Modern Poetry

We will read major poems by the most important poets in English in the twentieth century, from the period post-WW I disillusionment, through WW II internationalism and beyond. Our special focus this term will be on how the concept of “the Image”evolved during this period. The War had undercut beliefs in master-narratives of nationalism and empire, and the language-systems that supported them (religious transcendence, rationalism, and formalism). Retrieving energies from the Symbolist movements of the preceding century and from turnof-the-century technologies of vision, early twentieth-century poets began to rethink how images carry information, and in what ways the visual, visionary, and verbal image can take the place of transcendent beliefs. New theories of linguistics and anthropology helped to advance this interest in the artistic/religious/social image. So did Freud. So did Charlie Chaplin. So did the invention of the snapshot. We will read poems that pay attention both to this disillusionment and to the compensatory joyous attention to the image: to ideas of the poet as language priest, aesthetic experience as displaced religious impulse, to poems as faith, ritual, and cultural form– and to poems as witness of the ordinary, the joyous, the goofy, the strange. Poets whose work we will read include: W.B. Yeats, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Hilda Doolittle, Gertrude Stein, William Carlos Williams, Langston Hughes, Sylvia Plath, Elizabeth Bishop. Several short papers, class presentations, no final exam. Several visiting poets, slams, readings and performances.