On Wednesday, November 16, I gave the lecture “It’s Alive: Why Poetry Still Matters” at Rutherford Hall in Allamuchy, New Jersey. Here are the materials for that talk:
This talk also transformed into my November 2016 blog post for Ploughshares, “Truth & Dread: Why Poetry Still Matters & The Risk of (Too Much) Empathy”:
Can the act of empathy, learned from literature and poetry, become an act of appropriation when we take it to our lived lives? This is a question I haven’t been able to answer. Each of us is not a sun around which others revolve; we cannot, like black holes, pull everything into us without risking erasure, of others, of ourselves. Perhaps more than the practice of empathy, poetry offers us the opportunity to listen, and not just in the way that it appeals to the same areas of the brain music stimulates, and not just in the way that we can hear the cadence and rhythm and sounds of poetry. Perhaps poetry offers us the opportunity to hear its many speakers, to not so much as internalize each of their voices and experiences as to confirm them, to say, you are you, you are a voice, I hear you.
The front page of the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet from the 2nd of January 1905. (Published before 1923 and public domain in the US.)
Intro to Creative Writing
Matthew Olzmann’s Mezzanines
Mayor To Homeless: Go Home
Stabbing Disrupts Anger Management Class
Missippi’s Literacy Program Shows Improvement
One-Armed Man Applauds the Kindness of Strangers
Statistics Show That Teen Pregnancy Drops Significantly After Age 25
Federal Agents Raid Gun Shop, Find Weapons
- Pick one of the (real) headlines above as the title of your poem.
- Now begin to write a narrative poem about the situation that provoked the headline.
- Go back and read what you’ve written. What else does it remind you of? (The first thing that comes into your head.) Start writing about that.
- Go back and read what you wrote about the second thing. What does that make you think of? Write about it.
- Is there a way to get back to the first story? Is there something else you missed in the first story? What images connect across each of these stories? How are the motives of the characters different? How are they alike?
- Try to work your way back there.
- End the poem with an image from the first story.