“Why Is Poetry Relevant?” Flash Essay Assignment

Salvador Dali illustrates Montaigne’s “Of Vanity” (1947)

Class: Writing Poetry (Virginia Commonwealth University)

Genre: Poetry

Purpose: To encourage students to look for the relevancy of their studies to culture; to consider the effects that poetry has on readers; and to explore their own motivations for seeking out poetry instruction.

Readings: Poetry‘s July/August 2014 issue that includes poems by Dean Young, Philip Fried, D.A. Powell, Traci Brimhall, Devin Johnston, Rosanna Warren, Amanda Calderon, Thomas Sayers Ellis, Rickey Laurentiis, Timothy Donnelly, and Alice Fulton

I’ve asked my students to write at least 500 words on “Why Is Poetry Relevant?” after they read Poetry‘s July/August 2014 issue this weekend. On Thursday, we talked a little bit about our expectations for what poetry is, can be—that many people believe that poetry was something impenetrable and written a century or more ago. My hope is that they will investigate this question on their own and arrive at a diverse conclusions on why poetry is relevant. With that, I’ll point you back to the opening of my Writing Poetry course description as a clue for this assignment’s motivations:

American poet C.D. Wright once wrote: “If I wanted to understand a culture, my own for instance . . . I would turn to poetry first. For it is my confirmed bias that the poets remain the most ‘stunned by existence,’ the most determined to redeem the world in words.” In this course, we will hold poetry to this noble standard, as an amplifier for the voices in our culture and an invocatory rendering of our world.

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