As a reader of early modern poetry (Milton, Philip and Mary Sidney, Shakespeare), I share with my students the challenge of coming to a version of the English language far removed from the diction and rhythms of our own contemporary speech. This is the direct inspiration for my course “Writing the Renaissance.” In this course, students engage the poetry of Donne, Herbert, Shakespeare and others through writing and workshopping early modern poetic forms, such as the aubade, the holy sonnet, the dedicatory poem, the pastoral, and more. Additionally, reading in community is at the core of any class I teach, whether an Early Modern literature course or an Intro to Creative Writing course. In An Experiment in Criticism, CS Lewis discusses an engaged reading practice in terms of the reader inhabiting a larger world: “My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others.” I want my students to take on this task of seeing others through the alien language of Elizabethan and Jacobean poets—or through the fresh usages of language found in contemporary poetry.
I keep myself open to new ways of implementing creative conversations in the classroom. My course Hybrid Writing Animals, an Intro to Creative Writing class, includes a digital art exhibit of listicles (list+articles), a form my class used for mixed-media memoir writing. As one of the final projects for an Intro to Poetry class I taught, my students wrote micro-reviews of small press, contemporary, poetry chapbooks for online publication at The Duke Review. I also encourage physical engagement in both reading and writing texts. For example, my Devil in Lit freshman seminar class staged a performance of Paradise Lost, Book 6 to better understand Satan’s positionality in the text, and the dramatic exits and entrances taking place in Milton’s epic poem. In the most recent Intro to Poetry class I taught, I sent my students to the Nasher Art Museum to write ekphrastic poetry for their midterm assignment. I also took my Intro to Poetry class to the Sarah P. Duke Gardens to write outdoors several times. I want my students to be physically engaged with art and literature, long after they leave my classroom. I want them to remember the kind of poetry they wrote in Duke Gardens, surrounded by nature (this assignment turned my class into nature writers!).
A lesson I continue to learn in the classroom is that when you give students the tools they need to deeply and creatively engage with challenging texts, the results reflect their engagement. Whether it’s an essay on depictions of Satan in John Milton’s Paradise Lost or an ekphrastic poem inspired by another work of art, students in my class learn to read, write, and create in community because that is what they do in (and out) of my classroom. My aim is to facilitate their surprise in the content they are learning and the many possible ways that they can creatively engage that content.