April is National Poetry Month, and true to the creative spirit that is part of its DNA, Virginia Commonwealth University is embracing the opportunity to showcase its innovative faculty and pay homage to the transformative power of the language arts by announcing that effective today, April 1 , all classes will be taught in some form of poetry.
Faculty, no matter their discipline, are required to deliver their lectures using poetry of any kind for the duration of the month.
“Sonnet, haiku, free verse. There are many forms of poetry and we want professors to choose whatever they feel best suits their course material and their own inclinations,” said Hadley Bradley, Ed.D., vice provost of classroom innovation. “We hope students will be patient and open-minded as we embark on this noble experiment, and that they appreciate the chance to explore new ways of learning that they wouldn’t get at another university.”
“I was a little nervous when I first heard about it,” said Anne McMann, Ph.D., assistant professor of microbiological neuromathematics. “But after talking to a colleague in the English department, I really think it’s a great fit. It’s going to force me and my students to use a different part of our brain. And I love going against the grain.”
The English department is partnering with the poetry club to offer support, tips and guidance to faculty who need help planning their lectures, and VCU Libraries has set up a poetry help desk on the third floor of Cabell Library that will be open daily throughout the month . And to make class preparation less time intensive, The ALT Lab has developed a program that can automatically convert lectures into verse.
“Right now, you can choose between three options: blank verse, free verse and haiku. But we hope to roll out a new function – conversion to villanelle – within the next week or two,” said Lester Sylvester, director of artificial intelligence curriculum design at the ALT Lab.
Faculty on both the Monroe Park and MCV campuses are gearing up for the challenge; some have been practicing for weeks, ever since the requirement was first suggested at a Faculty Senate meeting.
Professor of nursing Joy Maloy, DNP, has found herself inadvertently using poetry in the clinical setting.
“I’ve been spending so much time, practicing speaking in rhyme, that the other day, with a patient I was chatting away, when he stopped me and said, ‘Nurse! Do you realize you’ve been speaking entirely in verse?’” said Maloy.
The temporary shift to instruction in poetry is a natural fit for VCU, which is home to a renowned creative writing program as well as the Levis Reading Prize, an annual award given in honor of the late Larry Levis for the best first or second book of poetry published in the previous calendar year.
The university is hoping students, too, will embrace the switch to poetry, and is encouraging faculty to give students extra credit for writing papers, completing assignments or answering quiz questions using poetry.
Economics major Mavis Davis said he plans to take advantage:
“I think that it’s great;
my grades sure could use boosting,
poems will help me.”
If the monthlong experiment is a success, university officials have said they will consider repeating it next April.
“Our hope,” said Bradley, “is that many in the VCU community will find that they are a poet but they don’t even know it.”
Although we aren’t averse
To teach in verse,
Our April Fool’s feature
Might provide a stretch for your teacher.
Your class today won’t be in rhyme,
But next year—watch out! It could be in mime!
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