English 53: Modern American Poetry

An introductory survey of the full range of twentieth-century American poetry, but we will commence with Whitman and Dickinson, two key predecessors and enablers. The emphasis will be on particular poets and poems, but a recurrent theme will be poetry’s role in a democracy: is poetry really an esoteric art for the “educated” few, as some imply, or has poetry in the twentieth century played a crucial role in shaping both democratic citizens and a sense of democratic culture? What are the connections between changing poetic forms and the changing ways we re-imagine the form of our communities, our nation, and our relation to the world?

We’ll include about an equal number of writers from the first half of the twentieth century (the great explosion of Modernist masters such as Pound, Moore, Eliot, Williams, Hughes, and Stevens) with writers from World War II to the present.

A new module created for first time for English 53 will focus on the songwriters of the “Great American Songbook” from the 1920s through the 1950s—including Gershwin and Porter et al, various blues lyricists, and more contemporary figures as diverse as Patsy Cline, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Springsteen, Eminem, Jay-Z, and Santigold—as American poets returning brilliantly and wittily to poetry’s roots in song.

In poems ideas make music—or maybe it’s the other way around. This course will introduce you to the basics of analyzing poetic form and rhythms (called prosody or scansion), as well as interpretative strategies relevant for understanding an author’s individual voice and the ways in which his or her poems engage with U.S. history and ideals of the poet’s vocation in society.

This is a Core Course in the English Department’s curriculum, which means it is an appropriate introductory course for any student who has had a W (Writing) course from any department on campus. The course will also be very appropriate for English majors and possible majors.

For more details, see a pdf of the full syllabus for Spring 2013. Future versions of this course will be similar but not identical.

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