Poetry and Political Feeling – Some more thoughts

The goal of this course is to learn to use poetry to train ourselves to relate to the society we live in in a deeper, broader, and more nuanced way.  What does this mean?  Why would it be necessary?

A few thoughts might help here:

• Many people seem to imagine that activists are loud, shrill, angry people who shout all the time.  Or, to say this a bit differently: many people seem to imagine that political life only allows room for a narrow range of quite shallow feelings: simplistic anger; self-righteousness; childish resentment; and so on.

•  This is why the media can get away with portraying political protests as childish tantrums, where everyone shouts self-righteously, and nobody listens.  Even activists are tempted to feel this way sometimes.  It’s as if there were no mature way to care about politics – as if caring about politics automatically meant caring in a simplified or self-serving way.

• But what if we tried to re-imagine political life as an opportunity to develop deeper, more complex emotions and feelings?  What if we thought of activism as a chance to learn to care about ourselves, about others, and about the society we live in a deeper, more nuanced, and ultimately more powerful way?

Okay; so we want to learn to feel political in a more nuanced way.  But how would we go about teaching ourselves to do this?

• The Occupy movement has taught many of us that one of the best ways to learn something is to come together with others who also want to learn it.  Specifically, to come together to learn in an open, non-hierarchical environment, where we try to share our best thoughts and feelings while being more or less decent to each other.  This course is meant to be a space for that.

• Poetry is one of the best tools we have for teaching ourselves to experience things more richly and rigorously.  “Close experiencing” of good poetry can help us to become sensitive to a greater range of feelings: to feel new, more subtle feelings, and to better reflect on how we experience those feelings.  By reading, experiencing, and sharing our political responses to powerful poetry, we can learn to care about the society we live in new and better ways.

So this course is going to proceed on the assumption that by reading, experiencing, and sharing our responses to powerful poetry, we can learn to care more intelligently and deeply about the society we live in.

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