This summer the Poetry Society of New York is teaming up with ThinkOlio to bring you the New York City Poetry Festival's first annual Tree Stump University, an outdoor educational venue for adults. ThinkOlio is a Brooklyn-based organization that reinvents adult education by designing innovative, salon-style classes with the best professors all over NYC.
Saturday July 28th 1-3pm
“Epistles: Letter Writing as Art, Advocacy, and Action”
Instructor: Jessica Rogers-Cerrato
Epistles are letters written as poems, providing a tactile sense of intimacy and resonant accessibility, an interplay between internal and external dialogue, reader as recipient and voyeur. For this Think Olio class, we will use selections from Diane di Prima’s Revolutionary Letters as in inroad to the epistolary form. Appearing in various, ever- lengthening editions throughout the 1960s and 70s, these letters are part chant, part warrior cry, part plea, and part instructional guide. If we read these poems as their titles imply, as letters, who then is being addressed? Who is speaking? Di Prima’s work seeks to confront the immediate history of her time while looking forward to ours.
In addition to engaging the personal and historical context of Di Prima’s work, we will also examine a short series of epistles by other poets, including Jack Spicer, Bernadette Mayer, Evie Shockley, and Langston Hughes, and consider recent phenomena such as text message poems and collaboratively written twitter novels. What is the relevance of Epistle form in the digital era? And particularly in a time of political vigilance, when many are organizing letter-writing campaigns to Congress? How might we practice letter-writing as both art and activism?
Finally, using our examples as a flash point, we will free-write on the spot and compose our own epistles. Packets of Di Prima’s poems as well as additional epistles and writing exercises will be provided, as will blank Olio postcards, designed for the occasion, which we will use for our brief free-writing exercise. We will also have on hand the names and addresses of locally and nationally elected officials, public servants, and community organizations, should we want to put our poetic activism to work.
Saturday, July 28th 3:30-5:30pm
“All of a Sudden: Sekou Sundiata and Radical Citizenship”
Instructor: Brian Lewis
How can art, created from shared dialogue and discussion, help us to understand America’s responsibility and power in the world? How can we use the power of poetry to critically contemplate and move beyond America’s guiding mythologies, to construct a radically empowering and new definition of citizenship? These were the questions that guided prolific poet Sekou Sundiata - as he grappled with what it meant to be an engaged and critical citizen in a post 9/11 world. Sundiata passed away in 2007, but his questions remain highly relevant today. This class will explore the life, work and unique methodologies of civic engagement that were pioneered by Sundiata. We will use those methodologies to write, share stories and think/work beyond constraining boxes and labels. Each student will receive a guidebook and double dvd with a “making of” and performance of The 51st Dream State.
Sunday, July 29th, 1-3pm
“The Poetry of Collaboration”
Instructor: Heather O’Neill
We rarely hear painters or musicians talk about the loneliness of the creative life, yet for writers, it’s an assumed part of the job. Collaborating with a writing partner offers benefits beyond companionship; it allows us to discover new ways of approaching art and telling our stories. In this class, we will read a range of collaborative poems—from French Surrealist to the Beat Generation to contemporary poets—to see how writers of the genre maintain their own aesthetic even as they create a unified voice. We will spend part of the class discussing collaborative poems and part working on our own collaborative poems (so bring pen and paper!).
Sunday, July 29th, 3:30-5:30pm
“Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene: The Dangerous Pleasure of Art”
Instructor: Geoff Klock
Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene is an 800-page British allegorical poem from the late 1500s about Christian knights or whatever that nobody reads anymore but we don’t care about that. What we care about this 14 page section, which I am going to give you and go over in detail so you don’t need to know anything about it when you walk in the door, where one of the knights enters into the Big Bad’s pleasure garden and nearly gets ensnared. That part of the poem, called the Bower of Bliss, is more than an adventure story (it’s a terrible adventure story) and more than a great bit of poetry (it is an insanely powerful and influential bit of poetry). It is a tour-de-force intellectual analysis of the relationship between art and morality, illusion and reality, sex and masculinity and violence and pornography and women — one that outshines 100 philosophers and 1000 think-pieces about Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Louis CK, Jeffrey Tambor and Woody Allen. Hot takes are for babies; let’s get a context hundreds of years old for the things that concern us now.