This course connects various definitions of poetry to historical contexts and the persistent questions about what it means to be "American." As we consider modern poetry, we will remember how poets in the 19th century used language to think about what it meant to be an American in the midst of slavery, Civil War and westward expansion. How did poets in the 20th century adapt, rewrite and contradict their literary predecessors? Discussion will include frequent close reading of poems, the careful analysis of poetic structure, reflection on literary periodization (Romantic, Naturalist, Modern, Postmodern), and the consideration of the broader historical turmoil in which poems were being written, published and read. Course requirements include two essays, active participation in class and listserve discussion, as well as some writing of poetry. We will consider work by Bryant, Poe, Emerson, Longfellow, Whitman, Dickinson, Bishop, Frost, Dunbar, Elliot, Williams, Hughes, Stein, Cummings, Millay, Stevens, Sandburg, Ginsberg, Lorde, Bly, Brooks, Creeley, Baraka, Giovanni, Harjo, Ortiz and Dove.