When I walked into my poetry workshop on the first day of the fall semester, I was not surrounded by people who had been writing poetry for their entire lives. I was not even surrounded by a room full of English majors. At the time, I was not an English major either—I was considering sociology. That’s the beauty of a liberal arts education: you may find yourself in a poetry class while pursuing a degree in something as different as astrophysics. Throughout the semester, I watched my classmates’ beautiful poems begin to reflect their passions, many of these passions being academic. I also noticed that, without even realizing it, my own poems were tying into discussions I’d had in other classes, and that I was subconsciously grappling with ideas from these discussions and gaining a better understanding. The first time we read our poems aloud, one of my classmates read a poem about a spider crossing a keyboard, and the whole second stanza was written in computer coding. Being someone who has never taken computer science, I was utterly confused by what this code meant, but another one of my classmates’ eyes lit up. He was in her computer science course, and the two of them had clearly been tackling this kind of coding in a recent class. By positioning this tricky concept within her poetic thoughts, my classmate was able to form a more comprehensive understanding of the subject matter. I personally brought a lot of themes that I was struggling with in my sociology class into my poems, as it helped me to consider societal characteristics and inequality using my own voice. To further elucidate this point about how poetry can beneficially reflect academic interests and vice versa, I have collected some wise words and works from my classmates. This Ars Poetica, or poem about poetry, was written and used with permission by Isaiah Keyes, and the second stanza helped him to think through concepts he was learning in class while pursuing a major in Astronomy.
Ars Poetica by Isaiah Keyes
Wrought iron letters over a packed dirt road
Have a strange way of making me feel small.
Was Adorno right? “Perennial suffering has as much right to expression
As a tortured man to scream,” he claimed
As justification for the horrible thing he said before.
Looking through a telescope at Saturn,
Spinning through nothingness,
Makes me feel tall.
Maybe it’s parallax,
The fact that I’m close to this horror but a long way from that beauty.
Do I have to reconcile the two?
Can I be aware of each independently,
Pretend that one makes the other impossible?
Sometimes it’s just too hard to justify
A love for the beauty in each.
I also discussed the inverse of this phenomenon—how a liberal arts education can impact one’s poetry—with my classmate, Kyle Griswold. To this point, Kyle stated:
“Of course there is a connection between poetry and liberal arts studies. Poetry has a hand in all things, and all things have a hand in shaping poetry. In my work, I use the knowledge that I have gained through my Psychological studies to accurately inform and describe those human emotions that have been shown to exist universally. From the Classics, I gain connection to past poets such as Homer, Plato; I can make allusions to infamous myths in order to convey ambiance that might otherwise not be able to be captured correctly. Conversely, students may be able to connect more to poetry if they know the small, painful details poets use to allude to stories and people that add depth and meaning to their work. I would argue that a liberal arts education is essential in order to become a well-rounded poet or reader of poetry.”
Overall, both poetry and a liberal arts education are such valuable tools for building a solid, comprehensive understanding of the world and achieving the ability to grapple with thoughts through language. I feel certain that taking poetry on top of my other courses was an essential component of my learning experience and solidified my ability to express my knowledge.