I will be teaching a 300-level course on poetry through the English department this spring semester. It will meet at the city jail, and enrollment will be open to VCU students and Richmond City Jail residents. See the course description below.
I’ll be recruiting students for the course early, because we will need to complete some fall orientation to allow students to enter the jail. Send me an email if you’re interested! firstname.lastname@example.org
Image: by Graysky on Flickr. 13 May 2010. Creative Commons.
This course explores the ability of poetry to communicate experience across wide boundaries. It meets at the city jail, and will offer enrollment both to VCU students and to city jail residents. We will read texts from a diverse set of writers who all use language to translate personal perspectives to an audience that is otherwise inaccessible due to limitations of language, geography, or cultural boundaries. Imprisonment is fundamentally a limitation of access—of inmates to the outside world and vice versa. During our meetings our class we will be afforded a rare exception to this rule, and we will use that time together as an exercise in the particular challenges and joys of a free exchange of ideas.
This class will not be a traditional writers’ workshop. We will use poetry as an exercise in dialog: in confronting and understanding ourselves, our environment, and one another. This work will demand an awareness of our context, a capacity for honesty, and a genuine interest in the experience of others. It will treat poetry not solely as an aesthetic experience, but also as an ethical one.
Our class is framed around one central question: can poetry instigate change? In search of an answer to this question, we will explore the ways language impacts us and others, the power we have when we tell stories, our responsibility as storytellers, and the evolving role of poetry in public discourse. We will read works by, Langston Hughes, John O’Donohue, Paul Muldoon, Jane Hirshfield, Pablo Neruda, Bob Kauffman, Vijay Seshadri, Elizabeth Bishop, Pedro Pietri, Saphire, Margaret Walker, Bob Hicock, and others. Our readings will be selected predominantly from twentieth and twenty-first century writers, and we will supplement poetic works with essays on the role of language in understanding our lives and environments.
Participants will create portfolios of approximately 6 poems and several short writing assignments that are not only statements of personal experience, but testaments to mutual impact and to language as a product of community.