A Touch of the Poet

A rainy night, many years ago, I struck up a conversation with a stranger at a bar. He wore checkered pants and an oversize jacket, reminding me of Rodolfo, the poet in the opera La Bohème. Turns out, he was a poet by profession (though it’s never been easy to make a living as a poet, and well-nigh impossible now).

At the time I wasn’t really aware that poets existed, aside from the occasional famous person haunting the pages of the New Yorker or the towers of academia. But I liked the idea of talking to a poet over a drink, which made me feel as if I too were in the middle of La Bohème (opera being much more familiar to me, then and now, than poetry).

He asked me if I had any favorite poets. I cited two favorite writers, whom I knew from their plays and stories, though both would certainly qualify: William Shakespeare and Edgar Allan Poe. The stranger told me I had picked the poet with the best ear and the tinnest ear. Which is which? I asked, unsure of the answer. He informed me Shakespeare was the best, Poe the tinnest. I felt bad for Poe (who had enough troubles in life), but I began to see the difference between Poe’s predictable sing-song and Shakespeare’s natural-as-a-heartbeat assurance.

Years later, when I began working at Gotham, I was astonished to see that almost half the teaching resumès that came in were from poets, even though Gotham does only a handful of Poetry classes per term. As I began meeting poets at Gotham, I came to see that they were some of the brightest and most fascinating people around.

In fact, one day I was talking with Gotham teacher Britt Gambino about how we could entice more people into taking our Poetry courses. Which, we reasoned, would be helpful to all writers, not just poets. And then…an idea was born.

We created a new Gotham course In(verse): Poetic Techniques for Non-Poets. We steal the age-old secrets from poets (sound, rhythm, figurative language, imagery, economy, white space, even some magic) and show writers how to use these techniques on everything that is not poetry: fiction, scripts, blogs, standup comedy, and so on. It’s one of our more intriguing course selections, and we’re offering it next as a One-day Intensive in NYC on Saturday May 14.

And while we’re on the subject, Gotham has all kinds of classes starting the first two weeks in April, in NYC and Online. Join us this spring for the romantic life of a writer.

Finally, Happy 400th Deathday, Mr. Shakespeare. Way to endure!

Alex Steele

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