Monday, August 19, 2013

Poetry and the gateway experience

Years ago, I read several articles and reports about cultural participation, especially deep engagements or disengagements with the arts. According to a few different reports, people who hold long-time memberships at museums, for instance, tend to have had early positive "gateway" or introductory experiences at that or similar institutions. If you ask those people about notable experiences they had at museums, they'll likely mention at least one fond childhood or early memory of visits with their mother, father, some other relative, or an important teacher who guided them in appreciating the art.              

Conversely, talk to people who are largely disengaged from museums. They will likely have no gateway experience or a negative one that helps explain why they are distant from such institutions. At the start of new semesters, I often think about the writings about gateway experiences and engagements in the arts.

By the time college students reach my courses, they have little experience with African American poetry, and they often have little or not-so-positive experiences with formal poetry in general. My class is usually the first time that they will cover more than a dozen poets in a single course.

I do not want to make my classes too easy in the sense that no serious learning takes places. At the same time, I don't want to make the course so challenging that I ruin the opportunity for students to have positive engagements with black poetry. Finding a balance between accessibility and challenge is an ongoing puzzle for me, one that I have begun looking forward to addressing each semester.

If students from my classes are still actively engaging poetry a decade from now, I'm saying to myself before entering my classes in this opening week, it will be in part based of some positive experiences that occur this semester. No pressure, eh?    

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