October 6, 2014

Robert Pinsky launches an Art of Poetry MOOC and thousands sign up


Former Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky is teaching a MOOC.

Former Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky is teaching a MOOC.

Former United States Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky is teaching an eight-week MOOC (massive open online course) through Boston University and EdX this fall, and more than twelve thousand students have signed up for the course, which began on September 30. The course is named “The Art of Poetry” and the syllabus promises to offer an experience that is “demanding, and based on a certain kind of intense, exigent reading, requiring prolonged in fact, repeated attention to specific poems.”

Some of the poems covered and discussed include Frank O’Hara’s “Why I Am Not a Painter,” “Nick and the Candlestick” by Sylvia Plath,  “To Waken an Old Lady” by William Carlos Williams, “The Fascination of What’s Difficult” by William Butler Yeats and a couple contemporary poems like “Enough” by Katie Peterson. Pinsky says that “this course is based on the conviction that the more you know about an art, the more pleasure you will find in it” and rather than studying a specific school or time period, each week is dedicated to a pairing or collection of themes like Difficulty and Pleasure, Freedom and Meaning, and Teasing, Flirting, and Courting.

Form and the relationship between poetry and music will also be discussed, and Pinsky says that the subject matter is uniquely suited to a digital and online format:

“Poetry, for me, is a vocal art—but in the voice of any reader, not necessarily a skilled performer’s voice, not necessarily the poet or an actor,” Pinsky says. “And as an art, poetry has a central place not only in school curricula, but in the culture as a whole. The online, digital medium is excitingly well suited to that combination of vocality and wide cultural reach.”

Pinsky will be available for video office hours via Google Hangout on Thursday, October 16, from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. EDT and Wednesday, November 19, from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. EST.

More than half of the students who have signed up to take the class live overseas. “It’s partly an attempt to create something that doesn’t feel provincial,” Pinsky told the Boston Globe. “It feels global.” Boston University is working with EdX, a non-profit created by Harvard and MIT whose mission is to “bring the best of higher education to students of all ages anywhere in the world, wherever there is Internet access.”


Claire Kelley is the Director of Library and Academic Marketing at Melville House.