Unfolding a Poem - Reading - Featured Image - 1300x500

Explore Reading and the Transformative Power of Poetry

WHO: Christina Hutchins

WHAT: Four Online Sessions

WHEN: Follow your own schedule

WHERE: Online via Zoom

This is the first in a series of three four-week courses taught by award-winning poet Christina Hutchins. Participants will carefully consider the following question: How can the process of a poem not only facilitate the widening of our existence but also enact an experience while simultaneously reflecting on it?

Attend the live class sessions
or work at your own pace.

Course Description

Have you ever wondered why people so often turn to poetry at memorial services and weddings, times of deep grief and human celebration? The words of poems can be evocative of, paradoxically, a wordlessness at the heart of existence.

Though poems can connect with or respond to our feelings in relation with the natural world, solitude, and intimacy, sometimes we are not comfortable reading poetry, finding the language dense or difficult, or simply different than its familiar usages. It is worth learning to read poetry for its pleasures. As Whitehead writes, poetry and process philosophy are kin, because both reach beyond a superficial level of language, philosophy with logic and poetry with the music of language. Two different kinds of precision, and we need them both.

In this class, we will explore poems written or translated into English: contemporary and old, in forms mostly in free verse, from several cultures, with particular attention to how poets touch on the sacred in the ordinary, whether named that or not. We will adventure amid the poems with a process perspective informed by Whitehead and encounter poems as occasions of felt becoming.

“Philosophy is akin to poetry, and both of them seek to express that ultimate good sense which we term civilization. In each case there is reference to form beyond the direct meanings of words. Poetry allies itself to metre [to music!], philosophy to mathematical pattern.”
–Alfred North Whitehead, Modes of Thought, 174

Each hour and half meeting time will include a brief presentation and reading a few poems together, sometimes very slowly, with ample discussion. The class is for those who have never read much poetry or read it reluctantly in high school, and it’s also for people who regularly read poetry, both for those who hold developed process thought and those newly encountering it.

For millennia, poems have modeled the ancient mystery of being lured toward/into the never-before, trying to touch the more within and between us. As poet Carl Phillips writes, poems offer the evidence and comfort of lives beyond our own. “Think of the sunlight we failed to welcome, / How others stepped forward to take it in.” We may have missed it, but the poem refunds that sunlight and leaves it on the page for us to find.

“And then the gifts we receive by imagining
How down at the beach today, surfers made sure
The big waves we weren’t there to appreciate
Didn’t go begging for attention.
And think of the sunlight we failed to welcome,
How others stepped forward to take it in.”
–Carl Phillips, “Meaning”

Course Outline

  • Session 1: Poem as Occasion: Gathering a poet’s offering of embodied language, image, experience, and reflection, into the experience of encountering a poem
  • Session 2: Poem as Lure for Further Feeling: The poem proposes an utterly unique occasion in/of the reader
  • Session 3: Poem as Creative-Responsive Love: Celebrations of nature, relational joy, odes of praise and gratitude
  • Session 4: Poem as Creative-Responsive Love: Elegies for the natural world and relational loss, memorializing the perished by making anew

About the Instructor

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Christina Hutchins is a poet and scholar of process philosophy and theology. She has also worked as a biochemist, a Congregational (UCC) minister, and for many years taught theology and literary arts at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley. She lives in Albany, California, where she served as the city’s first poet laureate.

Her poetry collections are Tender the Maker (2015 May Swenson Award, Utah State UP), The Stranger Dissolves (2011), finalist for the Lambda and Audre Lorde Awards, and the chapbooks, Radiantly We Inhabit the Air  (2011 Becker Prize), and Collecting Light (1999). Her poems appear widely, including in The Antioch Review, The New Republic, Prairie Schooner, Salmagundi, The Southern Review, and Women’s Review of Books. Her essays on process theology, queer theory, and poetry appear in volumes by Ashgate, SUNY, and Columbia UP. Awards include The Missouri Review Prize, National Poetry Review Prize, a fellowship to St. Petersburg , Russia, and living in Robert Frost’s home in Franconia, NH, as the Dartmouth Poet in Residence.

Christina holds a BS from University of California at Davis in Biochemistry and Piano Performance, an MDiv from Harvard Divinity School, where she delivered the graduation address, and a PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies from the Graduate Theological Union, writing a dissertation on reading and radiant time that draws on Alfred North Whitehead, Judith Butler, and Henri Bergson.

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Suggested Price

  • Lifetime access to session recordings
  • Receive early notification of future courses
  • Watch live or follow your own schedule
  • Interact with class members via discussion forums
  • * Contribute whatever you feel the course is worth or whatever you can afford to help support this and other programs like it. No one is turned down for lack of funds.

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