Today I start a Coursera Modern Poetry Class. I have over 29600 classmates.
It’s a big room.
I’ve always had a hard time with poetry. Except for Billy Collins, Ted Kooser, and William Carlos Williams and a few others, I mostly don’t get it. Over the years a few smart and patient friends have helped me glimpse what I’ve been missing. Those few glimpses have made me hungry for more.
So I signed up for a Coursera course. This one is taught by Al Filreis through the University of Pennsylvania. It’s free to take and so far, even the readings look like they are freely available on the web. The fact that nearly 30,000 people signed up for the ten-week course seems to have shocked everyone, including the instructors.
Why Poetry When There is So Much Real Work to be Done?
Poetry and copywriting are joined at the hip.
I see you rolling your eyes.
Listen: reducing a big idea to the shortest, most succinct nugget that cannot be ignored by a target audience is the heart of copywriting. Yes, it’s true we often waste that succinctifying power on soda and beer and lingerie and the Reliant K-car. But not always: sometimes we write to expose human trafficking and to raise money for refugee crises or to invite people to reconcile with God. All these uses—whether mundane or transcendent—use that succinctifying muscle. Longer-term readers of this blog might argue that whether mundane or transcendent, the work of serving with words is valuable. I agree.
Sharpening that succinctifying muscle is what interests me. I hope that will be one outcome from the course, as I see what poets have succeeded at encapsulating experience into words and phrases. Of course, I’m guessing there will be much, much more to it.