UD English professors explain how learning to read and write poetry benefits all students
John Ernest, chair of the Department of English at the University of Delaware, wants to bring poetry to life, so sometimes he’ll start his classes with a dramatic reading of a poem.
On more than one occasion, he’s arranged for someone — usually someone with some acting experience — to come into his classroom unannounced, launch directly into a dramatic reading of a poem, and then leave. The practice, Ernest said, helps students to realize the full life of poetry specifically (and literature in general) in what otherwise is a very formal, academic setting.
“The shock of that moment and the drama of that moment sets us up for talking about the poems that we’re reading in class in a different way,” Ernest said. “The students can start to hear the ways in which there’s an urgency in this poetry, that this is not just an academic subject, and so that helps them to then appreciate why it is that we’re taking the trouble to learn how to read literature and how to read analytically or critically.”
Being able to read, analyze and write poetry teaches students to communicate and speak on a different level, Ernest said.
“It’s almost like when you’re trying to tell somebody how much you love them and the language just doesn’t seem adequate to account for what you’re actually feeling,” he said. “Poetry hits at those moments where you need to have much more packed into what you were saying — many more levels operating at once.”
Poetry isn’t just limited to workshop classes. Indeed, poetry is a regular topic in almost all literature courses at UD, said Ernest, who will often use poetry to launch the theme of a class.