Can poetry be taught?

From The Paris Review: W. H. Auden, The Art of Poetry (interviewed by Michael Newman):

INTERVIEWER

Have you ever taught writing?

AUDEN

No, I never have. If I had to “teach poetry,” which, thank God, I don’t, I would concentrate on prosody, rhetoric, philology, and learning poems by heart. I may be quite wrong, but I don’t see what can be learned except purely technical things—what a sonnet is, something about prosody. If you did have a poetic academy, the subjects should be quite different—natural history, history, theology, all kinds of other things. When I’ve been at colleges, I’ve always insisted on giving ordinary academic courses—on the eighteenth century, or Romanticism. True, it’s wonderful what the colleges have done as patrons of the artists. But the artists should agree not to have anything to do with contemporary literature. If they take academic positions, they should do academic work, and the further they get away from the kind of thing that directly affects what they’re writing, the better. They should teach the eighteenth century or something that won’t interfere with their work and yet earn them a living. To teach creative writing—I think that’s dangerous. The only possibility I can conceive of is an apprentice system like those they had in the Renaissance—where a poet who was very busy got students to finish his poems for him. Then you’d reallybe teaching, and you’d be responsible, of course, since the results would go out under the poet’s name.

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One thought on “Can poetry be taught?

  1. My very wise freshman composition teacher said that she refused to make us write poetry — for our sake, but mostly for her own sake. I remember being very disappointed at the time, but over the past dozen or so years of homeschooling four boys, I have learned the hard way that she was wise.

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