Poetry from the edge
Time: 12:30 - 14:30
This course will be delivered online. See the ‘What is the course about?’ section in course details for more information.
Course Code: HLT39
Duration: 11 sessions (over 12 weeks)
What is the course about?
We will explore how the work of some great poets was directly influenced by the various kinds of marginalisation they experienced. Our initial guide is Elizabeth Bishop who wrote calmly brilliant poems through much of an extraordinary life (erratic childhood, great inherited wealth, lesbian sexuality, suicide of long-term partner, heavy drinking). She is followed by her friend, Robert Lowell, who suffered repeated manic-depressive episodes, eventually rendered into 'confessional’ poetry, and by two of his students, Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, who also suffered recurrent episodes of mental illness and wrote ground-breaking poems.
A different kind of isolation was experienced by Philip Larkin who endured a fascist-supporting racist father and an emotionally isolated life in Hull to write quintessentially English poetry; and Stevie Smith who, though living in London, was emotionally isolated and expressed this in highly original poems such as ‘Not waving but drowning’. Looking more widely, we will follow Derek Walcott’s progress from St Lucia in the West Indies to the Nobel Prize for Literature 1992; and Wislawa Szymborska who, within the constraints of committed membership of the Polish Communist Party, wrote poetry that won the Nobel Prize for Literature 1996.
This is a live online course. You will need:
- Internet connection. The classes work best with Chrome.
- A computer with microphone and camera is best (e.g. a PC/laptop/iMac/MacBook), or a tablet/iPad/smart phone/iPhone if you don't have a computer.
We will contact you with joining instructions before your course starts.
What will we cover?
To extend this range, we will look at three poets from similar backgrounds: Seamus Heaney from a Catholic farming family in Northern Ireland (a minority of a minority in the UK) who wrote powerful explorations of the historical tensions in Ireland during a period of murderous violence and won the Nobel Prize for Literature 1995; Les Murray from working-class origins in rural Australia, strongly committed Catholic and republican, also a homophobe; who may be the greatest poet Australia has produced; and Bob Dylan (Robert Zimmerman), a songwriter from small industrial town in Minnesota; influenced initially by Dylan Thomas (hence his surname) who has grappled with reclusiveness and won the Nobel Prize for Literature 2016.
Finally we will look at two outstanding contemporary poets: Alice Oswald with her fierce rejection of modern urban life and her strong focus on nature and the Ancient Classical world; and Ocean Vuong, a Vietnamese immigrant into the USA as a child who is gay and has overcome great difficulties to write beautiful poems.
What will I achieve?
By the end of this course you should be able to...
• Understand how a wide range of poets responded to their geographic, political or emotional isolation
• Appreciate these poets’ power and originality
• Enjoy reading and discussing many fine poems.
What level is the course and do I need any particular skills?
You should be interested in modern poetry. No particular knowledge or skills are needed.
How will I be taught, and will there be any work outside the class?
The sessions are run in a seminar style with all students included in discussions led by the tutor and some small-group discussions with feedback. You will receive copies of the poems the previous week so you can read them to be ready to discuss them.
Are there any other costs? Is there anything I need to bring?
No. Copies of all poems will be provided.
When I've finished, what course can I do next?
Look for all poetry classes at www.citylit.ac.uk/History, Culture and Writing/literature/poetry.
Laurie Smith has taught poetry writing and literature courses at the City Lit for some years, focussing on modernism and writers' radicalism. He researches and lectures at King's College London, helped to found Magma poetry magazine which he sometimes edits and has been a Trustee of the Poetry Society.
Please note: We reserve the right to change our tutors from those advertised. This happens rarely, but if it does, we are unable to refund fees due to this. Our tutors may have different teaching styles; however we guarantee a consistent quality of teaching in all our courses.