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Modern & Contemporary U.S. Poetry: Collaborative Poetics & Pedagogy

ENGL 589.301
M 3-6:00


This survey of experimental modern and contemporary U.S. poetry will be taught collaboratively,* and its primary mode will be interactive and iterative. This will be simultaneously a course in the canonical and alt-canonical lineages of modernist-to-contemporary poetry and, at the same time, in a meta-institutional and meta-pedagogical consciousness about how such expression is taught and learned and by whom. The poems, poets, and avant-garde poetic theories to be studied and discussed in the seminar are valued for doing (as textual forms) what they say (as content). In these poems there is to be discerned a politics (and a “poethics”) of poetic form. Crucially, this poethics extends to matters of the institutional contexts in which such poems are taught and to the question of how poems are read privately, in isolation, or collaboratively across interpretive communities and whether such settings affect meaning-making. Participants will learn to read the poems in the seminar by learning how to teach them. We will experiment with various learning communities that have formed around this poetry—including the worldwide network of readers, writers, and teachers who constitute “ModPo,” the voluntary, non-credit, open online version of the same course of study we ourselves will undertake, which will exist in parallel with our discussions as an IRL seminar.


Weekly short written responses to the readings, posted prior to each meeting of the seminar, will be required. Other projects will include participants’ own making/producing video recordings of collaborative close readings of poems in or adjacent to the syllabus; podcasts; involvement in global live interactive webcasts; participation in related readings and symposia at the Kelly Writers House; the use of PennSound as a site for “close listening”; explorations of alternative pedagogies in both theorized and actual venues and settings; and in-person interactions with some of the poets whose work is featured in the course.


The seminar assumes a close, productive relationship between, on one hand, the kinds of poetry that experiments with language, address, plurality of authorship, and form, and, on the other hand, the kinds of pedagogy that similarly experiment with learning space/time/community.  Does the open poetic form augur a more (rather than less) open interpretive community? What is the potential democratic association between those two opennesses.


Among the poets whose work is discussed: Emily Dickinson, William Carlos Williams, Lorine Niedecker, Cid Corman, Rae Armantrout, H.D., Gertrude Stein, Elsa von Freytag Loringhoven, Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, Bob Kaufman, Anne Waldman, John Yau, Amiri Baraka, Jayne Cortez, Barbara Guest, John Ashbery, Bernadette Mayer, Lyn Hejinian, Charles Bernstein, Harryette Mullen, John Cage, Joan Retallack, Caroline Bergvall, Erica Baum, Tracie Morris, Helen Adam, Larry Eigner, Rosemarie Waldrop, Laynie Browne, Monica de la Torre, Hannah Sanghee Park, Divya Victor, Yolanda Wisher & Erica Hunt. Among the movements/trends encountered: imagism, cubism, the Harlem Renaissance, neo-formalism, the New York School, the Beats, the New American poetry, Black Arts, aleatory poetry, Language writing, conceptualism and post-conceptualism. The poems we read and discuss each week will be supplemented by a relevant critical and/or theoretical reading.


* Al Filreis, Davy Knittle, Amber Rose Johnson, Lily Applebaum, and Anna Strong Safford.


Anyone with questions about the course should feel free to contact Al Filreis at