Poetry gets a bum rap. For many, the subject conjures up unpleasant memories from high school English and the panic felt when asked by the teacher, "What does this poem mean?" Others feel poetry is simply over their heads; a sort of sport for only the most intellectual among us who can decipher a metaphor or write in iambic pentameter.
To help students shake some of these notions, two of Minnesota's most recognized poets, Deborah Keenan and Jim Moore, will teach Poetry 101: Reading and Appreciation on Saturday, November 10 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. This intensive daylong course offers students the chance to explore poetry in a warm, welcoming environment. Keenan and Moore will guide students in using various tools helpful to enriching their understanding and enjoyment of poetry. Students will quickly discover they need not be a professional scholar or critic to develop an excellent ear for poetic composition.
Although poetry is one of the oldest surviving art forms, it is still often misconstrued as being difficult or that it has to rhyme, making people think of nursery rhymes and not something worth their time as grown-ups, Keenan explains. "I assume these ideas come from people with power and various pulpits saying these things, from teachers who don't care about the art form, from parents who don't care to share this art form with their kids...I mainly feel that people make jokes and act contemptuous about poetry because somewhere in their lives someone made them afraid of it."
But Moore contends that poetry isn't something to fear; rather it is something to enjoy in the way any art form is that people already know and love. "Poetry is meant to be a pleasure...like listening to music," he explains. "...It offers the same challenges, comforts, irritations, and inspiration that music does...it offers a way to be in the world...that attempts to link the personal experience of the poet to the larger world around him or her, through image, metaphor, sound, and rhythm. I hope that at least some of the poems Deborah and I bring in by a range of poets will break through that sense that poetry is too difficult or arcane to read."
Both Keenan and Moore agree, however, that because poetry is a richly varied genre it is unlikely a person would enjoy all, or even most, poetry. This speaks to one main benefit of a co-taught course such as this: two perspectives, Moore says. "This should make it absolutely clear to the people in the class that poetry is subjective."
"Having two poets in a room teaching will add layers of intensity, complexity, disagreement, and mixed points of views which should enrich the experience," Keenan adds. "I think Jim and I are choosing poems to share that we believe are approachable, emotionally resonant, smart, funny, human documents. I hope folks take [this] course for the pleasure of it, and if they resist some poem choices, they enjoy how Jim or I present them and discuss them. Usually by the end of any class, students who were indifferent to poetry have found at least a few poems that they truly value."
Complete course details and registration information can be found on the LearningLife website.
Keenan is a professor in Hamline University's bachelor of arts (creative writing), master of fine arts in writing, and master of liberal studies programs. She also teaches at The Loft Literary Center and privately. Moore teaches regularly in Hamline's master of fine arts in writing program and at Colorado College. He is a current Guggenheim Fellow in poetry, is a PushCart Prize winner, and has previously served as a mentor in The Loft's mentor program. These accomplished poets have each authored several collections of poetry and won numerous awards for their work. In 1984, Keenan and Moore collaborated on the poetry book, How We Missed Belgium, which won a competition for collaborative text from Milkweed Editions.