Whether via poem, chant, song, or slogan, the lyric has made the same demands on us for millennia: addressing us directly, asking for our undivided attention, and focusing us on this moment, this now. Since antiquity, nothing has surpassed it for creating a sense of immediacy or the illusion of presence. In this course we’ll consider how lyric poetry has shaped our ideas of literary address, intimacy, tone, and voice. What materializes when we read and write poetry? And how do poems transform individual encounters into shared, communal experiences? This last question will occupy us in a variety of forms, as we trace the lyric’s role in mediating between artistic experience and the communities that poems imagine. As such, we’ll read a range of poets from different periods in history, tracking how they imagine communities into or out of being. Together we’ll develop the critical vocabulary that will enable us to read lyric poetry across time, whether classical (Sappho and Pindar), early modern (Shakespeare and Herbert), enlightened (Cowley and Finch), romantic (Wordsworth and the Brownings), modern (Moore and Creeley), or contemporary (Brooks and Rankine). At the same time, we’ll ask why the lyric— that tradition perpetually focused on the here and now — remains so compelling and relevant to us today.
For this version of English 200, assignments will include exercises in bibliography, criticism, and historical research; several opportunities to create or workshop your own poetry; and a final independent project. No prior knowledge of poetry or poetics is required.