The Sophomore Poetry Lessons by Eva Whitney

For the six weeks preceding Winter Break, the Creative Writing Department focused on poetry. We split into Creative Writing One and Creative Writing Two, or, more simply, the underclassmen and upperclassmen. In Creative Writing One, we spent the majority of the six weeks reading from The Discovery of Poetry, a poetry anthology edited by Frances Mayes. All sixteen of us would sit around a big table as if we were about to have a grand feast, and, with the hum of Creative Writing Two in the adjacent room, we dove into sestinas and sonnets and villanelles from an assortment of poets, contemporary and ancient. It was truly like the poems we read fed us! I felt full of words and ideas after each class.

The poetry unit allowed me to get back into the swing of writing as we wrote a poem nearly every night. Circling around that grand table and hearing how each person interpreted the prompt the day after was always fascinating, and I found myself able to finally find the same joy in poetry that I found last year and lost over the summer.

For the first week of December, at the end of our six weeks of poetry, the sophomores of the Creative Writing Department taught poetry lessons about our cultural heritage to our fellow sophomores and the freshmen. We heard lessons about Chinese Communism, Korean Commu- nism, the Beat Generation, Russian Communism, and Immigrants. A sophomore would bring in an array of poems of their choosing and we would discuss them and pick them apart, and even write in conversation with them. It was a way to learn about each other better, as well as hear po- etry that the six of us find beautiful and fascinating.

In my lesson, I hoped to introduce Zen Buddhist poetry to my peers as an approachable section of poetry. Buddhism is often revered for its difficulty, but many do not realize how accessible the religion, or even just its core practices, can be. I brought in poetry by Gary Snyder, Ikkyu Sojun, Philip Whalen, Stonehouse, Jane Hirshfield, and Ryokan. I created pairs of poems, alternating between a contemporary Buddhist poet and an ancient one. The poems of each pair were connected somehow; I did this in hopes of showing how constant Buddhist values are and how even poets from four centuries ago could share the same experiences or have the same ideas as a living Buddhist poet.

Teaching this lesson and experiencing my peers’ lessons was entirely rewarding. Know- ing that I may have made a slight impact on one of the students fills me with a simple joy! Zen Buddhism has been such a large part of my childhood, and now young-adulthood, so to share it with my peers was a special experience. It took some strength on my part to constantly share my ideas and keep everyone engaged, which is not something that comes naturally to me, but after- ward, I was glad I persevered. Watching my classmates do the same impressed me immensely, and allowed me to see them as real, capable people with interesting backgrounds.

Eva Whitney, class of 2020

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