ENGL 366, Writing and Social Change: Poetry

Faculty: Kristin Reed
kreed at vcu dot edu
HH 5106
Location: Richmond City Jail, Thurs. 12:30-3pm

About Open Minds | Reading Schedule | Assignments | Prison Ed Resources

This course explores the ability of poetry to communicate experience across wide boundaries. It meets at the city jail and will offer enrollment both to VCU students and to city jail residents. We will read texts from a diverse set of writers who all use language to translate personal perspectives to an audience that is otherwise inaccessible due to limitations of language, geography, or cultural boundaries. Imprisonment is fundamentally a limitation of access—of inmates to the outside world and vice versa. During our meetings our class we will be afforded a rare exception to this rule, and we will use that time together as an exercise in the particular challenges and joys of a free exchange of ideas.

Our class is framed around one central question: can poetry instigate change? In search of an answer to this, we will explore the ways language impacts us or others, the power we have when we tell stories, our responsibility as storytellers, and the evolving role of poetry in public discourse. We will read works by, Langston Hughes, John O’Donohue, Paul Muldoon, Jane Hirshfield, Pablo Neruda, Bob Kauffman, Vijay Seshadri, Elizabeth Bishop, Pedro Pietri, Saphire, Margaret Walker, Bob Hicock, and others. Our readings will be selected predominantly from twentieth and twenty-first century writers, and we will supplement poetic works with essays on the role of language in understanding our lives and environments.

Participants will create portfolios of approximately six poems and several short writing assignments that are not only statements of personal experience, but testaments to mutual impact and to language as a product of community. This class will not be a traditional writers’ workshop. Our goal is not publication. We will use poetry as an exercise in dialog: in confronting and understanding ourselves, our environment, and one another. This work will demand an awareness of our context, a capacity for honesty, and a genuine interest in the experience of others. It will treat poetry not solely as an aesthetic experience, but also as an ethical one. VCU students be warned: City Jail inmates are diligent students and voracious readers. Our colleagues at the jail and I will demand you arrive at class on time with a close familiarity with the reading.

questions, contact kreed at vcu dot edu

Image: The Poetical Works of John Milton, adapted by Ronald Johnson during the creation of Radi os.
MS 66, Box 10, Folder 1, Kenneth Spencer Research Library.