BY PATRICK PISCITELLI, PROGRAM COORDINATOR
We are in full swing with the fall semester at OLLI at OU, and we could not be happier about it! We have another wonderful semester, full of exciting and engaging classes offered by the University of Oklahoma’s top faculty. Each semester, we strive to provide original and appealing courses to our OLLI members, and this semester, we are offering a totally new course, or should we say – club: OLLI’s first Poetry Club, led by David Anderson.
David has taught many classes for OLLI, includingWorks of William Shakespeare, Tragedy: From Classical Athens to Renaissance London and co-led last year’s OU Book Club. He is a treasured member of the OLLI community, and our students cannot get enough of him, which is why so many members are eager for his poetry club.
I had the opportunity to ask David some questions, regarding his upcoming class and preferences about poetry.
Patrick: What led you to offer a Poetry Club for OLLI at OU?
David: I’ve taught a lot of “book” classes for OLLI, and also co-taught a book club last year. These are fantastic because they let us step back and discuss a novel, play or epic poem as a whole, zooming in on whatever passages interest us at the moment. But focusing closely on a small work is also an important and highly satisfying way of approaching literature. The poetry club will allow us to look closely at a small number of lyrics, ballads or dramatic monologues and get a very sharp sense about what (we think) the poet is doing.
Patrick: Have you previously led a poetry club within OU?
David: I teach a lot of poetry and really enjoy close reading. I think the students enjoy it, too. My own scholarly work is what’s called “historicist,” meaning I interpret literary texts in terms of their historical context. But I think close reading is an invaluable skill that any critic or reader should cultivate. It’s like the carpenter’s hammer—the most basic, and therefore important, tool in the tool kit.
Patrick: What aspects of this class are you most excited about?
David: I’ve come to have a great respect for the analytical (and argumentative) skills of OLLI students. I have no doubt that when they’re let loose on a poem, they’ll see a lot of things that I don’t. I’m going to learn a lot. But I promise that if I ever borrow one of their arguments in a scholarly article, I’ll give them a footnote.
Patrick: What is your favorite genre of poetry?
David: Too close to call. I suppose it would be lyric poetry (perhaps that of the Metaphysical poets), but that’s a huge category. My period is the Renaissance, but I also love the 19th and early 20th centuries. Nothing contemporary, if I’m being honest.
Patrick: What are your top three favorite poems and why?
David: The list could change tomorrow, but for now I’ll suggest [Philip] Larkin’s “First Sight," [Robert] Browning’s monologue “A Death in the Desert,” and John Donne’s “Valediction: Forbidding Mourning."
Patrick: Will participants write poetry as well as read it?
David: No. Some of my undergrads have experienced the panicked look that hits my face when they ask me to read their original work. It’s not what I’m good at. Happily, there are creative writing teachers to whom they can go with that sort of project. This club will be about appreciating the great masters.
I became even more intrigued after speaking with David and hearing about the many dynamic aspects that will be incorporated in this club. This will be an incredible opportunity to learn more about poetry and experience the benefits of “close reading.”
OLLI’s Poetry Club will meet once a month starting October 6, 2014, and ending May 4, 2015. Each meeting will take place 5:00 – 6:30 p.m. The club will be set in a larger classroom, so if you have not enrolled yet, there is still time and availability!