ENGL788B - Studies in Poetic Form: God, Death, Time, Space, Language, Form

In this graduate seminar we’ll ask how poems make legible and audible experiences of time & space and in relation to something—an Other(ness):—that is, how does the deployment of poetic language, poetic form, and its attendant figurations create an experience in time that represents and dramatizes what cannot otherwise be verified in space?  How do we read the material embodiment of what feels like immaterial experience?  How does poetry enact the experience of duration?  How does it create subject/object correlations?   Does poetry create a privileged space—or a space individuated from other literary genres—for thinking about ethical relations?  How does poetry enact the tension between freedom and responsibility?  Between individuality and social connection?  Between infinity and nothingness?  Between sincerity and performance?  How does poetry instantiate what it means to wait (in time), to witness (in space), to transcend (beyond form)?  In what ways might we think of poetry as an art of existence, and poetic value as an expression of existential experience? 

Readings will include poetry ranging historically from the English Renaissance through the contemporary such as: Shakespeare, Herbert, Donne, Milton, Smart, Cowper, Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Whitman, Dickinson, Hopkins, Yeats, Frost, Stevens, Loy, Auden, Raine, Bishop, Ammons, Ginsberg, Duncan, O’Hara, Jennings, Gunn, Hughes, Snyder, Glück, Hass, and Graham; and a generation of younger poets, as well.  Foreign language works in translation may include those by poets such as Leopardi, Rilke, Baudelaire, Mallarmé, and Celan.  Philosophical essays will concentrate on the modern, and may include Emerson, Bergson, von Kleist, Buber, de Man, Levinas, Taylor, Bachelard, and Cavell, among others.  Students may also propose additional or alternative works for study.  

Our method will include history but not be bound by historical frameworks.  We’ll embrace anachronistic comparisons between early and late modernisms, with the idea that the poetry of the twentieth century helps us read the poetry of the seventeenth, for example, as much as the past helps us understand the present.  We will propose a literary history more than a historiography, one that reflects the simultaneity of how we actually read poetry, and runs against the grain of conventional periodization. 

Assignments will include the kind of long-form critical essay apropos of a graduate seminar, as well as poetic imitation, and a blend of critical & creative work.  Hybrid creative thinking and critical heterodoxy are encouraged (whether or not you take the class).  Seminar presentations and weekly participation on discussion boards, in addition to classroom participation, will be expected. 

This course is open to MFA, MA, and PhD students, and is meant to bring together different kinds of writers and thinkers interested in poetry.