(Free!) Online Poetry Class

The University of Iowa’s International Writing Program is offering a free, online poetry class, otherwise known as a MOOC. Each week we will listen to two video lessons and write poems based on suggested exercises.

Former poet laureate Robert Hass opened up the lecture series with a talk about writing poetry 1, 2, 3, and 4-line sketches. Rather than explain everything he says in the video, which was wonderful and inspiring, I will direct you to the blog of one of my classmates, Minal Hajratwala, a very accomplished writer in her own right. She has outlined the entire lesson and found links to the many poems Robert Hass cites (often from memory)–thank you, Minal!

The part of the lesson that inspired me the most has to do with “Bantu combinations.” According to Hass, while Bantu men were working together, one would call out a line.

The example he gives is: “An elephant was killed by a small arrow.” 

The second person calls out: “A lake dries up at the edges.”

The idea is to find a similarity between the two images, but a surprising one. Here the connection is that the edges of a dried up lake resemble the elephant’s skin. 

Some of these Bantu combinations, which previously existed only as spoken word, have been collected by Jerome Rothenberg in Technicians of the Sacred: A Range of Poetries from Africa, America, Asia, Europe and Oceania. 

Here’s the four-line sketch I wrote for the exercise:

Hiking up Pigeon Hill on Little Kennesaw Mountain

Profiles of ancient women line the boulders

Where, in blues and grays, Missourians shot each other

Behind earthen battlements, a yellow-petaled cactus.

Hiking up Pigeon Hill on Little Kennesaw Mountain

 

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