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Robert Pinsky’s PoemJazz Sessions

Noted poet teams up with a trio of musicians for poetry MOOC

On an evening last March, a crowd of people filed in to Boston Playwrights’ Theatre on Commonwealth Avenue to hear Robert Pinsky, the former three-time US poet laureate and College of Arts & Sciences professor of English and creative writing perform with jazz musicians Laurence Hobgood, Stan Strickland, and John Lockwood. As they entered the stage, Pinsky made clear why they were there. “We’re here for cameras,” he said. The event was being shot for The Art of Poetry, a MOOC (massive open online course) taught by Pinsky that was offered this fall. The course was developed as part of BU’s Digital Learning Initiative (DLI) in collaboration with edX, the online learning platform of which BU is a member.

The 15,380 participants who enrolled in The Art of Poetry were treated to more than 80 newly produced video segments, totaling 240 minutes or approximately a half hour of material per week throughout the course. The subjects ranged from form, to freedom, to sonnets, to music and poetry. For the latter segment, the poet wanted to include an example of PoemJazz, a form of performance art that treats language as another instrument in a jazz combo.

“In the sometimes needlessly tangled discussions about poetry and song lyrics, reading and performance, music and poetry,” says Pinsky, “I hoped to offer something useful, simply by presenting an example like Ben Jonson’s wonderful 17th century poem, “His Excuse for Loving,” by itself, and also along with some contemporary, American music.”

While his own poems are frequently taught in poetry courses across the country, Pinsky chose not to include any in his MOOC. But those in attendance at the live taping last March were in for a treat: in addition to performing Jonson’s poem, Pinsky and the trio also performed five of his own poems, all of which are featured on his 2014 CD collaboration with Laurence Hobgood, PoemJazz.

Here, presented for the first time in its entirety, are the complete The Art of Poetry PoemJazz sessions.

“His Excuse for Loving” by Ben Johnson. Photo by Kelly Davidson

“Street Music” by Robert Pinsky. Photo by Kelly Davidson

“Antique” by Robert Pinsky. Photo by Kelly Davidson

“Ginza Samba” by Robert Pinsky. Photo by Kelly Davidson

“Samurai Song” by Robert Pinsky. Photo by Kelly Davidson

“The Hearts” by Robert Pinsky. Photo by Kelly Davidson

After the performance, all four performers stayed for a question and answer session. Three segments from the Q&A were edited and presented as material for The Art of Poetry.

Q&A 1: Consciousness, Relearning How to Read

Q&A 2: Spontaneous and Reactive

Q&A 3: Scatting and Basketball

Devin Hahn, Producer/Editor, BU Today, Bostonia, Boston University
Devin Hahn

Devin Hahn can be reached at dhahn@bu.edu.

One Comment on Robert Pinsky’s PoemJazz Sessions

  • Mike T. on 11.18.2014 at 7:46 am

    Amazing! I wish I had been there.

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