Spring 2016 - Graduate Course Descriptions
Description of Course:
Poetry is an art of words. Its study is the core of the study of literature itself, as literature is the core of the humanities and humanities the core of a university.
As an art, poetry is akin to music, in that it is a way of making prosodic patterns that are memorable, meaningful, and moving. As such it requires an understanding of rhythm and periodic structures that are not unique to any one culture or group of cultures, but are part of the human patrimony; one can scan Japanese, Mesopotamian, Mayan and New Guinean poetry in the same ways that we scan Greek, Roman, German and English poetry. Poetry is one of the shamanic arts, combining story, music, imagery, logic and a kind of magic made of the resonances of the connotations that are embedded in every human word.
Poetry is also an art of time, a way of making the passage of words in time form structures that embody and preserve processes of feeling and thought that would otherwise be lost.
And as an art of words in particular poetry both demands attention to the etymological history of its materials and offers all the resources of grammar and idiom that enable us to communicate in a rich and nuanced way. Human beings make language and expand it by almost every sentence that they speak, since no words are ever spoken again in exactly the same context and for the same intended meaning. Poetry intensifies this exploratory function of language. So dialects and the jargons of sciences, trades, crafts, generations and political communities will not be out of bounds.
We are going to examine both the theory and the practice of poetry, in the process of making poetry together and honing it to its own characteristic excellence.
This course will have four interwoven strands. The first will be an introduction to the theory of metrical composition, including a discussion of its origins and evolution, its neurophysiology, its history and its cultural and religious context. The second will be a guided apprenticeship in the practice and technique of meter, rhyme, and stanza forms. The third strand will be the close study of a number of poems, both original and in translation.
The fourth strand will be an investigation of the concept of the ars poetica, the poet's view of the world and the place of poetry in the world. We may give attention to the issues of translation and narrative poetry. This strand will focus on the ideas, arguments, and thoughts of poetry. It will develop an ars poetica of meaning, using as models such poets as Shakespeare, Donne, Milton, Pope, Goethe, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Dickinson, Eliot, Stevens, Yeats and others, including translations from the Hungarian, German, and Chinese traditions. We will study the relationship between poetic form and the complex prophetic propositions that poetry introduces into the language, and explore the practical use of significant storytelling, richly nuanced grammar, deep allegory, characterization, point of view, logic, style, voice, symbolism, metaphor and other rhetorical devices in crafting a poetic/philosophic idea.
We will use the experience of seeing from the inside how poets so richly and economically express their ideas for the immediate practical purpose of making poetry that is both deep in meaning and luminously intelligible. The course will include an ongoing workshop in which students will present their own work for discussion.
Class work may include short written responses to the poems on the syllabus, a series of metrical exercises leading up to the completion of an elegantly correct sonnet; and a poem of the students' own composition in a form of their choosing. Grades will be based on this work and on contribution to class discussion.
The main texts for the course will include Harold Bloom's The Best Poems of the English Language: From Chaucer Through Robert Frost and Clement Woodâ€™s Rhyming Dictionary and Poetâ€™s Craft Book. We will also use various electronic texts and handouts.
Course Requirements/Evaluation Criteria:
This class is intended for three types of student: those whose inclination is toward literary scholarship and criticism, but who wish to get an insider's sense of the craft of making poetry and its strange pleasures and frustrations; writers of fiction, nonfiction, or other genres who feel that they may have a poetic gift and wish to test it by close study, practice, and the judgment of an experienced practitioner and their peers; and those who are already practicing poets, who wish to both sharpen their skill and renew their inspiration.
By the end of the semester students will be expected to be able to write a technically correct piece of formal verse, to understand what is meant by an ars poetica, and to be able to explain how a poem in the canon achieves its musical effects.