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2014 March 6

Poetry Aloud

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 21:57
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Sometimes on half-hour bike ride into work, I think up new courses that the university “needs”.  Once in a while I get an opportunity to create such a course—sometimes as part of my regular teaching load, sometimes by taking it on as overload.  I have created many new courses over the years.

Sometimes, the course ideas I come up with are ones that I’ve not really qualified to teach. In some cases, I teach myself the necessary material and create the course anyway: the Bicycle Transportation Engineering course I taught once; “The Art of the Book in the Computer Age” on digital typesetting, when it first became cheap and easy enough for people to do their own; algorithms for digital synthesis of music (OK,  I did know enough to teach that one without more study); technical writing for computer engineers; resource-efficient programming; applied circuits for bioengineers; banana slug genomics; …

Sometimes when I create a course students see no need for it, and it dies for lack of sufficient audience (I have done several of those over the decades). Others end up becoming a standard part of the curriculum (the tech writing course I created with a co-instructor about 26 years ago is now taught every quarter—luckily I only taught it for a little over a decade).

But sometimes the course idea is one that doesn’t rise high enough on my priority list and isn’t a good fit with my department.  It is not worth my time to learn how to teach such classes, but what should I do with the ideas for them?

Here’s an example: Wednesday morning, on my ride up the hill, I came up with a course title: Poetry Aloud.  The idea is a simple one—an interdisciplinary course combining 3 topics:

  • Poetics: the study of the structure and technical aspects of poetry, that is, rhythm and meter; assonance, alliteration, and onomatopoeia; formal forms; …
  • Poetic content: metaphor, simile, imagery, emotion, word play, allusion, …
  • Performance: voice projection, gesture, use of microphone, conveying emotion in the voice, timing, stage presence, performing for video, props, …
  • (One could add a fourth component—typesetting poetry—but I think that would dilute rather than enhance the course.)

I’m not thinking of single-genre performance classes (like poetry slams or Shakespearean acting), but of something that spans the gamut from early modern English to the latest song lyrics.

The first two topics comprise a fairly conventional poetry class, and I’m sure that there are courses that include them on campus already.  But I don’t know of any that combine the literary analysis with professional acting skills, to make performance of poetry a central part of the course, along with reading, analyzing, and writing poetry.  I don’t even know how such a course would get created on campus, with the acting teachers and the literature teachers in departments under different deans, located miles apart on campus. Perhaps it would take one of the literature faculty who works as a dramaturge to bring the faculty with the necessary skills together.

This particular course idea is a throwaway one—I’ll never follow up on the idea and will forget it in a week or two. After all, I’ve not written poetry for 30 or 40 years and have never performed poetry.  I don’t plan to start either.

But what should I do with ideas like this that I think (at least for a while) are worth considering, but that I don’t have the skill, energy, time, or resources to pursue?



  1. I need to start riding my bike to school. My 15 minute drive does not give me time to come up with cool ideas.

    Comment by gflint — 2014 March 7 @ 07:35 | Reply

  2. “But what should I do with ideas like this…?” Blog about them, I suppose. ;-)

    The acting and literature departments may be miles apart today, but your course would have found a natural home in the rhetoric faculties of old.

    Comment by Glen — 2014 March 7 @ 17:01 | Reply

  3. I do this too! This week my notable contribution was ‘Common Sense Science’ in which there are 10 modules and you have to only pass 5 to get your grade. The modules would be like ‘boil water’ – and you’d be left alone in a lab and have to find the necessary equipment. This was inspired because my research students like to try to boil water in plastic beakers. Also, another good module would be transferring liquids from one container to another – but the liquid is some awful thiolate, and if we can smell it in the lab after the module, you fail. As you can see, my ideas are more sassy than helpful.

    Comment by Doc — 2014 March 7 @ 17:02 | Reply

  4. […] safety and health: “Cycling: Road to fitness, or accident waiting to happen?” Via the professor who dreams up course ideas while riding his […]

    Pingback by Cyclelicious » Irish ride photos — 2014 March 10 @ 11:58 | Reply

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