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JRS Poetry Audio Lab: Modern Poetry and Sound Studies

ENGL 200.301
TR 4:30-6
fulfills requirements:
Sector 1: Theory and Poetics of the Standard Major
Sector 6: 20th Century Literature of the Standard Major
Junior Research Seminar Requirement of the Standard Major

How would we understand the development of modern poetry differently by studying it through sound recordings of poets reading their own work, rather than primarily through the texts of the poems? Going beyond works that feature the written word and into the realm of oral or unwritten works, we will also listen to recordings of folk songs, African-American spirituals, blues, and vaudeville to understand the inter-development of sonic poetics during the period.

In our poetry audio lab, we will make extensive use of recordings from the PennSound archive and work with the materials in a hands-on fashion: recording podcast episodes of close listenings to poems in the Wexler Studio of the Kelly Writers House, and learning how to do remix and collage work with audio files (in the vein of Cassandra Gillig’s Put Me In Charge of Poetry Magazine). The course includes a precis of some of the newest digital tools for studying poetry recordings, considering voices as data that can be visualized. No prior experience in these areas is necessary, just an interest in how sound shapes meaning.

Using the audio files, we will work to hear in new ways the development of several different strains of American poetic modernism (e.g. the High-Modernism of Eliot, the Afro-Modernism of James Weldon Johnson, the proto-postmodernism of Gertrude Stein) as they developed alongside key works from European avant-gardes, like Kurt Schwitters’ Ursonate and works from Italian and Russian Futurisms (heard in translation). This course is a Junior Research Seminar, and it will culminate in a research project that will contribute to scholarship on the performed poem. 

Major requirements: Fulfills Sector 1, Sector 6, JRS