Spring 2021

Point/Counterpoint: Politics and Poetry

Listed in: , as COLQ-344


Ilan Stavans (Section 01)


On October 26, 1963, President John F. Kennedy delivered a speech at Amherst College in celebration of the Frost Library and in tribute to his friend, Poet Laureate Robert Frost (1874-1963), with whom he had a turbulent relationship. An inspiring meditation on the crossroads where politics and poetry meet, arguably the most important feature of the speech was Kennedy's call for public service, part of a mission that resulted, among other things, in the Peace Corps, established to create a better understanding between Americans and other nations. In what way is Kennedy's call to public service still suitable now? What are today’s young people’s prime concerns in improving our world? And how can politics and poetry work together to achieve these goals?  A partnership between Amherst College, the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, and other institutions, this course explores the reverberations of Kennedy's speech in America and the world from the Civil Rights Era to the present, analyzing the bifurcating paths President Kennedy and Robert Frost took, and reflecting on other famous friendships between political leaders and poets from Ancient Greece to Shakespeare and onward to modern Europe, Africa, Asia, Latin America, and, of course, the United States. This course will also have a public component. It will be the theme of a speakers’ series in which prominent politicians, poets, activists, journalists, and scholars from all sides of the ideological divide will be on campus and at the JFK Library to reflect, through public conversations, on how politics and poetry interact and the extent to which Kennedy's speech and his friendship with Frost defined their career and what the meaning of public service is in the twenty-first century. The PBS documentary on the topic will be featured as part of the series.

Limited to 30 students. Spring semster. Professor Stavans.

If Overenrolled: I will create a diverse class with students from different majors, backgrounds, etc.


Attention to Issues of Class, Attention to Issues of Gender and Sexuality, Attention to Issues of Race, Attention to Issues of Social Justice, Attention to Research, Attention to Speaking, Attention to Writing, Transnational or World Cultures Taught in English, Writing Intensive


2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2021