What can we learn about poetry from the arts it is not?
In his 1893 study of the arts of the Renaissance, Walter Pater writes:
But although each art has thus its own specific order of impressions, and an untranslatable charm, while a just apprehension of the ultimate differences of the arts is the beginning of aesthetic criticism; yet it is noticeable that, in its special mode of handling its given material, each art may be observed to pass into the condition of some other art, by what German critics term an Anders-streben — a partial alienation from its own limitations, through which the arts are able, not indeed to supply the place of each other, but reciprocally to lend each other new forces.
A contemporary voice might translate: it is important to understanding any art, to take it on its own terms; and yet so often an art is most itself when it is striving to become another. So, something special about painting emerges when it strives to become music; something special about drama when it strives to become sculpture; and so on. This course studies the Anders-streben, the other-striving, of poetry. We will consider a poem’s ambitions to become music, painting, object, drama, novel, building, movie. Doomed ambitions all—but reckoning with them will take us to the limits of what words can do, and make a larger map of poetry than we might otherwise ever know.
To encompass all that terrain, our classroom will be a hybrid of seminar and studio. The close study of poetry, drawn from a wide ranges of times and places, will be our main work. But we will invite a succession of guests from Princeton’s arts programs to join us on Mondays, and there will be weekly short exercises that experiment in the borderlands between (for example) the sketch and the sonnet, the line and the melody, the stanza and the room. We’ll draw out concepts and lessons as we go, and two short papers will allow us to try out new perspectives in our own critical prose. Our guests will be Eve Aschheim (visual arts), Nathan Davis (drama), Mitch McEwen (architecture), Kirstin Valdez Quade (fiction), Lynne Sachs (film), Accra Shepp (visual arts), Dmitri Tymoczko (music), Aynsley Vandenbroucke (dance), and Jeff Whetstone (photography).
The structure of the course means that everyone will be an amateur at something; it is meant to be friendly and challenging to all students, from English concentrators looking to expand their sense of poetry’s reach, to studio artists wondering how to work with words, to engineers looking to build something that might stand right up off the page.