English R1B

Reading and Composition: Documentary Poetry and Immaterial Poetry

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
15 Spring 2016 Benjamin, Daniel
TTh 12:30-2 225 Wheeler

Book List

Carson, Anne: Nox; Cha, Theresa Hak Kyung: Dictee; Philip, M. NourbeSe: Zong!; Reines, Ariana: Mercury; Reznikoff, Charles: Testimony

Other Readings and Media

A course reader with poems by Langston Hughes, Muriel Rukeyser, Jack Spicer, Hannah Weiner, Susan Howe, and Dana Ward.


“Poetry’s not made of words,” writes Ariana Reines in her recent book Mercury (2012). This course considers that claim. Can literature be reduced to the words that make it up, or is there a surplus that a materialistic view of poetry fails to capture? What is material and what is immaterial in 20th-century American poetry? The central archive for this investigation is a group of texts sometimes referred to as “documentary poetry,” texts with close relations to source material. Some of these texts showcase the author’s deformation of the source text, while others “merely” reproduce them. Questions to be considered include: What is at stake in these interactions with source material? What does it mean for poetry to take up a documentary task? How do poetry’s apparently immaterial aims interact with these documentary approaches?

This course seeks to develop your critical thinking and writing skills. We will learn how to build evidence-based arguments from our readings of literary texts, and how to construct and pursue compelling research questions. Assignments will include two shorter essays (one of which may be creative), and a longer research essay.

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