December 10, 2013
This web resource began in the fall semester of the 2013-14 academic year. The idea was to engage in a project that would result in a public resource for readers of poetry. In the spring semester, the students in this year-long sequence course will be working with the Modern Poetry archive in the Mason library.
The fall semester has focused on the nineteenth century. Our conversations have touched on a range of subjects: poetic form (narrative, dramatic, lyric); cultural influences (the folk ballad, hymn, spirituals, the Civil War, Native American life); the rhetoric and politics of nation (slavery and emancipation, Westward expansion, Native American removal, women writers); major figures (Bryant, Whittier, Longfellow); the consolidation of a literary culture (the Transcendentalists, transnational poetics, the Fireside Poets); anglocentric literary production and reception; the distinctive poetry and poetics of Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson; the relationship between poetry and public life through period book reviews; and how a literary tradition is defined, shaped and valued through comparative readings in print and electronic archives.
The spring semester will study the emergence of modern poetry and poetics through the 1940s and 50s and then consider the prospect of American poetry and poetics in the period following WW II. The conventional starting point for this line of study is the anthology The new American poetry (1950) edited by Donald M. Allen. The students will read the introduction and consider, in particular, Allen’s groupings of poems/poets. Allen’s anthology (like any anthology) is selective and a number of poets and critics have taken issue with his selections. In the end, though, the collection is a fundamentally important attempt to define the post-war tradition.
As we move forward, there are a number of threads that will likely emerge in our conversations in the spring:
1) Poetry and poetics concerned with cultural Issues: history, politics, myth, place and space, religion and spirituality;
2) Poetry and poetics concerned with the self or identity, social groups or identity politics, and communities of readers and writers. Breaking boundaries between high and popular culture, old and new;
3) Poetry and poetics concerned with language and writing and reading—an exploration of fresh forms of language, consciousness, social and biological relations. The objectivist movement but more the various projects concerned with not so much free verse from freeing words and language (consider “concerete,” “projective,” “open,” “organic,” “variable” as key terms). Experiments with typography and visual, nonreferential (language not as mirror or window) and nonsyntactical (abstract) poetry. Link back to Olson, Zukofsky, Creely, Oppen;
4) Poetry and poetics concerned with performance, performativity sound and music and voice: a return to poetry as performance, oral and embodiment;
5) Poetry and poetics concerned with Cultural Continuity and Transmission. (Continuities and Discontinuities). For example, Williams on tradition and the past, Snyder and “Axe Handles” as well as projects concerned with a counterpoetics at the same time a continuation of the modern impulse to “make it new”;
6) Placing the Poet and Poetry: from Williams in “Against the Weather: a Study of the Artist” to Pinsky, “the Responsibilities of the Poet,” Gioia’s “Can Poetry Matter”; Rich, “When We Dead Awaken; also poetry as resistance—to dominant culture, to commonplaces and normative values.