“April is the cruelest month,” writes T.S. Eliot in the opening lines of The Waste Land (1922), “breeding Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing Memory and desire.” What does modern poetry remember, and what does modern poetry want? This course, an introduction to the exhilarating, maddening, and strange experiments of twentieth-century poetry, explores how poets responded to the astonishing social, political, aesthetic, and technological upheavals of a rapidly modernizing world. Poised at the cusp of memory and desire, poetry’s work in the modern world is a site of major contest, not least for poets themselves. In an age of mass movements, mass atrocities, the rise of mass media, and all their associated risks and potentials, what is poetry for, and what can it do?
With an emphasis on high modernism and its immediate successors, this course considers the uses of poetry: how it remembers and how it forgets, how it desires and how it rejects, how it protests and how it invents. Among other concerns, this class invokes questions of elegy, historical and political memory, gender, sexuality, technology, poetic tradition, and formal innovation. In addition to situating poetic practices within the accelerated social changes of modernity, we will also explore various methodologies for reading poetry and for understanding the implications of “poetry” as a category. How do you read a poem? And how do you read a modern poem? To what degree are different kinds of modern poetry continuous with different traditions and to what degree to they break with tradition? Do modern poets invent traditions in order to stage a conspicuous break with the past? Students will read the work of major modern poets in British and American contexts as well as critical supplements that theorize and historicize these texts. Authors on the syllabus include W.H. Auden, T.S. Eliot, H.D., Langston Hughes, Mina Loy, Claude McKay, Marianne Moore, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, Wallace Stevens, Jean Toomer, and W.B. Yeats.
Instructors will contact students approximately one week prior to the first class with reading assignments and details about the course location.