ENGL 3P45: Modern Poetry and Poetics

Instructor: Professor Tim Conley
Class times: Mon 17:00-19:00
Office: GLN 125 Office hours: Thurs 14:30-16:30
Email: tconley@brocku.ca Office phone: (905) 688­5550 ext. 5196
Teaching Assistant: Andrew McEwan
E-mail: amcewan@brocku.ca

Course overview
“The poet is a radio. The poet is a liar. The poet is a counterpunching radio.” – Jack Spicer

This course offers, on the one hand, a kind of orientation in the history, forms, and experiments of poetry of the last hundred years and, on the other hand, a purposeful disorientation within language itself. Students will read a variety of poets comparatively, in the interest of mapping out what we might broadly call tendencies (shared or related interests, features, and directions) among them, and thereby come to an appreciation of “modern poetry and poetics.”

Marking scheme
Evaluation will be based upon two essays (the first worth 20%, the second 35%), an outline for a poetry anthology (worth 25%), and class participation (20%). Students will receive at least 15% of the grade by March 3, and should note that the last day to drop a D3 course without penalty is March 10. Please note that completion of all assignments is required to pass the course. All assigned work must be submitted in hard copy: emailed essays will not be accepted.

Required Texts
Stephen Cain, False Friends
Harryette Mullen, Sleeping with the Dictionary
Jack Spicer, My Vocabulary Did This to Me: The Collected Poetry
Gertrude Stein, Tender Buttons
Keith Tuma, ed., Anthology of Twentieth-Century British and Irish Poetry

Late policy
A penalty of three percent (3%) for each day late, including weekends, will be incurred in all cases except certified emergencies. Papers more than seven days late will not be accepted, and a mark of zero will be given for the assignment. Requests for extensions sent by email will not be entertained.

Simply: don’t even think about it. Students are referred to Brock University’s official policy on plagiarism, and they are further advised that the instructor has an especially low view of such behaviour.

Medical Emergencies
All students should familiarize themselves with Brock’s Medical Exemption policy and follow its procedures if necessary (see http://www.brocku.ca/healthservices/exemption.php).

January 9         course introduction
                          Hopkins, “[Carrion Comfort]” (Tuma 20)

January 16        Yeats, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” (Tuma 32)
                          Yeats, “The Second Coming” (Tuma 40)
                          Yeats, “Leda and the Swan” (Tuma 48-49)
                          Yeats, “The Circus Animals’ Desertion” (Tuma 57-58)

                          seminar (week of January 16-20): Yeats, “Among School Children” (Tuma 49-51)

January 23        Mew, “The Farmer’s Bride” (Tuma 60-61)
                          Mew, “Monsieur Qui Passe” (Tuma 63-64)

                          seminar (week of January 23-27): Wickham, “Divorce” (Tuma 96-97) and “Meditation at Kew” (Tuma 98)

January 30       Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (Tuma 125-28)

                          seminar (week of January 30-February 3): Warner, “Nelly Trim” (Tuma 190-92)

February 6       Stein, Tender Buttons
                          Stein, “Composition as Explanation” (online)

                          seminar (week of February 6-10): Smith, “Not Waving but Drowning” (266) and “Pretty” (268)

February 13      Rosenberg, “Break of Day in the Trenches” (Tuma 156)
                          Owen, “Arms and the Boy” (Tuma 205)
                          Loy, “Der Blinde Junge” (Tuma 92)

                          seminar (week of February 13-17): Auden, “In Memory of W. B. Yeats” (Tuma 313-15)

February 20-24 Reading Week (no classes)

February 27      Larkin, “Church Going” (Tuma 446-47)
                           Larkin, “Water” (Tuma 449)
                           Larkin, “High Windows” (Tuma 452-53)

                           seminar (week of February 27-March 3): Tomlinson, “The Plaza” (Tuma 489-91)

March 6             Spicer, After Lorca (105-54)
                           Spicer, The Heads of the Town Up to the Aether (247-313)

                           seminar (week of March 6-10): Spicer, The Holy Grail (329-58)

March 13           Spicer, The Heads of the Town Up to the Aether (247-313)
                           Spicer, Language (371-402)

                           seminar (week of March 13-17): Tonks, “The Sofas, Fogs, and Cinemas” (Tuma 557) and Adcock, “Leaving the Tate” (Tuma 589-90)

March 20           Mullen, Sleeping with the Dictionary

                           seminar (week of March 20-24): Shapcott, “Phrase Book” (Tuma 843) and Duffy, “Translating the English, 1989” (Tuma 853)

