Twentieth-Century American Poetry

11:15a-12:30p TR (30) 3 cr.

Twentieth-century poetry by self-described Americans has been closely identified with what Ezra Pound famously termed the challenge to "Make It New." Yet the question of just what "making it new" might mean was itself so hotly contested throughout the century that the course of poetry in that ersatz period can appear a bewilderingly complex and incoherent phenomenon–as does some of the poetry itself to many readers. Why did poets feel the need to make it new? What did making it new mean to people entering the institution of "poetry" from different social positions? We will look at a number of different forms of poetry developed by poets from the United States, not forgetting to note the extent to which "Americanism" was or was not of concern to them in their formal and thematic experimentation. I will make room for a few writers who were considered central to contemporary poetry in their time but who have dropped from favor since; this will allow us to ask why. Most of the semester will be devoted to the different forms of poetic "modernism," but at least the last four weeks will be devoted to work of poets sometimes called "postmodern." We will consider what differentiates postmodernism from modernism as traditionally conceived as well as the trends within or outside modernism that helped produce a turning after World War II. Poets will include Robert Frost, Ezra Pound, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Wallace Stevens, Langston Hughes, Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich, and Amiri Baraka, among others. Written assignments will include two papers and two exams.