Reading poetry – at Yale or at home

Reading poetry: join a Yale lecture series online or read a good book at home

The Poem and the JourneyA story in last week’s Guardian alerted me to the availability of Yale University’s course on modern poetry online. There are twenty-five lectures to watch, handouts, book lists and even a final exam you can take (though I don’t know if anyone will mark it for you). This is all very commendable, though so far I’ve only had time to watch part of the opening lecture by Professor Langdon Hammer. It has the feel of a genuine lecture, complete with pauses, hesitations and more. No doubt this is deliberate (and anyway much easier than creating broadcast quality material) – but I’m not sure how far this would sustain my interest over a long period. Still, lets not complain – there’s even a session on ‘World War I Poetry in England’ that it might have been good to have seen before I finished my own study guide on this topic!

I’ve also finally opened the copy of Ruth Padel’s The Poem and the Journey that I bought last year. I much enjoyed the introduction – erudite but engaging – and her readings of the first three poems. It strikes me as a book to read in short bursts: there’s enough in the comments on each poem to last a while and I don’t want to suffer from dyspepsia (which shows I’ve caught something already – Ruth Padel is a classics scholar as well as a poet and critic). The book is peppered with interesting references, such as Coleridge’s division of readers into four types. The best is a “Moghul diamond… who profits by what they read and enables others to profit by it too”. “Sand-glasses” remember nothing of what they read, merely passing the time; “strain-bags” remember “merely the dregs of what they read” and worst are “sponges”, who “absorb all they read and return it nearly in the same state only a little dirtier”. Oh dear – not only have I read quite a lot of ‘strain-bag’ commentaries but now I’m worried I’ve written some as well!