March 27           Cain, False Friends

                           seminar (week of March 27-31): Riley, “Wherever you are, be somewhere else” (Tuma 752-53) and Monk, “Where?” (Tuma 825)

April 3                Bergvall, “Les jets de la Poupee” (912-19)
                            course review

Seminar 1           Tues 11:00-12:00 EA 107
Seminar 2           Mon 15:00-16:00 EA 307

Attendance and active participation in seminar are expected: students who miss more than three seminars (without a signed note from a physician) forfeit the whole of their participation mark. Attendance is not synonymous with participation, though late arrivals and early departures may adversely affect the participation mark. Use of communication technology (such as texting devices and cell phones) in seminar is entirely unwelcome, may lower participation marks significantly, and may result in the student’s being asked to leave the seminar.

*Please check the registrar’s webpage to see whether room assignments have changed.

(1) Short Essay
Topics will be handed out in class at least two weeks before the deadline.
Length: 5-7 pages, plus works cited list
Due: February 13

(2) Long Essay
Topics will be handed out in class at least two weeks before the deadline. This essay must use at least two secondary sources, such as an article from a scholarly journal or a book of literary criticism. Please note that students who have not picked up their first (short) essay by the time the second essay is due forfeit the right to any comments on the latter.
Length: 12-15 pages, plus works cited list
Due: March 20 or April 10 (whichever date you do not hand in the anthology outline)

(3) Poetry Anthology Outline
Students are to propose a new anthology of English-language poetry of their own devising (i.e., the student is the editor of the anthology). Two things are needed for this assignment: a rationale for the anthology (3-5 pages) and a list of 20-25 poems to be included in the anthology. The focus (or theme, or organizing principle) of the anthology is up to you, but the following rules must be observed:

• all poems must be previously published, and you must provide the original publication date of each poem and a full bibliographical citation for each poem (to show where you’ve taken it from)

• the historical range of the anthology must fall between 1900 and 2017 (though you may choose to narrow this, with explicit reasons: for example, an anthology might look exclusively at poetry written between the world wars, or at women’s poetry since the death of Sylvia Plath)

• no more than six poems in your anthology can be taken from course material

• no more than a third of the poems in your anthology can be taken from the Tuma anthology

• copies of all poems not from course material must be included in the completed assignment that you hand in

• you may include no more than three poems by a single poet (and you may include an excerpt from a long poem, but you need to identify the excerpt as an excerpt, and bear in mind that too many excerpts make an anthology somewhat tedious)

• the anthology must be original and it must have a title (subtitles are also allowed)

• you can think of the rationale as a kind of introduction to the anthology and/or as a pitch to a publisher: the task is to explain the purposes of the anthology, what makes it unique, and who would be interested in it

• you may, if you wish, collaborate with another student on this assignment (i.e., the anthology can have two co-editors), but in such instances the rationale is to be 5-6 pages and the list of poems is to include 25-30 poems

Due: March 20 or April 10 (whichever date you do not hand in the long essay)

Further Reading
Lewis Ellingham and Kevin Killian, Poet Be Like God: Jack Spicer and the San Francisco Renaissance (1998)
Thomas Fink and Judith Halden-Sullivan, eds., Reading the Difficulties: Dialogues with Contemporary American Innovative Poetry (2014)
Peter Gizzi, ed., The House That Jack Built: The Collected Lectures of Jack Spicer (1998)
Marjorie Howes and John Kelly, eds., The Cambridge Companion to W. B. Yeats (2006)
Daniel Katz, The Poetry of Jack Spicer (2013)
David Kennedy and Christine Kennedy, Women’s Experimental Poetry in Britain 1970-2010: Body, Time and Locale (2013)
Harryette Mullen, The Cracks Between What We Are and What We Are Supposed to Be: Essays and Interviews (2012)
Marjorie Perloff, Wittgenstein's Ladder: Poetic Language and the Strangeness of the Ordinary (1999)
Marjorie Perloff, Differentials: Poetry, Poetics, Pedagogy (2004)
Peter Quartermain, Stubborn Poetries: Poetic Facticity and the Avant-Garde (2013)
Jed Rasula, Syncopations: The Stress of Innovation in Contemporary American Poetry (2004)
Peter Robinson, The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary British and Irish Poetry (2013)
Fiona Sampson, Beyond the Lyric: A Map of Contemporary British Poetry (2012)
Susan M. Schultz, A Poetics of Impasse in Modern and Contemporary American Poetry (2005)
Robert Sheppard, The Poetry of Saying: British Poetry and Its Discontents 1950-2000 (2005)
Paul Stephens, The Poetics of Information Overload: From Gertrude Stein to Conceptual Writing (2015)
Keith Tuma, Fishing by Obstinate Isles: Modern and Postmodern British Poetry and American Readers (1998)


ENGL 3P45 Essay #1

Due: February 13
Length: 5-7 pages, plus works cited list

Write an essay with a clear and original thesis on one of the following topics. Your essay may focus on any of the poems from the list on the reverse of this page.

