First Year Seminar: Lyric Poetry and Life Writing
What kind of life writing is poetry? When we say that the raw expression of thought and feeling is not art, but a poem is, what do we mean? What is gained (and what lost) when writers give poetic form to experiences and emotions? In this seminar, we’ll investigate that question by reading a series of modern poets alongside other forms of life writing that they produced, including, for example, letters and diaries, autobiographies and memoirs, essays and fiction. We’ll start with some quick case studies on Wordsworth, Whitman, and Dickinson. For the remainder of the semester, we’ll work intensively on Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, Philip Larkin, Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, Audre Lorde, Bob Dylan, and Claudia Rankine. The course will provide an introductory survey of modern lyric poetry (1790-2020) and a basic toolkit for reading and interpreting poems. Written requirements will include informal weekly reading journals, two short critical essays (1000 words each), and one longer research-driven paper on a single poet (3000 words).