L357 25255 TWENTIETH-CENTURY AMERICAN POETRY
11:15a-12:30p TR (30 students) 3 cr. A&H.
A curious fact about modern American poetry is many poets of the period also wrote manifestoes, essays, and other belletristic gambols which served to defend the “project” of modern poetry. In short, the period of 1912-1960 (give or take a few years) saw the emergence of the poet-critic, and important literary essays and forays by the likes of Pound, Eliot, Stein, Williams, and Jarrell helped define American poetry of the period. This has been a mixed blessing. Certainly, many of these literary stump speeches are engaging, elegant, and important; others, however, are rather self- serving, authoritarian, and exclusive. Over time, the influence of the poet-critics has largely prevailed and it is, curiously, their poetry that has constituted what we think of as modern American poetry. What about the likes of Vachal Lindsay, Martin Feinstein, Sara Teasdale, Lola Ridge, Langston Hughes, or Stephen Vincent Benet? These poets were publishing their poems in Poetry, The Nation, and The Dial, alongside poems by their now better-known peers, Eliot, Stevens, H.D., Frost, and Williams.
In this course we will read the key essays by the poet-critics. We will also read a LOT of poetry in order to broaden our understanding of the actual contents of modern American poetry as it unfolded. To that end, we will spend a fair amount of time in the library (not to be confused with the internet) perusing old issues of Poetry and The Nation, among other magazines, to re-discover the poems and the voices which have since faded into obscurity and to determine whether such obscurity is justified. What poem immediately precedes The Waste Land in the 1922 issue of The Dial in which that poem first appeared (sans footnotes, by the way)? Why hasn’t that preceding poem survived? Should it be reconsidered? These are the kinds of questions you’ll be asked to discuss in two medium-length papers (8-10 pages). You’ll also write a long, final paper (15-20 pages). Our primary text will be American Poetry: The Twentieth Century, Vol. 1: Henry Adams to Dorothy Parker (Library of America; Hass, Hollander, Kizer, Mackey, and Perloff, editors). Class will consist of lectures, discussion, library visits, and close readings of the poems.