Do you ever feel like you just don’t “get” poetry? It can often feel like a secret language only the most culturally refined among us understand, perhaps triggering flashbacks to middle school readings of Beowulf.

But fear not, intrepid writers. Because not only do we offer poetry classes each quarter designed to inspire and intrigue new poets, but this quarter instructor Peter Serchuk is teaching a class for readers AND writers of this elusive art. I chatted with Peter recently about exploring poetry, his upcoming course, and some of his favorite poets.

Writers’ Program: Many people shy away from poetry because they find it intimidating. What do you think is the best way to start exploring poetry?

Peter Serchuk: For most people, their “problems” with poetry began when they were first exposed to poems they couldn’t understand–and struggled to find what seemed to be some secret “meaning.” The truth is that great poetry comes in many forms and the vast majority of it is highly accessible. However, knowing where to look to find it is the key. For the newcomer, that can be a daunting and frustrating task. In my class, it’s going to be easy, because I’m going to introduce students to many great poets and dozens of great poems that will both engage and inspire them.

WP: What sets poetry apart from prose? Can poetry have a narrative? Does it have to? What can you express through poetry that other forms lack?

PS: Poetry is the most concentrated form of literature. It’s language that is “supercharged” in the way it paints a picture, tells a story, or meditates on a particular subject. While fiction is generally story-driven and character focused, poetry is mostly subject or idea driven, although a great many poems also tell a story. If you think of prose as the story of an arrow hurtling towards a bull’s eye, think of poetry as that same experience told from the perspective of the arrowhead.

WP: Who are some of your favorite poets? Any recommended readings for newbies?

PS: There are a great many poets whose work I love and admire. A few of the names we’ll cover in my class include Mary Oliver, WIlliam Stafford, Linda Pastan, Billy Collins, George Bilgere, Tony Hoagland, Lucille Clifton, Richard Hugo and Ted Kooser. Students new to reading and/or writing poetry will find much to love and appreciate in all of these poets plus many others they’ll discover in my course.

WP: What can students expect out of your winter class, Accessing the Power of Poetry: A Workshop for Readers and Writers?

PS: Students can expect to discover a world of poetry they may not have thought existed; poets and poems that speak to experiences they can easily relate to which open new doors of experience and understanding. Through their engagement with these poems, they’ll learn the tools these poets use to create these experiences and see how they connect their personal narratives to larger, more universal themes. For those students writing poetry, the course will provide important tools to help enhance and inspire their own work. It should be great fun.


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