More Life: Philosophy as Poetry

More Life: Philosophy as Poetry

Use philosophical concepts to sharpen your poetry, and poetry to bring those concepts to life

Nietzsche argued the role of philosophy was to provide ‘more life’. The same could be said of poetry: it gives a fullness to life in its creation of new ways of speaking, thinking, and looking, seeking to expand rather than simplify. As Phillip Sidney would bite back half a millennium ago, in his The Defence of Poesy: the poet ‘doth grow, in effect, into another nature’. Though their relationship hasn’t always been so friendly, poetry and philosophy have always been joined at the hip. Enigmatic figures like Parmenides, Zeno, and Lucretius – the first philosophers – have come down to us in the form of beautiful, ludic fragments, like this from Heraclitus: ‘history is a child building a sand-castle, and that child all the power man has in the world’. They wrote philosophy-as-poetry. No less than Wittgenstein reflected that ‘philosophy ought really to be written as poetic composition’ and many poets – including Derek Mahon and Keith Waldrop – have taken him at his word and turned his word(s) into poems. The same could be said of Wallace Stevens, whose writing has the beautiful symmetry of Logic; the phenomenologist Edmund Husserl would surely have agreed that a jar placed on a hill in Tennessee isn’t just a jar, but a thing indivisible from its surroundings (‘The wilderness rose up to it, / And sprawled around, no longer wild.’) This is poetry as philosophy. On this course we’ll read philosophy and poetry and all kinds of hybrid texts, and we’ll use poems to bring to life philosophical concepts and use them to sharpen our poems. Starting with Platonic Realism, we’ll explore poems which challenge the distinction between representing and creating worlds; we’ll look at the linguistic turn of Wittgenstein and Frege, and its parallels in literary modernism; we’ll see how the L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E poets challenged the structuralism of Ferdinand de Saussure; and we’ll read Claudia Rankine and Nuar Alsadir through the lens of post-colonial theorists like Homi Bhabha and Gayatari Spivak. And hopefully, by the end, we’ll be in a position not just to defend poetry against philosophy – and all other naysayers – but to write poems as philosophy.

5 fortnightly sessions over 10 weeks. Live chats on Mondays, 7-9pm GMT, first live chat starting 12 February.

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About Will Harris View Profile

Will Harris was born and lives in London. He has worked in schools, led workshops at the Southbank Centre and, last summer, taught a course on wit for The Poetry School. He co-edits 13 Pages and organises The Poetry Inquisition, is an Assistant Editor at The Rialto and part of the editorial team behind Swimmers. In 2016, he was featured in ES Magazine as part of the “new guard” of London poets. He is published in the Bloodaxe anthology Ten: Poets of the New Generation, and his debut pamphlet is All this is implied (HappenStance, 2017).”

This course had a significant positive on my writing and outlook at a stressful time. I definitely felt supported and part of a wider community, and made connections that I really value.

Summer 2017 Will Harris Course Survey Response

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