Seminar study of special topics in language and literary study. Limited to seniors majoring in English.
Poetry of Modernism:
If there were a subtitle to this course, it might very well have been “The Experimental Generation," with a double meaning to the word generation. For it refers not only to the historical placement of the poets we shall be studying, but also to the persistence of that history, the presentness of the past—T. S. Eliot’s definition of the currency of “tradition"—its generative effect. The poets in question are now canonical, with the tradition itself having been under suspicion, as it was then, differentially, for some of them. Whatever their differences, however, poetry was restless and innovative, as a matter of principle. And there is very little on the scene today, surely not in literature, that is in any way similarly destabilizing, refractory, despite the rhetoric of decentering or subversion that is the promissory note, a virtual reflex, of the critique of modernism.
We shall no doubt rehearse aspects of that critique while focusing on five major poets of high modernism—Eliot, Ezra Pound, Marianne Moore, William Carlos Williams, and Wallace Stevens. What is curious about Pound, given his obsession with a recovery of the past, is his commitment to “make it new!"—and in that regard he was, with Williams, a major influence on an alternative tradition that eventually led to a postmodern poetics. As for Moore, she is now being read, through the spidery associations of her cunning quirkiness, as a precursor of “feminist objectivity" and “situated knowledge," though she might have resisted any such identity politics. For Stevens, poetry is words about things that wouldn’t exist without the words, to which he brings an inexhaustible imagination. As to what makes poetry poetry (and does it matter?), that might be quite another question in our time, though there has been no discernible advance in how it’s written, when it feels like poetry (and thus seems to matter), over the varieties of expression generated by the poets we shall be studying.
Texts: T. S. Eliot, Collected Poems; Ezra Pound, Selected Poems; Marianne Moore, Complete Poems; W. C. Williams, Selected Poems; Wallace Stevens, Palm at the End of the Mind.
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General method of instruction
Class assignments and grading