Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Wayne Koestenbaum


Ammiel Alcalay

Committee Members

Ammiel Alcalay

Mark McBeth

Subject Categories

Curriculum and Instruction | Educational Methods | Literature in English, North America | Rhetoric and Composition


Poethics, Retallack, Stein, Elbow, Process, Poetics


This dissertation begins at the crossroads of three fields—creative writing, contemporary poetics, and composition studies—and attempts to unite what is normally kept separate: the teaching of freshman composition and contemporary poetry. It is rooted, then, in the following anomalies: few students (unless they are English majors) encounter contemporary poetry; and few living poets (who often earn their livings as adjuncts, teaching composition) ever engage in a conversation about composition pedagogy. Fewer still teach the kind of poetry they write. Through a qualitative study of student writing in composition courses, this project investigates how encouraging students to engage with this form of experimental poetry results in unsurpassed growth in critical writing and thinking skills, as well as a shift in how students own and value language. I take poet and theorist Joan Retallack’s idea of “poethics” as my frame, and explore how a writing-based pedagogy committed to the fusing of poesis and ethics inspires students to take risks in their writing, abandon traditional modes of meaning-making, and ultimately leads to higher levels of literacy and critical inquiry-driven essay-writing. The goal of this dissertation, then, is to theorize and enact a new pedagogy, one that grows out of a linking between contemporary poetics and composition studies. It presents portraits of composition classrooms in action, ones that embrace contemporary poetry as a method for engaging students in language itself.