English 20

Modern British and American Literature: Graphic Poetics

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Spring 2016 Le, Serena
TTh 3:30-5 206 Wheeler

Book List

Recommended: Bergvall, Caroline: Drift; Cha, Theresa Hak Kyung: Dictee; Rankine, Claudia: Citizen

Other Readings and Media

You will be given a course reader containing all poems and essays listed on the syllabus, including excerpts from the works and writings of William Blake, John Keats, Charlotte Smith, Gertrude Stein, Langston Hughes, Robert Duncan, Susan Howe, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Anne Carson, Claudia Rankine, and others. These readings will be additionally available online (via bCourses) and on course reserve at the library. You will not be required to purchase any texts for this class.


This course takes its inspiration from two very recent works of poetry: Caroline Bergvall’s Drift (2014) and Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, both of which rely on a vast array of contemporary multimedia, printing, and performance techniques to accomplish their respective aimsSet alongside Shakespeare's sonnets or Robert Frost's snowy woods, these works can at times seem hardly recognizable as literature, much less as the subset of literature we typically call "poetry." Yet the boldest and most enduring claims about poetry describe it first and foremost as a medium for vivid and exceptional expression—a medium variously capable of capturing, creating, and even remaking human nature and reality. Rather than retreating from the dizzying pressures and perceptual richnesses of our media-saturated day-to-days, works like Rankine's and Bergvall's rush headlong into the fray, using contemporary materials to convey contemporary experience. In so doing, they in fact join a long lineage of writers for whom language is merely one aspect of poetic process and power, and who see other expressive registers as important, even necessary, components of the work they call poetry. This is the lineage our course charts and explores.
The "graphic" of our course title refers both to the integration of visual media and linguistic materials in many of the works we will encounter, and to the longer history of poetic attempts to represent, in increasingly explicit detail, some aspect of lived life. Throughout the semester, we will read from a rich array of projects that exceed prevailing expectations for written language. We will also attend a series of live performances that do what might be considered poetic work: grappling with the terms and potentials of representation, imagination, viscerality, and excess. These performances will likewise be graphic, both in the sense of involving text and visual media, and in the sense of being live occurrences with clear contemporary investments. As we will learn, not only can a poem inspire such things as a string, wind, and percussion sextet, but it can also require the expressive registers of an orchestra, a media room, a human body, or a paintbrush in order simply to exist as itself. Perhaps, by this definition, more things are poems than we realize.
This course is funded by a grant from Cal Performances and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. All Cal Performances tickets, as well as admission fees to related events, will be provided to students free of charge. Please do not sign up for this course unless you feel you can commit to attending ALL on-campus performance events. The dates and times are as follows: Sunday, January 31, 3 pm; Sunday, February 14, 3 pm; Saturday, March 19, 2 pm; Thursday, April 14, 8 pm; and Sunday, May 1, 7 pm.

Other Recent Sections of This Course

Back to Semester List