Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Modern American Poetry

ENGL 088.601
instructor(s):
Wednesday 5:30-8:30pm
fulfills requirements:
Sector 1: Theory and Poetics of the Standard Major
Sector 6: 20th Century Literature of the Standard Major

Whether watching the latest YouTube star, listening to New Wave music, or navigating the language of political discourse, we are constantly awash in aesthetics that find their origins in the poetry of the early twentieth century. This fascinating period that began with the technological invention of the industrial revolution and continued through World War II, gave rise to a proliferation of diverse and powerful writing styles. In our survey of this period, we will experience many different poets who understood poetry as a kind of technology, “a small (or large) machine made out of words,” as William Carlos Williams defined a poem. Most importantly, we will encounter these poems as sound recordings of the poets performing, alongside the written texts of the poems. We will listen to and read poets like Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and James Weldon Johnson to try to understand how their poetics operate between sound and sight. And while this course focuses on American poetry, we will be sure to experience poetries from numerous geographical locales in order to understand how American poetry developed within an international dialogue. No prior experience with poetry is necessary for this course. We will spend time experiencing many poems together, with the aim of introducing you to a range of poets and many works that shape the sounds and language of our current moment.