Regardless of your level of experience, this course will challenge your preconceptions of “poetry” and teach you how to collaborate with poets, to inhabit a poem, and to experience and be transformed by language. We will approach poems not as puzzles but as fields of possibility. We will examine our resistances and relations to dense or unusual language and develop our capacities in reading closely, deeply, and openly across form, imagery, sound, and metaphor. Above all, we will learn to be close readers of a poem, able to experience the poem across the senses as the poem unfolds linearly and also creates constellations of meaning. Creative responses will, among others, include writing your own poems in imitation of poets we study (along with a paragraph or so of explanation of how you went about writing your poem).
We start the course with Marianne Moore, reading her poetry and then visiting the Marianne Moore archive and apartment at the Rosenbach Museum in Philadelphia in order to see up close drafts of the poems we read. We then join the annual massive online course affectionately known as “ModPo,” based here at UPenn at the Kelly Writers House and overseen by Prof. Al Filreis. Our class will thus be both intimate, a small, tight community of readers, and at the same time each of us will become an active part of a global community engaged in collaborative close readings of poems in real time.
We will join live broadcasts from the Kelly Writers House, asking our own questions and answering questions posed by people calling in as they watch the broadcast somewhere on Earth via the internet. To think about the art of poetry is also to think about available technologies of writing and reception. Not only will be part of a global community of poetry readers made possible by electronic transmission, we will also have a pet class typewrite for you to try your hand and feel what it was like to write many of the poems we will read.
Midway through the semester, we will travel to New York City to investigate the poetry writing methods and poems of the poet Frank O’Hara, starting at the Museum of Modern Art and proceeding to explore the urban landscape featured in his book Lunch Poems.
Over the duration of the course, we will encounter a great range of modern and contemporary U.S. and North American poets, moving on from Moore to the proto-modernists Dickinson and Whitman before proceeding on through pivotal works of Modernism, Beat poetry, Confessional poetry, the New York School, Language poetry, and procedural or conceptual poetry. We will turn to a number of poems emergent from both Native American and Caribbean cultures. We will see how ideas of community not only are key to our own reading practices but also structure poems themselves as poet imagines an audience of readers and expresses social and political imperatives.
We end in the latest field of possibility, reading innovative works in recent 21st-century poetics, from the politics of revising and updating ancient myths to implanting a poem written with DNA into a bacterium to extreme rituals created and enacted in order to gather notes for new poems. You will complete the course with an invigorated sense of your own existence within language: as speaker, as writer, and as reader.