Poetry, Pedagogy, and Public Engagement (NeMLA 2019 Roundtable)
Public humanities scholar Doris Sommer argues that “learning to think like an artist and an interpreter is basic training for our volatile times.” She encourages teachers to involve students and community members in artistic practices—writing poems, performing skits, sharing music—in order to build critical literacy skills. Like many poets, poet-critics, and poet-teachers, Sommer describes aesthetic engagement as a way to produce critical insights and cultivate political community. According to this view, poetry invites or occasions experiences that alter readers’ perspectives. What we experience as we interpret a poem changes the way we interpret elements of everyday life. And these altered or enhanced perspectives open up new political possibilities. As Muriel Rukeyser observes in The Life of Poetry public audiences fear poetry for just these reasons. Because poems invite a “total response” that merges emotion and intellect, they induce experiences of vulnerability. This vulnerability strikes some readers as too dangerous to sustain. By contrast, it strikes Sommer and others as a building block for personal and political transformation.
This roundtable aims to merge insights about the public usefulness of poetry with pedagogical lines of inquiry introduced in Joan Retallack and Juliana Spahr’s edited collection Poetry and Pedagogy. Specifically, the session proposes to examine strategies for using poetry as a pedagogical tool to engage public audiences in experiences of shared vulnerability and critical discourse. Informed by Retallack and Spahr’s insight that reading is a “making of meaning as significant as the act of writing,” the roundtable will foreground strategies that position students, faculty, and community members simultaneously as writers, readers, and political agents.
Please submit your 200 word abstract and short bio at https://www.cfplist.com/nemla/Home/S/17509.