Massive Open Online Course begins June 28
Friday, May 9, 2014

The International Writing Program (IWP) has announced the University of Iowa’s first creative writing MOOC (Massive Open Online Course): How Writers Write Poetry, now open for enrollment.

The free six-week course (June 28-Aug. 9) will include discussions and workshops, as well as craft talks by more than 20 contributing poets, including former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass, Kwame Dawes, Kate Greenstreet, Kiki Petrosino, and Shane McCrae.

The course is part of a new University of Iowa MOOC series: How Writers Write: Talks on Craft and Commitment; a fiction writing course will launch in September.

How Writers Write Poetry will be guided by poet and IWP director Christopher Merrill and by Mary Hickman, poet and editor of Black Rainbow Editions. Twice a week, Merrill and Hickman will introduce and contextualize two short video “craft talks” by contributing poets and assign a writing prompt to MOOC participants. Merrill and Hickman will be supported by a team of teaching assistants, all MFA graduates with substantial experience in teaching poetry.

In the course discussion forum, Hickman, the teaching assistants, and the MOOC participants will examine points raised in the craft talks. The IWP expects to draw an international roster of users, so the teaching assistants will maintain an active presence in the discussion forum around the clock to support ongoing interaction in all time zones (though the course’s working language is English). Participants will be invited to post their poetry for discussion, and each week Hickman and the teaching assistants will workshop a representative collection of the submitted poems.

“The response to our first MOOC was terrific,” says Susannah Shive, IWP distance learning coordinator. (More than 2,000 people enrolled in Every Atom: Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself in February.) “We were thrilled by the participants’ deep engagement with the subject and one another in the discussion forum, and we’re especially excited to offer How Writers Write Poetry participants the opportunity to bring that energy and commitment into workshops of their own poetry.

“Workshopping hasn’t really been done in the MOOC world yet, and we’re confident we’ve figured out how to make it work.”

For those interested in poetry, but shy about submitting their own work for critique, Shive has this advice: “How Writers Write Poetry is an interactive study of how a poet develops and refines the lifelong practice and craft of poetry—it’s ideal not only for poets, but also for those interested in reading and learning more about contemporary poetry. We’ve structured the discussion topics to welcome readers as well as writers, and you can participate in workshops without submitting your own work.”

The course, taught in English, is free and open to anyone with an Internet connection. To enroll, visit

The MOOC series How Writers Write: Talks on Craft and Commitment is made possible by a grant from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and by the University of Iowa, and hosted by the Virtual Writing University with the goal of encouraging global academic and creative exchange.