English 134

Contemporary Literature: Poetry in the Twenty-First Century

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Spring 2019 Falci, Eric
Lectures MW 9-10 in 56 Barrows + one hour of discussion section per week in different locations (sec. 102: F 10-11; sec. 104: F 1-2) Note new location: 56 Barrows

Book List

Long Soldier, Layli: Whereas; Rankine, Claudia: Citizen

Other Readings and Media

course reader


Rather than attempt to assemble a predictive canon of twenty-first century poetry (so far), this course will broadly consider the place and significance of poetry in the contemporary world.  This will mean looking at some of the key figures and celebrated poems of the past two decades, but it will also mean thinking about poetry within a broader political and social context.  We’ll spend plenty of time looking at the formal intricacies and figural densities of a number of marvelous and often zany texts, but we'll also mull the place of poems and poets in the complex environment of contemporary culture.

We often tend to think about poetry as a rarified art form, at least within the context of classrooms and literature departments and slim volumes and literary prizes.  And we often tend to equate poetry with difficulty or obscurity.  And we’ll certainly look at a number of poems that are, in their different ways, difficult or strange or inscrutable.  But we’ll also range quite widely across the scattered field of contemporary poetry, thinking about poetry as an art of performance (as in slam poetry and varieties of experimental sound poetry), a social media genre (the poem-tweet, the insta-poem, the poem-as-Facebook-post), and as both a generator of (for instance, Claudia Rankine’s Citizen) and participant in (as in Beyoncé’s use of Warsan Shire’s poetry in Lemonade) mixed-media forms.  

Along the way, we’ll consider poetry as a mode of thought and a means of critique, and we’ll investigate the ways that poets have shaped their poems in relation to contemporary questions about race, gender, politics, and power.  Finally, we’ll think about what poems have to say about the global crises that shape our unspooling century.  Throughout the semester, we’ll keep in mind an underlying pair of questions: does poetry matter in a contemporary world with which it seems, in certain ways, out of step?  And, if so, how?

A tentative reading list includes work by Rae Armantrout, John Ashbery, Mary Jo Bang, Caroline Bergvall, Christian Bök, Tongo Eisen-Martin, Rob Fitterman, Kenneth Goldsmith, Jorie Graham, Jen Hadfield, Lyn Hejinian, Kathleen Jamie, Rupi Kaur, Beyoncé, Layli Long Soldier, Tracie Morris, Paul Muldoon, Harryette Mullen, Geoffrey G. O'Brien, Alice Oswald, Claudia Rankine, Tom Raworth, Adrienne Rich, Denise Riley, Ed Roberson, Warshan Shire, Danez Smith, Tracy K. Smith, Juliana Spahr, Keston Sutherland, Kate Tempest, and Ocean Vuong.

Written course assignments include 2 essays and a final exam.  

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