Studies in Lyric Poetry
Course Online: Synchronous Format
In this sophomore-level course, students will learn to close-read important examples of an immense and varied English-language genre, Lyric Poetry. For our purposes, Lyric Poetry will be defined as short poems, sometimes set to music, that express the thoughts or emotions of a first-person speaker. Students will learn what close-reading is and why it’s an important critical-thinking tool, then will close-read lyric poems from the seventeenth century to the present. Students will be required not only to read and interpret, but also to memorize, recite, and write lyric poetry in specific forms.
Prerequisites: Students in any discipline are welcome, There are no required course prerequisites. The course is designed for newly declared English majors and undergraduates thinking of majoring or minoring in English.
Course Goals: Lyric poems are among the best-known and most-familiar poems in English. Studying them is a way to get to know canonical writing and to participate in literary history. Studying lyric poetry also allows students to appreciate how formal innovations can occur in a standardized literary form over time; this process is only visible when you have learned to recognize the received organizing structures that are being revised. Knowledge of the traditional forms and purposes of specific poetic forms equips students to enter larger conversations about why poetry matters, whom it is for, and how it lives in time, including our own time. For creative writers, understanding poetic forms can help you to refine your own work .
Course Emphases: The lyrical form called “sonnet” was a dominant English-language poetic form for generations. “Sonnet” is a phenomenon with its own literary history. Tracing that history allows us to understand, in miniature, many of the functions of lyric poetry in time. Accordingly, sonnets will take up most of our attention in this course. Students will learn to recognize and work within three of the major sonnet structures in English (Petrarchan, Shakespearean, Spenserian).
There are also other forms of lyric poetry that have, at particular historical moments, been preferred by writers and readers. So after studying sonnets in the three basic forms, we will consider why sonnet-writing and -reading falls in and out of favor, depending on the purposes and functions of poetry at specific moments in history, and what alternative varieties of lyric poetry writers and readers have turned to when sonnets were out of fashion. What are sonnets able to do, and what are they not able to do, and for whom? What are other forms of lyric poetry able to do? we’ll sample a selection of alternative lyric forms, asking what else these forms offer. Obviously, we’ll only scratch the surface of a huge set of possible lyric forms and texts.
Course structure and Requirements: This on-line, synchronous course will be divided into two main units of study, “Sonnets” and “Not Sonnets.” Over the course of the semester, each student will be required to 1) post to the Discussion tab on Canvas a Poem Study of an assigned poem by midnight before each class meeting. A Poem Study has three parts: a complete paraphrase of what the poem is saying line-by-line, an annotated list of words that the student has looked up in the OED in order to construct the paraphrase, and at least one close examination of a problematic line or phrase. We'll study these Discussion posts as we close-read the poems together in class. 2) memorize 2 lyric poems and perform them in class on assigned dates; 3) work in a committee to close-read an assigned lyric poem and present the close-reading in an organized way in class; and 4) as a final project, either
-- memorize, recite, and close-read, in a 5-6 page essay (professionally formatted), a lyric poem selected from a list provided by the instructor; or
-- prepare an annotated bibliography of at least 10 secondary works focused on a poem we have read together in class, accompanied by your own 1- to 3-page reading of the poem in light of the secondary writing; or
-- compose and read aloud an original sonnet in any one of the three dominant forms.