English 320, Studies in Poetry, Fall 1999

Instructor: Michael Webster  Office Hours: MW 10-11, TTH 2-3 
e-mail: websterm@gvsu.edu Office: 129 Lake Huron Hall 
home page: http://faculty.gvsu.edu/websterm/ phone: 895-3071
Class meetings: TTH, 4:00-5:15, LSH

Required Texts:

Recommended Text:

On Reserve in the Library:
Bradbury, Malcolm, and James McFarlane, eds. Modernism: 1890-1930. New York: Penguin, 1976.
Nicholls, Peter. Modernisms: A Literary Guide. Berkeley: U of California P, 1995.

ENG 320 Schedule

Please read all introductions in Ellmann for each poet studied.

Week 1. [Aug. 31 & Sept. 2] Introduction; "Reading Poems" (Ellmann xxxiii-lxiv).

Theme: poems on fathers. Discuss Kenneth Koch article. Robert Frost and the "Georgians": Thomas Hardy, Edwin Arlington Robinson, Edward Thomas. Read Ellmann 120-131. From A Boy's Will, read "Mowing" and "The Tuft of Flowers." From North Of Boston, read "The Death of the Hired Man" and "Home Burial." From The Road Not Taken and Others, read "Putting in the Seed," "The Hill Wife," and "'Out, Out—'."

[No class Sept. 7.]

Week 2. [Sept. 9] Theme: Ekphrasis.

Week 3. [Sept. 14] Word & Image Conference—keynote speaker Claus Clüver "The Sister Arts in Contemporary Culture" (3:00-5:00 p.m. 1325 PAC)

[Sept. 15] Michael Webster "What is Visual Poetry" (10 a.m., 1325 PAC)

[Sept. 16] August Kleinzahler Poetry Reading (Cook-Dewitt, 4:00-500 p.m.)

Week 4. [Sept. 21 & 23] Frost and "Georgians" continued. Read D. H. Lawrence (199-205), Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, Robert Graves (326-331). Plus, read (not really "Georgians"): Claude McKay, Countee Cullen.

Week 5. [Sept. 28 & 30] Introduction to Symbolism (W. B. Yeats).

Read Ellmann 67-77. From Early Poems read "The Stolen Child," "Fergus and the Druid," "To Ireland in the Coming Times," "The Hosting of the Sidhe," "Into the Twilight," "The Song of the Wandering Aengus," "The Song of the Old Mother," "Mongan Laments the Change . . ," "Michael Robartes Remembers Forgotten Beauty," "The Valley of the Black Pig," "Aedh Thinks of Those Who Have Spoken Evil," "The Secret Rose," "The Old Men Admiring Themselves," "The Fascination of What's Difficult," "These Are the Clouds," "All Things Can Tempt Me."

Week 6. [Oct. 5 & 7] Yeats and Symbolism continued.

Read Ellmann 77-82. From Early Poems read "To a Friend Whose Work . . .," "Paudeen," "The Three Hermits," "Beggar to Beggar Cried," "The Witch," "The Peacock."

Week 7. [Oct. 12 & 14] Catch-up and leap ahead week.

The wake of the Imagists: Edgar Lee Masters, Carl Sandburg, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, D.H. Lawrence (205-213), Ezra Pound (214-218), H.D., E. E. Cummings, Langston Hughes. [Midterm]

Week 8. [Oct. 19 & 21] High Modernists: Yeats (83-98), Pound (219-235), and Eliot.

Week 9. [Oct. 26 & 28] Another look at "low" Modernists: William Carlos Williams, H.D., Marianne Moore, E. E. Cummings, Langston Hughes.

Week 10. [Nov. 2 & 4] Intensive study of E. E. Cummings. Choose topic for final paper.

Week 11. [Nov. 9 & 11] Auden and other poets of the 30's.

Week 12. [Nov. 16 & 18] Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop.

Week 13. [Nov. 23] Dylan Thomas and Theodore Roethke. Final paper due.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Week 14. [Nov. 30 & Dec. 2] Derek Walcott and Seamus Heaney.

Week 15. [Dec. 7 & 9] Read "engaged" poets of the 50's, 60's, and 70's: Allen Ginsberg, Robert Bly, Adrienne Rich, Gary Snyder, Audre Lorde, Imamu Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones), Jon Stallworthy, June Jordan, Tony Harrison, Michael Harper.

Final Exam: Thursday, Dec. 16, 4:00-5:50 p.m.

Course Goals and Policies, Eng 320, Fall 1999

Attendance: Since I've structured this course around discussion, rather than just lecture material, your attendance and your participation is vital. Those who are absent (in body or mind) will find the course less interesting and the material more difficult than those who attend and participate. You cannot "make up" the discoveries and the intellectual give-and-take created by a classroom full of individual personalities. You also deprive the class of the unique perspective that only you can bring. If you feel intimidated or puzzled by the readings or have some hesitancy about participating, please talk with me about it, whether after class, at the office, or via e-mail. Absence may make the heart grow fonder, but it definitely makes the grade go lower. Those who miss more than a week of classes without legitimate excuse will lose a letter grade for each additional absence. Work is not a legitimate excuse for absence.


