ENGL788A - Studies In Poetic Form. Mind Over Matter: Acts Of Knowing And The Actions Of Poetry

This comparative course will explore the concept of literary materialism through theory and praxis, considering works that range historically from Lucretius through Wallace Stevens, as well as some later examples.  How do poets represent, engage with, and mystify the materiality of their poetry while adumbrating a vision of knowledge? How does one know the material world through a poem—through reading a poem, through writing one?  How does a poem think, or represent its actions of mind?  What is the relation between narratives of cognition and poetic form?  What is the material relationship between poetry and thought, maker and made?   Is there a connection between the epistemology of reading poetry and questions of material practice?  If so, how do such relationships embody some of the essential questions of humanism, of body & soul, the individual & the state, skepticism & belief, mind & matter?  Why are such questions important to poets; and how do they help us to understand something important about the history of poetry, about the relationship between poetry & what we can know about the world, about ourselves, and about how we imagine the future?

Readings will be drawn from across time periods from a variety of literary, philosophical, and historical texts, including poetry by Lucretius, Spenser, Sidney, Donne, Shakespeare, Rochester, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Eliot, Loy, M. Moore, Stevens, W.C. Williams, Yeats, J. Graham, A. Carson, L. Niedecker, Oppen, Heather McHugh, and C.K. Williams; and selections from Descartes, De Man, Epicurus, Benjamin, Baudelaire, Lessing, Kant, and others.  

Our method will include history but not be bound by historical frameworks.  We will encourage 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 academic periodization.

Assignments:  In addition to required critical writing assignments, students will be able to choose among several options, ranging from short critical essays to formal poetic imitations.   All students will make presentations.  Discussion boards will augment participation in the seminar. 

Who should take it?  This course is open to MA, MFA, and PhD students.  Part of its aim is to bring together a self-selecting group to discuss how ideas about poetic language and poetic form are connected to the actual writing of poetry.   The “team” teaching of this course is meant to suggest our shared conviction: if, as Wallace Stevens maintains, “poetry is the scholar’s art,” then bringing together scholars and poets into meaningful intellectual contact with poems and with each other looks like one good approach to the question of poetry as a way of knowing.