Keats’s great poem, “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” ends with the pronouncement, “Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty, that is all / Ye know on earth and all ye need to know.” Rilke’s sonnet, “Archaic Torso of Apollo,” ends with the injunction, “You must change your life.” How does art speak to us? Poets have been endlessly inspired to give words to what is silent in a painting, sketch, or sculpture. We will consider some of the best-known examples of poems (by Keats, Rilke, Auden, and others) responding to a range of kinds art (ancient and modern), in addition to a number of wildly inventive contemporary examples. We will spend time looking (virtually) at works as diverse as Hopper’s “Nighthawks,” Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and Joseph Cornell’s boxes, and discuss some of the poems they have inspired. Although this is not a writing course, we will experiment with a few writing exercises to find our ways into the strategies used by poets over the years.
Jennifer Clarvoe recently retired from Kenyon College, where she taught courses in poetry, creative writing, and literature about art. A prize-winning author of two books of poems, she is completing a third. She lives in Somerville, Massachusetts. https://www.jenniferclarvoe.com/