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Poetry Education or Educating the Poet

By Harriet Staff

Over at the Rumpus, David Biespiel is being inundated. “All of a sudden my inbox is filling up with links from friends to two essays related to poetry that have almost everything and nothing in common at once, and whose implications say a lot about how the art of poetry gets re- or de- artified.” And what essays is he talking about, pray tell? Dorothea Lasky’s recent essay in the Atlantic (reported on here) and Elizabeth Bishop’s not so recent essay (1983) from the New Yorker. Both essays address, in different ways, themes of education and poetry.

Lasky’s writing is efficient, heartfelt, and professional. It identifies with a movement in American education dating back to John Dewey that one learns by doing. It praises poetry to the skies, and so I give praise to Lasky for praising poetry in so prominent a venue as The Atlantic.

Bishop’s writing is blowsy, sarcastic, precise as thread through a needle, warmly familiar to anyone who knows her poetry, and disarmingly common-esque, like a handsome frock. It identifies with a tradition in American literary experience dating back at least to Walt Whitman that one writes by living, by extracting language from experience and experience into language. Her essay embodies the idea that formalizing experience into a literary entity transforms lived life into a universe of new meaning and into what we call a poem.

Biespiel takes a close look at the essays and thinks about the traditions in American education and poetry each one addresses. Ultimately, he says this, “But, looking at these two pieces side by side, here’s what I say:…” We’re not going to spoil it for you! Make the jump to find out what side he leans toward.

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Posted in Poetry News on Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012 by Harriet Staff.