Wordsworth first used the term “experiment” to describe poetry in the “Preface to Lyrical Ballads” and in the 215 years since then the metaphor of science has served as an important index of poetry’s changing relation to capitalism, urbanization, technical “progress,” innovation and the Anthropocene.
All arts change constantly. Some do so much more rapidly than others. If we think of a scale ranging from commerce-induced hyper-fashion in pop music or the visual arts to the more glacial transformations one finds in architecture, quilt-making or the blues, poetry traditionally has fallen into a contested middle, torn between one extreme that thinks it flirts with the latest thing shamelessly and another that it perpetually is given to sclerotic reiterations of the past dragged on as habit.
Because the best way to learn is to teach it yourself, much of what occurs in class will center around student-led discussions.
This is a class in writing poetry than seeks to address the nature of change going forward, but it is not a workshop in the usual sense. We will examine how change itself takes place in the sciences and what this can tell us about poetry. And we will examine what the metaphor of experimentation has meant primarily for US poetry since the age of Whitman. Much of what we produce in class will NOT feel like our own writing – this is a good thing. Our goal is not to make ourselves over as the flavor of the week but to gain insight into the relationship between changes in poetry and those in the world that we might make a difference in both realms over the course of our lives.