporary poets (US and multicultural writers—Whitman, Neruda, Vallejo, Mort, etc.). This will be a class-community effort; rigorous and compassionate participation is required. There will be class readings. Conference work will be assigned individually, and a minimum of eight new (and revised) poems will be expected. Our classroom is reserved for risk-taking, exploring, and mistake making. Please park preconceptions and egos outside.


Previous courses

Awake and Dreaming: A Poetry Reading and Writing Seminar


This will be a yearlong endeavor: Can we discover some of the secrets of the “balancing act” that poetry is? We will explore distinctions between fact and truth, truth and truthfulness; we will work together to learn how to be awake to image-making, the logic of nonlogic, always offered to us through metaphors, dreams, and memory. Essays on writing, art, artifice, and the artificial will be discussed, along with readings on the craft of poetry and on “revision as creation.” A variety of poems will be read in class—contemporary, traditional, experimental, multicultural. We’ll also workshop our own poems attentively and compassionately, with our eyes on prosody, clarity, and clarity’s critical counterpart: mystery. In conferences, we will continue the hard work of writing, revising, and reading. Ten poems revised and sequenced in chapbook format, an essay as a questioning response to assigned books, and an annotated bibliography (a worksheet) are expected each semester, as well as full class and conference participation. This course is open to serious students of poetry who are committed to reading, writing, and delighting in poems!


First-Year Studies in Poetry


This course is designed to help students appreciate the writing of others, as well as to give them tools to improve their own work. We will read and discuss a broad range of contemporary poets, essays on craft, and poetic process—but equal emphasis will be placed on the student’s own writing. We’ll “workshop” poems together and examine prosody (especially scansion, use of linebreaks, etc.). Both essay and poetry assignments will be given—a minimum of eight poems each semester will be required. But there are larger questions to be answered: What makes a poem “work?” How do we evoke rather than state feelings? What is the optimal relationship among word, rhythm, and idea? And why, as Dickinson put it, “tell all the Truth, but tell it slant?” In our effort to answer these questions, we will write, revise, and learn to read closely and generously, seeking to develop our own poetics, to gain access into the boldest and most profound regions of the imagination, and, of course, to find a sense of sheer delight in the poems themselves.


Poetic Process: A Poetry Workshop


In this reading and writing workshop, we will undertake three tasks: to discuss close readings of poems and texts relevant to poetics and the creative process; to find new ways to generate poems of our own through exercises, models, and experiments; and, finally, to workshop our poems for revision purposes. During the semester, we’ll explore the theme of poetic process, always asking ourselves: How do we grow as artists? How do other arts and sciences inform our work? What is the role of the unconscious, of mystery, in both creativity and revision work? In class, selected readings of contemporary, traditional, experimental, and culturally diverse poetry will be discussed—followed by close readings of our own work. Thorough and compassionate participation is expected in classes and in conference. Further readings of essays on craft (prosody) and poetry will be assigned individually in our conferences. An annotated bibliography (worksheet) and a revised, sequenced gathering of 10 poems written this semester in chapbook format are expected before semester’s end. The classroom itself is reserved for exploring, risk-taking, and mistake-making. Please park preconceptions, egos, etc. outside.