Graduage Seminar: Poetics
Spring 2012           
WRIT 5500               
Instructor: Amy England

Description: What is poetry? A mirror, a diagnosis, a consolation, a beautiful escape, a call to arms, an arrow toward utopia? What distinguishes poetry from prose? What place does it hold in our culture, in comparison to other literary and artistic forms?  What responsibility does poetry have toward society, history, politics, aesthetics, craft, or inspiration? Who gets to be considered a poet and why?  Who reads poetry and why? This course is a semester long reading of key historical texts in defining poetry. While some of the readings are demanding, the class does not presuppose any critical background (although any you may have is a welcome contribution). While the course concentrates on poetry, it necessarily involves much larger discussions about roles and definitions of literature and art in general, and will have something to offer practitioners of any genre.  
    Every week, we will be discussing at least two readings from a given historical period or school of criticism. Each week, students will write a one page response paper to one or both critical readings. The final project is a ten to fifteen page statement of your own poetics, with reference to at least two of the readings, due in class (printed on actual paper) on the 21st of November. The goal of the paper is to locate your own artistic philosophy in relation to the critical thinkers we have read. For students who would like detailed feedback to their papers, I’ll arrange conferences during critique week.

To pass the course: you can’t miss more than two class sessions (including time lost to late arrivals and late enrollment), you need to receive a passing grade on the final project and complete at least eighty percent of the other written work, and you need to participate in the discussion in a manner that reflects your reading of the material. The response papers should be a minimum of one double-spaced page, to be emailed by noon on the day of class (please bring a copy of it with you to class as a back-up, and to refer to during discussion). Late responses will be accepted for half credit. It’s usually difficult to treat the readings holistically in such a limited format–instead, you might focus on one or two points that you found worth developing or disagreeing with, or to use to compare the two readings with each other.  You can also give a reading of one of the assigned poems through one of the critical texts. If you find the readings totally opaque, try to articulate your confusion, and include a few questions about it that we can use to begin discussion. We will weigh the essays more than the poems, so keep that in mind in your reading.

Required Text: The Critical Tradition, edited by David H. Richter (should be available at the bookstore; be careful of buying older editions, which may have different selections in the 20th century sections)

Recommended: You might also want to pick up a copy of The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetics.  The older editions are more accessible; recent editions have more information on contemporary theory. Good background information on poetic forms and terms.

Week    Date        Critical readings, poems

I            Aug. 30    Plato; riddles and spells (handout)

II            Sept. 5     Aristotle: Poetics; Horace: “The Art of Poetry”    
                               Poetic selections, Homer, Catullus, Horace (handout)
(End of drop/add period Sept. 10)

III        Sept. 12    Sidney: “An Apology for Poetry”; Pope: “An Essay on Criticism”
                             Sidney, Shakespearean sonnet: “Let Dainty Wits Cry on the Sisters Nine”
                             Wyatt, Petrarchan sonnet: “Whoso List to Hunt”
IV        Sept. 19    Shelley: “A Defense of Poetry”, Neitszche: “The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music.” Shelley: “Ode to the West Wind”, Yeats: “Among School                  Children”
V         Sept. 25    Marx, all. Wordsworth: “The Solitary Reaper”
VI        Oct. 3        Freud, all. Coleridge: “Christabel”
VII       Oct. 10    New Criticism: Eliot: “Tradition and the Individual Talent”; Brooks: “Irony as a Principle of Structure”
                             Eliot, “The Wasteland”                

VIII      Oct. 17    Structuralism: Saussure, “Nature of the Linguistic Sign”; Jakobson, “Linguistics and Poetics”
                             Stein, “Tender Buttons, Objects”
IX         Oct. 24    Psychoanalytic Theory: Lacan, all; Slavoj Žižek:“Courtly Love, or, Woman as Thing.” Rosetti: “In an Artist’s Studio”; Keats: “La Belle Dame Sans                      Merci”

X          Oct. 31    Marxim: Walter Benjamin, “Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”; Bertolt Brecht, “The Popular and the Realistic”
                             Three poems by Aime Cesaire
XI        Nov. 7       Feminist Criticism: Gilbert and Gumbar, “Infection in the Sentence”; Dickinson and Sexton poems included in text;
                              Barbara Smith: “Towards a Black Feminist Criticism”
                              Gwendolyn Brooks: “A Bronzeville Mother Loiters in Mississippi”

XII        Nov. 14    Gender Studies, Queer Theory: Michel Foucault, from History of Sexuality; Judith Butler: “Imitation and Gender Subordination”
                              Sappho: “Poem of Jealousy” (handout)
XIII       Nov. 21   Postcolonial Studies: Edward Said, from “Orientalism”; Ray Chow: “The Interruption of Referentiality”
                               Rudyard Kipling: “A Song of the White Men”
FINAL PROJECTS DUE (see last page; hard copy to me in class, copies emailed to other students); sign up for voluntary conferences

             Nov. 28: THANKSGIVING

XIV      Dec. 2-6    CRITIQUE WEEK, optional conferences

XV       Dec. 12    Barthes: “The Death of the Author”; Foucault: “What is an Author?” Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto”; Eric Elshtain: “The Dublin of Doctor                  Moreau,”  


The final project is a ten to fifteen page essay in which you position your own theory of poetics and/or your work among the readings we have covered.

1.) You need to refer closely to at least two of the readings from the Richter book. This means using extensive and contextually accurate quotes and references from those essays, and building your essay in relation to those references. You can of course use more than two of the readings, or bring other critics or poets in as well. If a reading from the last two classes looks like it would help your paper, you might want to read ahead. And of course you do not have to like or agree with any source you use.

2.) You need to use MLA or Chicago Manuel of Style methods for citing sources.

3.) To a much greater extent than for the response papers, your arguments should be detailed, cohesive, and well-thought out, and your writing needs to be proofread for spelling and grammar. Consider this as a manuscript that you might submit to a journal for publication. In fact several students have published these projects, so there are practical reasons for this level of care.

5.) The writing style does not need to be particularly formal or to depend on jargon–clarity and readability are preferable, at least to me, to some of the extremes of opacity we have encountered in the readings.

6.) If the paper does not meet these criteria, I reserve the right to require a rewrite for a passing grade.

Anyone who wants a response to the paper should schedule a meeting during crit week, and I’ll go over it with you in detail. If you want help working on the paper, I’ll be glad to meet with you for that as well, provided I have enough notice to arrange the meeting.
For final project: a list of possible questions to consider:

How do you define poetry? What is its purpose? How do you locate yourself as a writer along all the axes of race, class, gender, culture, position in history?  How does this limit or enable what you write?  What poets would you claim as ancestors for your poetics? What direction would you like to see poetry going toward? Are there moral limitations to what you can write in a poem? How much does the author’s intention count toward the poem’s meaning? How much does its reception in history count? What is the relationship between the poet and the audience? Between the poem and the audience? Between the poet and the distribution of texts? Where in these relationships does meaning occur? Should poems be beautiful? What makes them beautiful? What constitutes a bad poem? What questions does your poetics refuse to address?

© 2014 Amy England, rights reserved