English R1A

Reading & Composition: Thinking ‘Bout Forever: Poetry and Pop Music

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
3 Fall 2015 Benjamin, Daniel
MWF 2-3 222 Wheeler

Book List

Notley, Alice: The Descent of Alette; O'Hara, Frank: Lunch Poems; Rankine, Claudia: Citizen

Other Readings and Media

A course reader will be available with texts by William Shakespeare, Charlotte Smith, Dorothy Wordsworth, William Wordsworth, Jack Spicer, Ted Berrigan, Bernadette Mayer, Anne Boyer, Brandon Brown, and Dana Ward.

We will also listen to a number of pop songs, by artists including Frank Ocean, Icona Pop, Taylor Swift, Dr. Dre, and Stevie Wonder, as well as all of Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly. Additionally, we will listen to songs suggested by members of the class.


So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee. (Shakespeare, Sonnet 18)

Do poems last forever? Shakespeare seemed to think so, or at least he thought that poems could transmit a boy’s beauty after his body was long dead. In this course, we will consider the claims to “forever” that poems make. Is this claim essential to poetry, or is poetry perhaps just as fleeting as a summer’s day? We’ll think about the desire for poems to last forever alongside another lyric genre that seems committed to its own self-destruction: the pop song. While a pop hit can get stuck in your head, it’s likely to be replaced by another one. Are poems more like pop songs? Or can pop songs last forever too, as Frank Ocean sings: “Do you not think so far ahead? / ‘Cause I been thinking ‘bout forever”? In this course we will consider the temporal implications of love poems written on bar napkins, mythopoetic epics, club hits, slow jams, political interventions, ballads, anthems, songs that own the summer, and poems that everyone knows by heart. Where and how do poems or songs last—in our heads, on the page, in our repetitions? Are today’s songs and poems covering the same ground as Shakespeare did centuries ago? Or do new forms bring new feelings? Over the semester, we will be listening to short songs, and reading (mostly) short texts, slowly and carefully. We’ll consider how form and medium impact thematic content, and how questions of temporality are encoded in form.

This course seeks to develop your critical thinking and writing skills. Therefore, alongside this close reading and listening, you will produce several papers of increasing length. These papers will be developed through outlining, drafting, editing, and revising.

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