Students Read, Write and Teach Poetry

Given the notorious time commitment of Poetry in Service to Schools and the Community, you might imagine that few students would register for the English seminar taught by Rick Benjamin. But to the contrary, his course is consistently overbooked. As a complement to reading, discussing and writing poetry, students in the class develop lesson plans to teach poetry to young learners and others in the community.

During the course of the semester, teams of RISD students lead workshops at community schools and organizations such as Sophia Academy, a middle school for girls from low-income homes, and Trinity Church, which offers programs for Liberian immigrants. Benjamin is matter-of-fact about the objective of this outreach: “Poetry is a medium that carries wisdom, which is in short supply,” he says, adding that students should “never miss an opportunity to transmit wisdom.”

Benjamin feels that RISD students are particularly well suited to the work of teaching poetry. “I tell them, ‘You’re going to come up with ideas I’ve never thought of.’” Whether an artist’s medium is visual or verbal—and especially when artists teach—“they never leave their creative gifts behind,” he says.

Clearly, Benjamin never does either. He writes essays and reviews, along with poems that have been published in Ars Poetica, Berkeley Poetry Review, Blackletter, Chalkboard, Creature Comforts, Haiku Year and Watershed, among others. His book of poetry Passing Love (2010, Wolf Ridge Press) “sing[s] the most ancient themes,” yet clearly offers timely and relevant “poetry for the 21st century,” notes Andrew Schelling. In 2009, Benjamin was interviewed by Christopher Lydon on the Radio Open Source series Whose Words These Are. In that interview, he sums up his philosophy about what good poems teach: slow down, be alert, wake up.

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