Subverting Expectations: Stranger Things, Duende, & Writing into the Upside Down

Subverting Expectations: Stranger Things, Duende, & Writing into the Upside Down


 “…this struggle is not merely to write well-crafted and surprising poems so much as to survive in two worlds at once: the world we see … and the world beyond or within this one that, glimpse after glimpse, we attempt to decipher and confirm.” —Tracy K. Smith

The underbelly is the vulnerable spot. It could also be the dark spot, the seamy place, the liminal margins. This is the place we are most helpless, most in need of defense. And yet, this is where, in the poem of duende, we must confront.

In Stranger Things, the Netflix sci-fi/horror throwback, the children and adults must both contend with the Upside Down, a parallel world distorted, a shadow world askew … The boys in the show describe it as “a place of decay and death, a plane out of phase, a [place] with monsters. It is right next to you and you don’t even see it.”

In this workshop, we will more than see it. We will create poems that are maps to the hidden creatures in our society, our psyches, our pasts—membrane-thin strings connecting the outer shells with the inner viscera of our collective and individual histories.

Subverting expectations of the poems, ourselves, and the world around us, we will locate and (re)create maps to the underbellies, to the duende world where madness and abandon often eclipse logic and where, as Tracy K. Smith writes, “skill is only useful to the extent that it adds courage and agility to intuition.”

Join Jennifer Givhan as guide into the Upside Down, where our craft skills will help us unleash our inner beasts to battle with the beasts already residing breath-on-the-back-of-the-neck close. Read poems by Tracy K. Smith, Federico García Lorca, Danez Smith, Natalie Díaz, Rachel McKibbens, and many others, ruminating on techniques to inspire the duende within each of us, building poems that, vinelike, creep and ensnare two worlds at once: our heart and its parallel, side by side, mirroring and distorting one another, casting shadows upon each other, so that together they create a new w(hole).

January 7-February 3, Online

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Teaching Artist


Jennifer Givhan

Jenn Givhan, a National Endowment for the Arts and PEN/Rosenthal Emerging Voices fellow, is a Mexican-American writer and activist from the Southwestern desert. She is the author of four full-length poetry collections: Landscape with Headless Mama (2015 Pleiades Editors’ Prize), Protection Spell (2016 Miller Williams Poetry Prize Series edited by Billy Collins), Girl with Death Mask (2017 Blue Light Books Prize chosen by Ross Gay), and Rosa's Einstein (Camino Del Sol Poetry Series, forthcoming 2019). Her two novels, Trinity Sight and Jubilee, are forthcoming from Blackstone Press. Her honors include the Frost Place Latinx Scholarship, a National Latinx Writers’ Conference Scholarship, the Lascaux Review Poetry Prize, Phoebe Journal’s Greg Grummer Poetry Prize chosen by Monica Youn, the Pinch Poetry Prize chosen by Ada Limón, and seven Pushcart nominations. Her work has appeared in Best of the Net, Best New Poets, Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, Ploughshares, POETRY, TriQuarterly, Boston Review, AGNI, Crazyhorse, Witness, Southern Humanities Review, Missouri Review, and The Kenyon Review, among many others. Givhan holds a Master’s degree in English from California State University Fullerton and an MFA from Warren Wilson College, and she can be found discussing feminist motherhood at as well as Facebook & Twitter @JennGivhan.