by Prerana Chatty
On the surface, I’m your typical biology major premed. Like almost every other biology major, I took general chemistry, introductory physiology and cell biology my freshman year, organic chemistry my sophomore year, and am currently taking physics and biochemistry during my junior year. I have spent far too many nights at Olin Library working on problem sets, practicing mechanisms, and memorizing pathways (needless to say, I have become very well-acquainted with Libe Café, Olin’s coffeeshop).
However, there’s one class on my roster this semester that doesn’t fit the typical premed schedule – intermediate verse writing.
I have loved writing for nearly as long as I can remember. When I came to Cornell, I was fairly certain that I wanted to study science, but choosing to major in biology felt like letting one of my two passions ‘win.’ I felt an intellectual tug-of-war between science and writing and hoped to find a way to incorporate both interests into my education. Luckily, Arts and Sciences’ liberal arts requirements forced me, in a way, to reach outside the ‘comfort zone’ of my major – and I am so glad that it did.
I chose to enroll in “Intermediate Verse Writing” after I took “Introduction to Creative Writing” as a sophomore. Although I was well acquainted with fiction, this introductory creative writing course exposed me to poetry in a novel and exciting way. I fell in love with combinations of words, lines, and sentences and the power that words have to make us feel. As the semester ended, I spoke to my teacher about taking upper level creative writing courses and she suggested I take intermediate verse writing to cultivate the poetry seed that had been planted in my brain. I couldn’t be happier that I did.
When I walked into class for the first time, I didn’t know what to expect. My teacher, Lyrae, is an absolutely incredible poet whose anthology has been nominated for the National Book Award. She commanded the room when she walked into it and I was mesmerized by her love of poetry and words, and even more than that, her genuine desire to help us become poets. She warned us that the class would be challenging and time-intensive (in addition to our readings, we write three poems a week – so it lived up to the expectations she set), but that it would undoubtedly improve our writing. Halfway through the class, I feel that she was right.
The class dynamic is unique – conversation is free flowing, animated, and enthralling. We all feel that 50 minutes twice a week isn’t enough. There are only nine students in the class, so we have all gotten to know each other intimately and personally. Lyrae asked us to form workshop groups and meet regularly to discuss each other’s work. Originally, I was nervous about this. I was concerned that I was the only bio major in a class filled with English majors who were way more advanced at poetry than I could ever aspire to be. I was timid both in class and in my workshop group because I was convinced that being so far out of my comfort zone wasn’t working. Speaking with Lyrae and with my workshop group members showed me that I was wrong. The students in the class have such diverse majors, interests, and experiences. Sharing our learning processes as we get to know each other’s (and our own) writing has been incredibly rewarding. I have gained newfound respect and confidence about my poetry and learned far more than I expected to.
I had always been told that a liberal arts education was valuable, but until I took “Intermediate Verse Writing,” I didn’t really understand why. I now realize that the lessons I’ve learned by writing poetry will carry me in life even when I become a physician. The ability to direct words in order to convey a specific meaning has shaped my decisional thinking. My positive interactions with my peers and with my professor, who is obviously far more experienced in this subject area than I am, have taught me the importance of confidence, patience, and to a certain extent, resilience. Drawing on the human experience for subject matter has reminded me of the importance of compassion, kindness, and virtue, traits that will undoubtedly craft my persona as I enter a medical profession. And of course, my mind and my heart have both been challenged.
For me, poetry is more than words. It’s truly an experience.