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We read the verses of one of the great English poets, of Chaucer, of Marvell, of Dryden, with the most modern joy, -- with a pleasure, I mean, which is in great part caused by the abstraction of all time from their verses. There is some awe mixed with the joy of our surprise, when this poet, who lived in some past world, two or three hundred years ago, says that which lies close to my own soul, that which I also had well-nigh thought and said.

Ralph Waldo Emerson
“The American Scholar,” 1837

Poetry is either something that lives like fire inside you – like music to the musician or Marxism to the Communist – or else it is nothing, an empty, formalized bore, around which pedants can endlessly drone their notes and explanations. The Grecian Urn is unbearably beautiful, with every syllable as inevitable as the notes in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, or it’s just something you don’t understand. It is what it is because an extraordinary genius paused at that point in history and touched it. I suppose I’ve read it a hundred times. About the tenth time I began to know what it was about, and caught the chime in it and the exquisite inner mechanics. Likewise with the Nightingale, which I can never read through without tears in my eyes; likewise the Pot of Basil with its great stanzas about the two brothers: “Why were they proud, etc.”; and The Eve of Saint Agnes, which has the richest, most sensuous imagery in English, not excepting Shakespeare. And finally his three or four great sonnets: Bright Star and the others…

Knowing those things very young and granted an ear, one could scarcely ever afterwards be unable to distinguish between gold and dross in what one read. In themselves those eight poems are a scale of workmanship for anybody who wants to know truly about words, their most utter value for evocation, persuasion or charm. For awhile after you quit Keats all other poetry seems to be only whistling or humming.

F. Scott Fitzgerald to Frances Scott Fitzgerald
(Scottie/“Dear Pie,”), 3 August 1940

The muse leads everyone a merry dance when it comes to knowing just what poetry is – “the best words in the best order” (Coleridge); “what gets lost in translation” (Frost); “overheard” (John Stuart Mill); “memorable speech” (Auden); “the most concentrated form of style” (F. Scott Fitzgerald again, writing to his daughter Scottie). But whatever it is or isn’t, we can help you get your head and ear in the game this summer, with verses that will keep on chiming like a permanent playlist. You’ll read not only Keats and Shakespeare and Marvell and Dryden, but a host of other men and women poets, most of whom are dead but whose work is still very much alive, among them Donne, Herbert, Milton, Swift, Pope, Blake, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Byron, Shelley, both Brownings, Tennyson, Hardy, Hopkins, Yeats, Auden, Whitman, Dickinson, Stevens, Frost, Marianne Moore, Williams, cummings, Pound, Eliot, Cole Porter, Ira Gershwin, Larkin, Bishop, Lowell, Betjeman, McGinley, Ashberry, Heaney, Bob Dylan and others to be named later. It may sound old school, but we promise to make it new.

And since practice makes poetry, or at least helps to, you’ll also get a chance to try some versifying of your own, as well as to meet some practicing poets who are very much alive, in touch and in print. The program will conclude with a poetry slam to which your friends and parents are invited.

This 5-week program of learning by doing is open to students from the Houston metropolitan area who will be entering the 10th, 11th, 12th grades or college. To apply, complete the student section of the PDF form and give it to a teacher who knows you well or a counselor to fill out the recommendation section. Your teacher/counselor should mail the completed form along with an official transcript directly to:

Poets' Corner
Wonderworks
PO Box 667550
Houston, TX 77266-7550
Fax: 713.523.6145

To ensure full consideration, applications must be received by 3 May; early applications are encouraged. All applicants will be notified by 28 May; early applicants will be notified sooner.
If you have any questions or need additional information, call 713.301.4882 or email info@wonderworkshouston.org.

This program is made possible in part by a grant from Houston Endowment Inc.