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Love Story: 365bet honors class explores Romantic poetry through Taylor Swift’s music

By: Ethan Steinquest October 25, 2023

Students in 365bet's Taylor Swift-themed honors course. | Photo by Madison Casey, student photographer.
Students in 365bet's Taylor Swift-themed honors course. | Photo by Madison Casey, student photographer.

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. - Students at Austin Peay State University are getting an unconventional take on Romantic poetry this semester with “The Invisible String of Romanticism,” an honors course analyzing the connections between singer-songwriter Taylor Swift's discography and iconic poems dating back to the 18th century.

Delaney Atkins, academic associate to the executive director for Austin Peay’s Honors and President’s Emerging Leaders programs, designed the course to help students develop a greater appreciation for the arts.

“I wanted to bridge the gap for students who aren’t into poetry but love music, and I thought Taylor Swift was the perfect artist for that,” she said. “I hope they take away a love for poetry and the ability to recognize poetic devices in songs, and that the class gives them the tools to go off and find new meaning in the things they love.”

The 16-week course starts with an introduction to Romantic poetry and the era’s most influential figures before taking a deep dive into Swift’s music. Each week focuses on a different album, with related poetry selections serving as launching points for student-driven discussions.

“I really like the discussions and getting to hear everybody’s interpretations,” said senior speech pathology major Jerilyn Mitchell. “I think it’s very telling that we can connect modern writing to poems dating back to the 1800s because songwriting is basically a form of poetry … I think it’s a very good example of how the human experience evolves but never really changes.”

Junior business management major Lauren Berg, who completed the course when it was first offered in Fall 2022, said she enjoyed connecting with her classmates throughout the semester.

“Each week, we went through one of her albums and focused on some of the songs with more lyrical depth to them,” she said. “We took them apart and found the different techniques she used in her writing. She actually announced [her 2022 album] ‘Midnights’ while we were taking the class, so we got to sit together, listen to it and dissect it as if we’d just heard it.”  

Berg signed up for the class because of her longtime passion for Swift’s music and gained a greater appreciation for poetry as a result. Other students, like sophomore English major Levi Southerland, were interested in the class’s focus on Romantic literature.

“It really has changed the way I look at literature, which is very important to me given my major, my interests and my desired career path,” said Southerland, who wants to become an English teacher or professor. “It’s broadened my perspective, and also introduced me to Taylor Swift’s music – which I’m actually a fan of now.”

Atkins hopes to continue teaching the class next fall and said there is a growing interest among students. Anyone in the Honors Program is eligible, and other students can ask permission from the program and their individual departments to sign up.

“This class definitely helped me to think about how creative projects can influence your academic work,” said senior philosophy major Allison Harris. “It’s very layered and deep – giving it a chance is a good way to expand not only your musical horizons but your academic understanding of expression.”

Whether students sign up as lifelong Taylor Swift listeners or poetry enthusiasts, the interdisciplinary course offers something for everyone.

“At the end of the day, it’s just such a good community class, and I love getting the chance to step back and hear the students’ perspectives,” Atkins said. “Watching them grow in their love, appreciation and understanding of something is so wonderful and rewarding, and I’ve been able to do that with this class … I think that’s the greatest aspect of it.”