Fiction · 07/24/2019

Rubric/Grade Scale

Every poem should have eight lines, two stanzas. Perhaps one stanza, six lines, should the topic call for it (see last week’s handout). Three stanzas may be acceptable, as can twenty. None, if you can do it. Point is, if the poem doesn’t work, failing grade.

Punctuation marks count for half a point, each. However, semicolon and ellipses usage will result in mandatory in-service training on style.

Olfactory images, ten bonus points. Tactile images with fierce personal reference, twenty. Extended metaphors with political connotations, thirty.

Persona poems that conjure forth the other — meaning, anyone not you — will result in expulsion from the program.

Epic poetry (with or without couplets) will result in a meeting with the Medieval Studies department chair and a forced internship.

Limericks, haiku, tanka, pantoums, most sonnets, some villanelles, and half of the sestinas will be sequestered and given to the authorities. Failing grade.

More than one simile per poem and you will be excused from workshop for two weeks. When you return, you are barred from commenting to other students for the rest of the semester. Extra-credit will be made available upon request.

Grading of work that mentions race, class, sex, or gender is a sliding grade scale, a subjectively based system that I can’t discuss without a lawyer or the Title IX coordinator in attendance.

Line breaks that make no sense will be spliced into the line that follows or proceeds, and a forty-point deduction will be taken.

Enjambment must feel like the reader has fallen off a bridge, a sharp object plunged into the hardest point of the jaw, an anvil to the soft head, a truck smashed right to the flabby gut. Anything less will result in two extra weeks of class (taught by the TA) and a drop in grade.

Poems containing mention of the colors yellow, red, blue, and purple will be put aside for a thorough cliché check. Minus fifty points. Use of the colors mikado, glaucous, wenge, and fulvous will result in mandatory therapy visit (see counseling office for details).

Clichés with pennies (or any other coins), time, hope, and/or flowers? Failing grade.

Poems that tell a coherent, interesting story about something truly lived will result in a tribunal conducted by your peers, all of whom were recently rejected by no fewer than twenty journals that wouldn’t have paid them anyway.

Dogs? Divorce? Depression? See me after class.

Poems that don’t include a large spacing in at least two random lines for no apparent reason will be failed.

Poems in the shape of a flower, boat, or pumpkin will be sent to the local preschool. No rewrites.

Poems with multisyllabic words will not be read and given a failing grade.

Poems that make sense to only one workshop member, include references to philosophy or Japanese sexual positions, and that will be published in the student journal. A+.

Joke poems (please include cats and cucumbers) will also be published in the student journal. A+.

No sloths. Period.

Inability to write a poem? See me next semester. Inability to write? Join the club, all of us sitting in small, uncomfortable chairs on the porch looking out into the nothingness of our private, blank imaginations.

Don’t ask me how to write. Find something you love and cherish, an idea, a person, a sound that makes you feel alive again. Sit down, close your eyes. Open them. Write. Type. Talk. Put the poem into the world in the way it emerges. Lay it on the page as if putting a sleeping child down for a needed nap — for you and the babe. Sit back. Stare at that child. Love the tears and snot and wet diaper. Sigh into your own purpose. Close your eyes. Wait for the baby to stir, for she will. She will need tending. More tending.

Fail anyway.


Jessica Barksdale’s fourteenth novel, The Burning Hour, was published in 2016. Her poetry collection When We Almost Drowned was published in March 2019 by Finishing Line Press. A Pushcart Prize and Best-of-the-Net nominee, her short stories, poems, and essays have appeared in or are forthcoming in the Waccamaw Journal, Salt Hill Journal, Tahoma Review, and So to Speak. Wigleaf named her flash piece “Knock, Knock” as one of their Top 50 for 2019; the story was also included in Best Microfiction 2019. She is a Professor of English at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, California and teaches novel writing online for UCLA Extension and in the online MFA program for Southern New Hampshire University.