Faculty Interview: Rebecca Ariel Porte on Teaching Poetry

To get our minds off election day for a few moments, we asked BISR faculty member Rebecca Ariel Porte to tell us more about poetry and her approach to teaching it, on the occasion of her upcoming course, Poetry and Poetics: An Introduction. Rebecca writes:

“Poem, poetry, and poet come from the Greek word for making: ??????? (poiesis). But although their etymology seems comfortably clear, they’ve acquired so many diverse layers of meaning that it feels almost entirely irresponsible to talk of these words as if they had a single definition or named the same thing at all times and for all people. And yet, Poetry and Poetics: An Introduction, starts from the premise that if you want to learn about poetry, it’s a good idea to figure out what motivates the attempt to capture and fix the essence of what poetry is, if only because it tells us a lot about what we have needed poetry to be. I got started on the syllabus for this class when students in my Modern Poetry class (which BISR offered earlier this year) expressed a desire to learn more about the history of poetic forms and reading practices. For me, this interest led back to a couple fundamental questions, questions my own scholarship has long pursued: What is poetry? What is it for? And how does one read a poem?

The object of this course is to follow these inquiries, which have their own curious history, where they go. In order to do begin to do that–for we surely won’t reach the end of the conversation–we’ll concentrate on the genesis and circulation of particular forms and genres (sonnets and odes among them) as well as attempts by both poets and scholars to define poetry and its uses in theory and practice. From essentialist accounts of poetry as a linguistic practice (Coleridge’s claim that poetry is “the best words in their best order”) to contemporary visions of poetry beyond language and aesthetics (Oren Izenberg’s idea that poetry names “an ontological project: a civilizational wish to reground the concept and the value of the person.”), this course will examine the nature of forms in history. Classes will unfold via a mixture of close reading, discussion, formal analysis, and brief lectures that will elaborate relevant thematic preoccupations and historical contexts as we contemplate different ways of knowing and reading poetry.”

Poetry and Poetics: An Introduction will begin next week, along with our other November courses.

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