What is Poetry? Poetics, Language, and Feeling

Instructor: Joseph Earl Thomas
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

What is poetry, and what is it good for? Today, poetry is often pronounced dead. Yet at the same time, we remain, to cite the New York Times, “poetry curious.” We sense, as Aimé Césaire sensed, that poetry encompasses some “greater feeling” that goes uncaptured by scientific classification and explanation. For Audre Lorde, poetry is that “illumination,” which is “already felt,” and yet “formless, about to be birthed.” But how does poetry work? Why is it structurally so different from prose, and what does that have to do with its capability to illuminate, to convey and express notions and sensations otherwise inexpressible in ordinary, practical language? The critic David Orr says poetry is “beautiful and pointless.” But doesn’t poetry have a point?

In this course, an introduction to Poetry and Poetics, we’ll develop our own languages for thinking and feeling with poetry. We’ll examine the formal characteristics of poetry, different poetical modes and devices—from epic to lyric to free verse—and the reception and uses of poetry across time and space, paying particular attention to our contemporary moment. What is (and was) the relationship between poetry and politics, or for that matter, social life? How does poetry move us beyond the scope of Cartesian thought and closer to human experience? Readings will be drawn primarily, though not exclusively, from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, and may include poetry and essays from Percy Bysshe Shelley, William Blake, Aimé Césaire, Audre Lorde, Lyn Hejinian, Myung Mi Kim, Charles Bernstein, Adrienne Rich, Douglas Kearney, and Simone White, among others. 

Course Schedule

Monday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
April 10 — May 01, 2023
4 weeks


Registration Open

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