Maryville College’s January Term is well known for the experiential classes it offers both on and off campus. For this J-Term I signed up for a course called Pets and Poetry, a course new to the J-Term schedule instructed by Ms. Christina Seymour, one of MC’s instructors of English.
As the course title suggested, students signed up for the course were going to be working on poetry. However, because the course is experiential, the approach to writing of poetry was not entirely traditional.
On the first day of J-Term the class met on campus where we went over the syllabus and watched an episode of Pitbulls and Parolees that helped to prepare us for what we would be doing for the duration of the class.
For the experiential portion of the course all students who were signed up were expected to volunteer at the Blount County Animal Center. We volunteered every day that the class was held during the normal class time of 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. At the animal center we worked, doing the jobs all regular volunteers are asked to do. We walked dogs, worked with cats and assisted hopeful potential adopters.
The writing portion of the class consisted of writing journals detailing some of our experiences at the shelter and with some of the animals. Ms. Seymour asked us to focus on everything that appealed to our senses, especially on the things that could be worked into our poetry or otherwise useful for writing our poems.
The course description said that the goal was for students to find connections between experiences with writing and with animals. Our online journals helped to make these connections by having us actually put our thoughts into words and write out what we experienced.
We wrote about our first day at the shelter, the impact it had on us and how it sounded, smelled and looked. We gave an account of how we connected with a specific animal, if we did. Our first poem was about our experiences, and we included lines we had written in previous journals. Our second and final poem was a focus on our experiences connecting with an animal.
Overall the course offered a great experience. We learned a lot about how the shelter works and the importance of working with animals. Through the course we were able to have real and powerful experiences with animals and connect those experiences to our writing.