Kate Knapp Johnson

BA, 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–

Undergraduate Courses 2017-2018


A Reading, Writing, Revising, and Working-Hard Workshop

Open , Seminar—Fall

We will open each class with a discussion of assigned texts (Composing Poetry, essays on metaphor and craft, and a variety of poems by others, past and present); however, the focus of the class will be on workshopping your poems. Mistake-making, risking everything, the logic of illogic, the slapping-fresh image, angst, and faith are required. Equally required: attendance in class and conference and a poem a week with sufficient copies for all. Our job, in every workshop, is to try to see the intent of our peers’ poems and to make suggestions, open possibilities, and craft choices that the poet may not have considered. This is a compassionate but careful work; and within this work, we will find ourselves learning, consciously or not, much about our own aesthetics: a gleaning of how we might affirm something of our own, what we never knew we knew; a fine definition of poetry, what we never knew we knew; and how to evoke this unthought known in our work, in our readers. In conference, we will focus on what you most need. Accordingly, I’ll assign poets and books to read. Some will strike the mark; others, less so. Keep a book log of why/how. In conference, we can also discuss your individual writing “blocks” and concerns about your writing process and revisions. At semester’s end, a chapbook of your poems, revised and sequenced, and a responsive journal to your readings (likes, dislikes, influence) will be due.


Awake and Dreaming

Open , Seminar—Spring

A dream is very like a poem, always after the logic of illogic; but a poem is a dream carried into the world. This is to be a poetry workshop, with the focus on your poems; and all sorts of mistake-making, risk-taking, angst, and discoveries are required. At the same time, we will begin each class with discussion and questions about previously assigned readings: How Poets Work With Dreams, Night Errands, Freud on Daydreams, The Practice of Automatic Writing, Surrealism, and a variety of poems as dreams or vice-versa. No, this is not a seminar on dream interpretation! No! Perhaps more importantly, we will together consider our work in the light and shadow of the relationship between the unconscious and the conscious mind, always working as poets towards an impossible balance: wildness and clarity; the “structure” of freedom; “no discovery, no poem”; what a difficult work, what serious play. If facts are no longer the truth, poems attempt to be truthful but are not necessarily factual. Dreams may be difficult to understand, but dreams don’t lie. Artistic growth (including prosody, reading, revising) is, as Cather said, always an approach toward truth-telling. How can we write while standing in such ambivalence? Because ambiguity and the play of dark and light is all the material that poets have. Required: attendance in class and conference; your questions about readings and, especially, your thoughts about poems being workshopped; i.e., compassionate and clear responses to the work of others; and your poems weekly, with copies for all. A chapbook of your work, revised and sequenced, and your continuing book log (journal) of reading and reaction is due before the semester’s end.


Previous Courses

Poetry: The Creative Process

Open , Seminar—Year

The novelist Willa Cather stated that real “artistic growth” is a continuing refinement of our own approach towards “truth-telling.” Emily Dickinson wrote: “Tell all the Truth, but Tell it Slant.” In this poetry workshop, we will read and write, bearing in mind questions about the creative process, metaphor, truth, and truthfulness. Is a fact the truth? Is metaphor a lie? How does telling it “slant” help our poems to evoke or enact rather than state (a poem is never reportage) how and why? We will read and discuss essays on creative approaches to writing; on poetics, prosody, memory (metaphor?), and revision; and also reading a variety of poems across traditions, cultures. and contemporary poets of different styles and aesthetics. To read IS to write! If you are not reading, you are not writing! A workshop is the best place for risk-taking and mistake making. We are here to help one another become better readers and writers, each in our own voices, with passion and compassion. Requirements: class participation, attendance, conference meetings, a “chapbook” of revised poems (no fewer than eight poems per semester), and an annotated book log due each semester.


Poetry Workshop: Poetic Process

Open , Seminar—Fall

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.


First-Year Studies in Poetry

Open , FYS

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.