Poetry News

If Anthropology Isn't Useful to College Students in Florida, Is Poetry?

By Harriet Staff

This article from the Miami Herald highlights Florida governor Rick Scott's "results" forward approach to course prioritization in his home state. It also makes its author, and a few of the poets teaching at these universities wonder what Scott might think a poetry course has to offer students.

From the article:

If anthropology fails the cost-benefit test our governor intends to apply to higher education, one can only imagine his chagrin as Florida State University students file into Barbara Hamby’s class.

Poetry, sadly, has not been one of the great economic engines in the state of Florida.

Rick Scott has demanded that Florida universities evaluate courses for their economic worth to the state. By whether they’ve met the needs of the state’s employers. By the wages graduates earn. “I have always believed that the only way to ensure increasing levels of performance is by measuring outcomes by using objective, data-driven criteria,” Scott warned the presidents of Florida universities last week.

He told reporters he thought anthropology wasn’t worth a student’s time (or the state’s money.) Anthropologists, at least, have the prospect of employment outside academia. God knows what he thinks of poets.

“I’m teaching an honors seminar on the letters of poets this semester, so I can imagine what the governor would make of my class,” Hamby, a notable poet in her own right, said Wednesday via e-mail. “We started in ancient Greece and we are finishing up with the Beats.”

Somehow, it’s hard to imagine that either the Greeks or the Beats or in between would quite jibe with Gov. Scott’s cost-benefit analysis. Her students, Hamby said, were studying “Emily Dickinson’s sublime Master Letters. I doubt if Dickinson ever earned a dime in her life. In fact most of the poets we are reading struggled with money problems, but it didn’t stop them from having rich lives.”

And, here, Sidney Wade offers a cheeky defense:

But Sidney Wade, the University of Florida poet professor, mounted a defense of poetry classes, an economic argument that even our governor could embrace. “When my students and I write poems, we write drafts of them first. Reams of paper are used up in the ongoing drafting of poems. Every time we make a change to a poem, even if it’s only a single word, the whole page must be printed out again. This sometimes results in 40 or 50 versions, and for my students, of whom I require 12 poems per semester, well, you do the math. And I’m only one of many professors of poetry in the state of Florida.

“I’m not even mentioning printer ink, or Starbucks. Why, if he cut poetry writing out of the curriculum, Starbucks would take a major economic hit, as students invariably come to class armed with a venti and during break run out for another one, and this doesn’t even include the billions of dollars spent on Starbucks during the long nights my students are drafting their poems and running through their reams of paper, all semester long.”

Wade, in her e-mail Wednesday, wrote that poetry students also churn through an endless supply of yellow legal pads. And pencils. “The pencil businesses, traditional and mechanical, would suffer terribly if poetry writing classes were deemed insufficiently worthy and cut from the curriculum.” She predicted an outcry from paper companies. “Walmart’s office-supply division honchos would begin applying the pressure as well.”

Wade talked postage spent as her student’s mail their entries off to book contests and literary journals. “Why, the timber industry itself would find itself in economic jeopardy if we lost our aspiring poets. Ask Governor Scott if he cares about the timber industry, why don’t you?''

Originally Published: October 24th, 2011