Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky on Poetry
By Emily Jaeger, Features Editor
Boston University’s The Art of Poetry Video Repository allows those with a thirst for all things poetry to learn about the masters from Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky. An archive of videos recorded for Pinsky’s EdX and Massive Open Online course (MOOC), The Art of Poetry is a free portal to mini-lectures, discussions, poetry and music performances, and readings. In each clip, Pinsky exudes his passion for the written word and he performs each line with a trained, mesmerizing diction. This is poetry how it’s meant to be read.
The site is clearly part of a wider trend to share the goings-on of universities with communities outside of academia. MIT, Stanford, UC Berkeley, Yale and Oxford, to name a few, post free recordings of many of their courses and lectures online. The Art of Poetry is unique because of the high quality of the videos both in terms of sound and visuals. The length of the videos also differs from a typical recorded lecture: most clips are easily digested in under five minutes and don’t require the time commitment of a full class period.
The lecture-ette on Gilgamesh, “What is Great,” is a quintessential example of what The Art of Poetry has to offer. In a short introduction to Gilgamesh, Pinsky discusses scale and tension in epic poetry:
“Once you have a scale that includes history, peoples, the fates of cities, and once you have an indelible, memorable rhythmic effect, you can change the subject…you can move from part to part…after that first tablet of Gilgamesh, you wonder what else could happen now?”
Although he is describing a poetic technique in Gilgamesh, he also provides insight into his own poetry and shares an element of craft the viewer could use in their work. Pinsky’s analysis and his enthusiastic reading highlights the relevant, contemporary tools within this ancient text.
The format of the site, however, does have some room for improvement. While The Art of Poetry boasts a searchable system of poet, poem, or topic, it is not clear that one should only use one filter at a time. Trying to use multiple filters always results in zero hits. Additionally, the text on the home page is a bit muddled. The headings for video type (lecture or conversation) mask the video titles. Finally, while the site aims to be a resource for all, “The videos are meant to address the needs and interests of teachers, students, and anyone interested in the art of poetry,” subtitles would expand accessibility.
Nevertheless, in a spare moment, visit The Art of Poetry and explore. There’s much to admire here: stepping into Pinsky’s classroom never fails to inspire and delight.
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