Published in 2007 by Teachers & Writers Collaborative, Structure & Surprise: Engaging Poetic Turns is the first book of poetry writing pedagogy to focus on the poetic turn as a significant element in poetry and a signficant aspect in terms of crafting poems.

A turn is a major shift in a poem’s progress.  As Randall Jarrell says in “Levels and Opposites: Structure in Poetry,” “a successful poem starts in one position and ends at a very different one, often a contradictory or opposite one; yet there has been no break in the unity of the poem.”  And more than almost any other element of a poem, it is the turn which marks and engages such transformation in poems.

Organizing poems not according to their form but rather according to their structure, or the pattern of their turning, Structure & Surprise offers readers new categories of poems, which in turn offer new ways of conceiving of, reading, and writing poems.

Poet and president of the Guggenheim Foundation Edward Hirsch says that Structure & Surprise is “an immensely helpful book of turns and illuminations, a book on structure that is full of surprises.”

Poet and former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins says that Structure & Surprise is “a smart collection of takes on poetry’s most essential maneuvers–those swivelings, swervings, and veerings that send poems off in unexpected directions.”

Structure & Surprise‘s contributors include some of today’s most interesting poets and critics: Christopher Bakken, Michael Theune, Mary Szybist, Mark Yakich, D.A. Powell, John Beer, Corey Marks, Jerry Harp, Prageeta Sharma, Francisco Aragon, Mary Jo Bang, Denise Duhamel, Eric Gamalinda, Peter Gizzi, Gabriel Gudding, Timothy Liu, Jeffrey McDaniel, Susan Mitchell, Patrick Phillips, Wang Ping, Susan Wheeler, Elizabeth Willis, and Rachel Zucker.

Editor Michael Theune is an active poet and critic.  He teaches English at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, Illinois.

13 responses

29 04 2009
Drew Byrne, Esq.

I don’t quite know precisely what all this ”poetic turning” is all about, as I only have two o’levels in English (both grade C), but still, it’s all very interesting…and probably means something or other.

29 04 2009
Mike Theune

I hope you’ll check out more of the blog, Drew– You might begin with “The Structure-Form Distinction” (under “Theory & Criticism”) to orient yourself. And, as always, feel free to leave comments/questions. Best, Mike

23 07 2010

I’ve bookmarked your site and intend to visit it often. You are doing fine work — and very much needed.

28 07 2010
Mike Theune

Excellent! Thank you very much, Larry!

26 09 2011
Dan Rosenberg

Hi Mike — love the blog. And I thought of your crusade to elevate the turn as I was looking over issue 2 of Transom (which, full disclosure, I co-edit): Part of what grabbed (and stuck with) both my co-editor and me about this Gregory Lawless poem is the hard turn at the end: http://www.transomjournal.com/issue2/Lawless/Lawless2.html Thought you might enjoy.
All best! -Dan

26 09 2011
Mike Theune

“…and when
she is older she
will hardly
ask me anything.”

Lawless’s turn IS stunning, Dan–thank you for pointing me to it! In the next few months, I hope to lauch an effort to get a number of poets, critics, editors, and teachers to identify and discuss such striking turns. You and Gregory just made my list! Cheers!

1 10 2011
Matthew Luzitano

This site has been an infinitely helpful resource for me!

2 10 2011
Mike Theune

Thanks for the kind words, Matthew! Keep coming back–!

6 12 2011
Robert Freedman

Dear Mike,

I must tell you about my experience with what I call the “Book of Turns.” I’m well into my 70’s, and, although I didn’t write a poem until my late 40’s, I have managed to have a few things published–but those bursts of inspiration are followed by months and years of plodding, unsatisfying work. Last night I started to review some of the turns in your wonderful text, and today I edited a poem that I was about to discard: and I’m back baby! Once I realized from your book what I should have been smart enough to infer earlier, I was able to “assign” a turn, and suddenly everything came pouring out just as it had in the fertile past. Thank you so much for providing paths for my many lush but somewhat meaningless poems!! Maybe now I’ll have a chapbook before I make that final turn.


7 12 2011
Mike Theune

Thanks for telling me this, Bob–your story is music to my ears! I’m so glad that you’ve found turns to be so helpful, so productive. Onward!

17 03 2013
David Groff

What a smart and useful site and book–such an abundance of insight and information!

17 03 2013
Mike Theune

Very kind of you to say, David–thank you! And keep coming back–!

20 10 2016
Structure & Surprise – English Lit Geek

[…] Structure & Surprise: Engaging Poetic Turns […]

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