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The Sound of Poetry, the Poetry of Sound: from Homer to Langston Hughes

ENGL 054.401
instructor(s):
fulfills requirements:
Sector 1: Theory and Poetics of the Standard Major
Sector 6: 20th Century Literature of the Standard Major

We will conduct a wide-ranging survey of some of the fundamental issues and specific manifestations of oral poetry and poetics.

Our materials will be grouped into the following clusters:

1) the Homeric transition from oral to written poetry
This will include: Book 1 of the /Iliad/; /The Bacchae/; selections from Plato warning of the hypnotic dangers of poetry; chapters from Eric Havelock and others discussing the mechanics and entailments of oral composition. This background will inform a discontinuous survey of 19th-century attempts to recover the virtues of the classics (e.g., Longfellow's attempts to imitate Homer meter) and  20th/21st-century re-imaginings of Homer (e.g., Pound's first two Cantos)

2) the legacy of the blues and other Afro-diasporic performance practices in 20th/21st written and spoken word forms. This will include a survey of West African epic poetry in song (particularly in the djeli/griot traditions of Mali, Guinea, Senegal and Gambia); early blues recordings and the politics of collecting folklore; the use of the blues in Harlem Renaissance writing as well as in the work of other American modernists; adaptations including Langston Hughes; jazz poetry; versioning; dub poetry; spoken word; hip-hop. Our methods will mix analysis and performance. We will ask the students to dwell attentively in the literate world (reading texts carefully and writing papers with care) and also to experience the very different attentions that the oral/aural world demands (memorizing, performing, and recreating poems).