This is a lecture I gave at a program called Saturday University at Sheridan College in Sheridan Wyoming, on February 6, 2016 , sponsored by the University of Wyoming and the Wyoming Humanities Council. Saturday University asks three experts (usually UW professors) to talk about something in their fields. I was teamed with an immigration lawyer who spoke on immigration law and how it affects Wyoming, and a biologist who talked about polar bears and climate change. The organizers of Saturday U asked me to do something that made poetry less intimidating for intelligent, thoughtful non-poets. I have always thought that people jump to “meaning” too soon with poetry. When they do this, they will often say that they don’t understand it, or assume that the poem has some sort of arcane and hidden meaning. Poetry becomes more accessible if we think about it the way we think about painting; that is , as a visceral and aesthetic experience. We think about the ways that color and line, light and shadow create those experiences when we think about painting. When we experience (not read) a poem, we think about word choice, imagery and figurative language among others. If a poet does things right, the actual words on the page will create the visceral and aesthetic experience, and readers will not fixate on whether or not they understand the poem because they will feel it.
How Poetry Means
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Jane Elkington Wohl’s two books of poetry, Beasts in Snow and Triage, reflect both her attachment to the landscape of the American West, and her awareness of the larger events in the world. She has taught at Goddard since 1995. She also teaches at Sheridan College, in Sheridan, Wyoming. She finds that writing and teaching are interconnected activities. She finds the stimulation of working with engaged students develops her own work. Writers, whether students or teachers, use writing to examine and engage with the events that happen around us in the world. She won the Wyoming Arts Council Fellowship in 1996 and 2006.