English | American Poetry to 1900
L356 | 26967 | Christoph Irmscher

Christoph Irmscher

26967 - 1:25p-2:15p MWF (30 students) 3 cr. A&H.

The course provides an introduction to the rich and fascinating
tapestry of voices that constitutes nineteenth-century American
poetry, including, of course, Emily Dickinson, Henry Wadsworth
Longfellow, Herman Melville, and Walt Whitman but also less familiar
names such as the slave-turned-poet George Moses Horton and the
Hoosier bard James Whitcomb Riley (whose papers are held by our very
own Lilly Library).  In our dealings with the now safely canonical
writers, the no-longer-canonical ones, and the many forgotten ones,
we will ask ourselves what, if anything, distinguishes a “major”
from a “minor” poet, what it meant to be a “public” poet, what forms
poets used, what audiences they had in mind, and how they responded
to the major crises of the century, Native American genocide,
slavery, and the Civil War.  At the end of the course, the myth,
still perpetrated by mainstream critics today, that no poetry worth
our time was written in America before, or apart from Whitman and
Dickinson, will have evaporated.  Or so I hope.  We’ll be reading
poems about a time very different from ours today (although we will
also discover some surprising similarities), which is why a certain
leap of faith will be required from all of us.  I don’t expect you
to like all the poems—some will speak to you more readily than
others—but I would like to ask you to give all of them a fair
hearing.  I promise you’ll end up with more than just a couple of
favorites.  We will be using only one textbook, the college edition
of American Poetry: The Nineteenth Century, edited by John Hollander
and published by the Library of America.