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The 2019 TCNJ Summer Institute for English Language Arts Educators- Day 3

The English Department at The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) is offering a summer institute for English language arts teachers on “Teaching Poetry (without Fear).”  The four-day institute provides 20 hours of professional development, covers a wide range of topics, and is taught by TCNJ faculty.

Day 3: Sonnets: New Takes on an Old Form 

July 17, 2019

facilitated by Prof. Jo Carney

Ever since English writers borrowed the sonnet from Italy in the 16 th century, it has been
among the most popular of all poetic forms: from Shakespeare to Milton to Wordsworth to
Robert Frost, poets across the centuries have worked within the confines of “fourteen lines of
iambic pentameter” and a prescribed rhyme scheme. Poets today are still drawn to the sonnet,
but often in innovative, transformative, and subversive ways.

We will begin with an overview of the sonnet as it emigrated from Petrarch’s Italy during the
Renaissance up to the twentieth century, considering its many variations in internal
mechanics and subject matter. Along the way, we’ll try our hands at some writing exercises
that help us appreciate the possibilities and challenges of working within such a
circumscribed form.

Once we’ve understood the rules, we will proceed to break, blow, burn, and make them new
with the guidance of several contemporary poets. We will read Jen Bervin’s Nets, a book of
erasure poems that challenges both the form and content of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. We will
also read Terrance Hayes’ recent collection, American Sonnets, which expands conventional
notions of what sonnets are about and explores the radical potential of a conservative form.
In addition, we will read a variety of sonnet appropriations by other contemporary poets,
including Jericho Brown, Meg Day, Shane McCrae, Dean Young, and others. These poems
will model ways for us to revisit the sonnet with “radical respect” through our own writing
and through exercises that can be taken back to the classroom.
Texts: Jen Bervin’s Nets and Terrance Hayes’ American Sonnets.

Jo Carney

Jo Carney (Facilitator Day 3)

Jo Carney’s most recent books are A Biographical Encyclopedia of Early Modern
Englishwomen and Fairy Tale Queens: Representations of Early Modern Queenship. She
has also published articles on Renaissance and contemporary fairy tales, Shakespeare, and
Early Modern queenship. Professor Carney teaches courses in contemporary literature, the
literary fairy tale, Shakespeare, and Early Modern British literature.

Return to Institute Information

Day 1: Poetry Tool Kit by Prof. Diane Steinberg

Day 2: Practicing Confidence Through Approaching the Unknown: Contemporary Poetry in the Middle and High School Classroom by Prof. Laura Neuman

Day 4: Language and Poetry: from the Page to the Stage by Prof. Felicia Jean Steele

Register here:

For more information about registration, contact George Hefelle (
For more information about the institute’s curriculum, contact Glenn Steinberg (