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Editor’s pick: Billy Collins’s poetry MasterClass is exactly the heartfelt, peaceful entertainment I need

Looking for a new hobby in quarantine? MasterClass offers delightful, insightful lessons from the most accomplished people in the world, says this ‘Fast Company’ editor.

Editor’s pick: Billy Collins’s poetry MasterClass is exactly the heartfelt, peaceful entertainment I need
[Photo: rawpixel]

By the time MasterClass launched in 2015, my war on streaming and subscription fees was already well underway. As the service continued to expand, adding more and more A-list teachers, my question remained the same: Did I really want to fork over 90 bucks for a class with Margaret Atwood when for around $25 I can buy a copy of The Handmaid’s Tale plus a month of Hulu to binge the entire series based on her classic novel?

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But when the coronavirus slowed life down to a halt a few weeks ago and I was offered the opportunity to try out MasterClass, I was eager to check out the offerings—more than 80 courses (with unlimited access for $180 a year) on a wide range of fascinating topics taught by some of the world’s most accomplished practitioners, from Christina Aguilera to Wolfgang Puck. I hadn’t experienced this kind of deer-in-the-headlights paralysis since I’d first cracked open the two-inch-thick course catalog the fall of my freshman year in college.

So what would it be? Tennis lessons from Serena Williams or Doris Kearns Goodwin on presidential leadership? Beatmaking with Timbaland or Paul Krugman on economics? Cooking with Alice Waters or Bob Iger on business leadership and strategy?

Billy Collins [Photo: Lars Niki/Corbis via Getty Images]
These days I’m drawn toward the furthest thing from ominous headlines, and so picked the poetry class offered by Billy Collins. His class consists of 20 sessions, a total of around three and a half hours. I haven’t downloaded the workbook or participated in the “lesson discussions” (comment threads after each video), but I’ve relished listening to the gentle voice of our former poet laureate as he explores the complexities of Emily Dickinson or leads me through Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.”

He had me hooked at the very beginning of his course when he declared, “Poetry provides us with a history of the human heart.” Exactly what I was looking for.

I’ve dipped into about a dozen other courses I plan to complete, including Dan Brown, Spike Lee, and Samuel L. Jackson. What every one of them shares in common is the absolute mastery of its instructor. These are people who’ve spent decades perfecting their skills, and are sharing that knowledge in what feels like a one-on-one Zoom call with Netflix-level production values. It’s a privilege to hear them share their hard-earned wisdom, and in these crazy times, a deep comfort in being reminded of the power of competence.

Looking for more quarantine content? Check out these other suggestions:

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About the author

Jay Woodruff is a contributing editor at Fast Company. After helping launch the quarterly DoubleTake, he joined Esquire and later held senior editorial positions at Entertainment Weekly and oversaw digital at Maxim, Blender and Stuff

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