ENGL439A - Major American Writers after 1865; Dickinson, Whitman, and Contemporary American Poets

This course in American major writers Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman explores the archives of their queer lives and queer status in American literary history, the 21st-century digital archives and editions produced about their work and lives, the physical archives of their work that one finds in special collections of libraries, and the archives of our attentions as readers. Particular attention to contemporary poets will be given. An intensive study of lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender/queer inscriptions by Dickinson and Whitman themselves, this course also examines inscriptions in the legacies of American poetry and culture that they have inspired, especially in contemporary poetry. As has been noted in literary criticism, on the surface the odd couple Dickinson and Whitman appear to be exaggeratedly female and male in their personal and poetic self-presentations, but a closer examination of their influences reveals that their literary performances are not quite so simple.  Probing how their work and their legacies are evident in poetic heirs (see Titanic Operas: Contemporary Poets’ Responses to Dickinson’s Legacy), as well as how they have been translated into different media (films, TV shows, drama, multimedia performances, rock & roll) and are inflected by issues of race, gender, class, and high/low culture, we will scrutinize ways in which the performances and receptions of these two icons of American literary history may perpetuate, challenge, and modify national and international cultural mythologies.  Written assignments will be two 1-2 pp. response papers, a 2-3 pp. proposal essay for a longer, more ambitious essay (7-10 pp.) exploring in depth some aspect raised by our course of study. Essays on a contemporary poet and either or both Dickinson and Whitman are encouraged.