Prof asks poets to get weird

University of Saskatchewan professor hosts poetry workshop on defamiliarization 

Jeanette Lynes performing at the Kingston Summer Slam in June.
Jeanette Lynes performing at the Kingston Summer Slam in June.

Kingston Summer Slam’s poetry workshop wants poets to get weird.

Jeanette Lynes, the featured poet at Kingston Summer Slam’s poetry workshop, was invited to coach a workshop on the theme of defamiliarization. 

Lynes is the director of the Master of Fine Arts in Writing program at the University of Saskatchewan.

In 2008, she taught a gender studies course at Queen’s as a visiting professor. 

Defamiliarization is a literary theory derived from Russian Formalism. The theory, coined by Viktor Shklovsky in 1917, presents audiences with common things in unfamiliar ways to enhance their perception of something familiar. 

“[Shklovsky] really talks about how art has to displace the world and take it sideways somewhere else to help us see anew,” Lynes said. “Art has to make things strange.”

Lynes said it’s important for poets to inject their work with aspects of defamiliarization, as she does in her own work, to keep their writing interesting. 

“I try to be strange. I guess it’s my way of pushing back against some of my habits as a writer that I’m trying to move beyond,” Lynes said. 

In the workshop, Lynes conducted a variety of exercises with the small crowd of poets that gathered on the third floor of the JDUC on a rainy afternoon. 

In one of exercises, the poets picked a line of Renaissance poetry from an envelope. Lynes then instructed them to use this line as the first line of a poem, which they wrote on the spot. 

The combination of Renaissance and colloquial language is a defamiliarization technique that keeps readers alert, Lynes said. 

“It’s a way of mixing things up so that you can kind of create ruptures that generate energy,” she said. 

Lynes encouraged poets to share the poems they created with the rest of the group, but never pressured anyone into reading their work aloud. 

Many of the poets felt comfortable sharing their words, which Lynes said was her hope in holding the workshop.

“[My passion] is to mentor writers. If anybody leaves a workshop feeling discouraged, I have failed,” Lynes said. 

She’s worked closely with Carolyn Smart, who teaches Contemporary Canadian Literature and creative writing at Queen’s.

From her experience at Queen’s, Lynes said she was impressed with the interest and success of students in the creative  writing program. 

“[Smart] has been an incredible force and mentor for writers for many years. The students have gone on to publish and win prizes and teach writing,” Lynes said. 

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Queen's Journal

© All rights reserved.

Back to Top
Skip to content