On Tuesday March 31, students in ENGL 3327, Studies in Victorian Literature, took to the podium to declaim their original poems of social conscience and social protest. Though poetry is not the first medium that comes to mind for a social activist — except for slam poets, of course — Victorian readers knew poetry as a way of drawing attention to injustice and abuses.
Inspired by Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “The Cry of the Children” (about child factory workers) and Thomas Hood’s “The Song of the Shirt” (about needleworkers), the students spoke about subjects ranging from mental health to the cult of celebrity, from bullying to rampant materialism, from the Dalhousie dentistry scandal to #blacklivesmatter, from missing aboriginal women to the pernicious influence of the beauty industry on young women.
They learned more about their world and also about metre and rhyme — it’s hard work to craft a poem in traditional form, and also hard to read it sensitively and effectively, especially when the subject is intensely meaningful, and sometimes personal.
A guest at the performance sent her thanks and appreciation afterwards, and permits us to quote her. What she says is true, we think, of the department as a whole.
“I just wanted to say thanks for the wonderful opportunity to listen to your students’ poetry yesterday. I was so impressed with each and every reading. It was clear that they all took this assignment to heart, and in many cases it allowed them to find their voice in sensitive matters that may have otherwise silenced them.
“Poetry matters. Whether it is an outlet for the expression of angst our young adults feel today, or to share their heart, the words expressed by your students yesterday were direct and powerful.
“It is also apparent by the way you led this exercise that your students also matter. Thank you for putting the extra time and effort into learning exercises like this. I was thrilled to be a witness to their passion. Please pass along my appreciation to the students for their willingness to be vulnerable and share their hearts so openly.”
We thank everyone — students, faculty, and families — for making learning memorable and meaningful.
Poetry does matter.