English 320 will focus on the pleasures and intellectual challenges of reading modern poetry. As we read, enjoy, and interpret these poems we will also pay attention to two inter-related questions: the difficulty of modern poetry and the situation of the poet in the modern world. In addition, we will read the poems in the contexts of genres, themes, and movements.

Goals: Questions we will explore include:

1. What is poetry (or a poem) all about? (The title of one of John Ciardi's books asks the same question in a different way: How Does a Poem Mean? To help answer this question, students will learn some of the techniques and vocabulary useful in thinking and talking about poetry.)

2. What is modern about modern poetry?

3. What are some of the genres, themes, and movements in modern poetry?

4. What might be the purposes and functions of poetry in the modern world? What are some of the relations of the poet to the modern world?

5. What do we mean when we say that a poem is difficult or easy to read? Should poetry be easy?

In addition to trying out answers to these questions, I hope the course will help you enjoy and understand more about modern poetry and about active reading, clear writing, and critical thinking. I also hope that students will become life-long readers of poetry.

Readings: Feel free to ask questions about the poems and the process of reading them. Come to class prepared, having read the material and thought about the study questions and any other questions you have raised on your own. I will help you keep on track by giving quizzes or by assigning in-class writing from time to time. Your participation will help make the discussion lively and the course more memorable.

Questions: "The love of wisdom begins in wonder," said Socrates. We learn by asking and working out answers to questions. The study questions which I'll hand out are designed to stimulate your thinking and activate your reading, to highlight important issues, and to prepare you for in-class discussion. I ask three kinds of questions, reading and interpretive, and critical. Reading questions ask you to understand what you are reading; interpretation questions ask you to think about and interpret what you've read; and critical questions ask you to judge the quality of the poem by referring to matters of taste, period, history, politics, and ethics. The first kind of question is the easiest: it asks you about the content, plot, or the literal story-line. The second kind of question is more difficult, but has no real "right" or "wrong" answer, only better or worse answers according to the evidence and reasonings you can bring to back up your opinions. Interpretation questions usually contain phrases like "do you think" or "why do you suppose." The third kind of question is the most difficult to answer and involves the most personal response. When reading, we ask all three kinds of questions all the time.

Writing: Besides reading and interpreting individual poems in class, (investigating meaning, theme, metaphor, symbol, diction, meter, rhyme, alliteration, assonance, and other poetic devices), students will write several short (2-3 pp.) papers on individual poems. I may give you a quiz or two to help you keep up with the reading. Quizzes may take the form of short, in-class response papers. There will be a short midterm (essay, some choices) and a final paper on a single poet of the student’s choice.

Final Paper Topics include:

(I will help you choose poets, topics, and biographical and critical works.)

1. A critical examination of one theme of one poet, including close readings of 2-3 of his / her poems and considration of some biographical information and critical wisdom on "your" poet.

2. A lesson plan detailing how you would introduce modern poetry to your future students. This lesson plan must include examples of pedagogical strategies and expected outcomes. (A good book to look at: Kenneth Koch's Rose, Where Did You Get that Red?).

3. A paper exploring a theme common to several (2-3?) modern poets. Your paper should include 2-3 close readings of individual poems and careful consideration of wht you've learned by comparing similar themes in different poets.

4. A creative project involving your own poetic response to modern poems we've been reading, plus prose commentary on that response. (You may discuss influence, technique, themes, genres, your responses, etc.) Topics 2 and 4 must include detailed analyses similar or analogous to the close readings in topics 1 and 3.

Grading: Your final grade will be based on the following (rough) percentages: class participation and quizzes 20%, short papers 30%, short midterm 20%, final paper, 30%.

Introductory Questions ENG 320 1. Name your favorite poem(s) or kind of poetry.
2. What do you like and / or dislike about poems / poetry?

3. How would you define poetry? What do you think it is good for in the world? (Read and react to "Definitions.")

4. [optional] If you write poetry, what kinds of poems and poetic forms do you like to write? Why?

5. In your opinion, what are some good ways for English classes and /or teachers to approach / teach poetry?

6. If you have memorized any poems or portions of poems, write their titles here.

Assignment: (Study Ellmann on rhythm, meter, and rhyme: pages xlix-liii and lvii-lxi.)

1. Chose any short Frost poem (except "Range Finding"). Scan any two lines of the poem. (Note: "scan" means "notate the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables.") Try to notate the actual rhythm rather than the ideal meter of the lines. (See Ellmann, "Sound and Form" xlix-lii.)

1a. In what ways do the rhythmic effects of the lines you've chosen to scan contribute towards meanings in the poem? Explain.

2. Give the technical name of the meter of the poem (e.g., "iambic pentameter"). Notate the rhyme scheme, if any. For rhyme scheme, see Ellmann lvii-lxi.)

3. Note in what ways at least two other sound effects (rhyme, alliteration, assonance, long or short vowel-sounds, onomatopoeia) in the poem contribute towards its meaning(s).