English | American Poetry
L761 | 27025 | Irmscher

L761  27025 IRMSCHER (#4)

5:45p – 8:45p M
This seminar will explore the rich array of voices that constitutes
nineteenth-century American poetry, from William Cullen Bryant and
Lydia Sigourney to Steven Crane and Paul Laurence Dunbar.  The
nineteenth century was the time when the vocabulary and reality of
private life took shape, and yet much of this poetry was almost
insistently “public,” concerned not with selfhood and versions of
intimacy, but with general and generalizable feelings as well as the
major crises of the century, ranging from Native American genocide,
slavery, and the Civil War.  In this seminar we will have to
consider carefully the interpretive challenges that arise from this
fact by asking ourselves how we can recover reading practices
specific to this period.   Should we at all?  Can nineteenth-century
American poetry be recovered for the classroom today?  Other issues
to be discussed will include the role of gender in the emergence of
a distinctly American poetry, the conflict between nationalist and
transnationalist conceptions of culture, poetic “orientalism,” the
role of sentimentalism and race, the emergence of “popular” poetry,
and, inevitably, questions of canonicity. We will pay special
attention to the development of American print culture and its
impact on the dissemination of poetry; half of our time will be
spent working in the Lilly Library.  Secondary authors to be studied
will include, among others, Paula Bennett, Lawrence Buell, Joan
Dobson, Angus Fletcher, Virginia Jackson, David Reynolds, Joan
Shelley Rubin, and Alan Trachtenberg.  With the exception of the
poetry of such well-known authors as Dickinson and Whitman,
nineteenth-century poetry remains woefully under-researched—a great
opportunity for new and creative scholarly work!
Course requirements will include active participation in class
discussions, one 15-minute presentation, and a 20-25 page seminar
paper, which may include archival research and should eventually be
in a format ready for submission to a journal.  I will also ask each
participant to prepare a 10-minute teaching presentation and to
design a unit (or their own course) that he or she could teach at
the college level.
Participants should plan to acquire John Hollander’s two-volume
hardcover edition of American Poetry:  The Nineteenth Century, the
most comprehensive anthology to date, which offers extensive notes
and a useful chronology.