November 12, 2019

A Master Class

The "Master Class" is something I associated with acting, but now there are ones on many of the creative arts, especially online. In his MasterClass on "Reading and Writing Poetry," Billy Collins covers some of the basics like subject and form, rhyme and meter. But you can tell (even in this excerpt) that he's more interested in the pleasures of a well-turned poem.

Collins is one of the best-selling contemporary poets in the United States. That works for and against him with critics who sometimes see his persona and humor as almost "too accessible." I think they are wrong.

Besides being called “America’s Favorite Poet” by the Wall Street Journal, he served two terms as U.S. Poet Laureate and is also a former New York State Poet Laureate. He’s been honored with the Mark Twain Prize for Humor in Poetry. He’s taught at Columbia University, Sarah Lawrence, and for much of his life at Lehman College, and is a distinguished professor at the City University of New York.

The MasterClass syllabus reads:
• Using humor as a serious strategy
• The fundamental elements of poetry
• Billy’s writing process
• Turning a poem
• Exploring subjects
• Rhyme and meter
• Sound pleasures
• Finding your voice
• Using form to engage readers
• The visual distinctions of poetry

There are other MasterClass offerings that might interest poets: Neil Gaiman teaches The Art of Storytelling, Margaret Atwood on Creative Writing, and even David Lynch on Creativity and Film.

Of course, these classes have a cost, but there are lots of free "classes" online too. Just staying in the Collins section of YouTube, you can hear him on the great poets.

Five of Collins' poems were the inspiration for animated films, which might seem like an odd way to look at poetry. Here he talks about the films in a TED Talk.

If you're like me, any good poetry reading is a kind of class. I always find myself inspired and making notes at readings of things that I should try to write about in my own poetry.

Here is a full reading by Billy Collins at the Strand Book Store in 2012 at the time of his collection Horoscopes for the Dead. If you have never had the chance at hearing Collins live, this is a good alternative. I think you may be inspired to write.

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