1. Yeats wrote, “The fascination of what’s difficult / Has dried the sap out of my veins” (in a poem titled “The Fascination of What’s Difficult”). What does it mean to call a poem “difficult”? Discuss what “difficulty” the reader encounters in one or two poems (not necessarily those by Yeats).

2. One of the central characteristics of much of modern (and modernist) poetry is its skepticism about language’s ability to represent and communicate ideas, feelings, and the world around us. Consider the extent to which two poems express or demonstrate this skepticism.

3. “Poetry,” T. S. Eliot claims, “is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.” These remarks come from a 1920 essay, “Tradition and the Individual Talent” (often anthologized and easily found online). Discuss Eliot’s claims about poetry, emotion, and personality in connection with one of two poems (not necessarily those by Eliot).

4. Near the end of “Composition as Explanation” (1925), Gertrude Stein writes, “The time in the composition is a thing that is very troublesome.” Discuss the “time-sense” of Tender Buttons, as you understand it. What effect does it have on the reader?

5. Devise your own essay topic on Tender Buttons or on any two of the poems on the list. You must have met with the instructor to discuss this topic and have his approval beforehand.

All essays require a title and a complete works cited list: those that do not will forfeit five percent (5%) of the grade on the assignment. The use of secondary sources for this essay is encouraged but not required.

A note on quoting poetry: do not flatten poetry into prose. Respect line breaks (“And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, / Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”) and the general look and layout of the poem (don’t centre what isn’t centred, don’t italicize what isn’t italicized, etc.). Quotations of more than four lines should be set apart from the text of your essay. Quote with care: misquotations diminish the credibility of your argument.

List of poems for this assignment
Hopkins, “No worst, there is none” (Tuma 20)
Hopkins, “[Carrion Comfort]” (Tuma 20)
Yeats, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” (Tuma 32)
Yeats, “The Second Coming” (Tuma 40)
Yeats, “The Tower” (Tuma 43-48)
Yeats, “Leda and the Swan” (Tuma 48-49)
Yeats, “The Circus Animals’ Desertion” (Tuma 57-58)
Yeats, “Among School Children” (Tuma 49-51)
Mew, “The Farmer’s Bride” (Tuma 60-61)
Mew, “On the Road to the Sea” (Tuma 62-63)
Mew, “Monsieur Qui Passe” (Tuma 63-64)
Ford, “The Starling” (Tuma 69-71)
Wickham, “Divorce” (Tuma 96-97)
Wickham, “Meditation at Kew” (Tuma 98)
Daryush, “News-reel” (Tuma 117)
Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (Tuma 125-28)
Warner, “Nelly Trim” (Tuma 190-92)
Warner, “East London Cemetery” (Tuma 192)
Smith, “Not Waving but Drowning” (Tuma 266)
Smith, “My Hat” (Tuma 267)
Smith, “Pretty” (Tuma 268)
Kavanagh, “Canal Bank Walk” (Tuma 283)
Stein, Tender Buttons


Essay #2

Length: 12-15 pages, plus works cited list
Due: March 20 or April 10 (see syllabus)

Option 1

Write an essay with a clear and original thesis on one of the following topics.

1. Translation has been a subject or motif in a number of poems read this term (think, for example, of Spicer’s After Lorca, Duffy’s “Translating the English, 1989,” and Cain’s False Friends, among others). Discuss what understanding(s) of translation can be seen at work in two or three poems studied this term.

2. What is the relation (or the difference!) between poetry and definition? Consider this question in connection with one or two poems studied this term. At least one of the poems must come from the following list: Stein’s Tender Buttons; Spicer’s Language; Mullen’s Sleeping with the Dictionary; Shapcott’s “Phrase Book”; Duffy’s “Translating the English, 1989”; Riley’s “Wherever you are, be somewhere else”; Monk’s “Where?”

3. Discuss how gender and/or sexuality (and you may be as specific as you like in which you would like to address) is/are inscribed in modern poetry. For example, you might explore how a queer identity’s expression depends upon a certain code, or how female poets examine what constitutes masculinity. Your essay must discuss at least two works studied this term.

4. “Paratexts” is the name given to the writing that introduces, frames, surrounds, or supplements a text (examples include prefaces, footnotes, afterwords, indexes, and so on). Discuss how paratextual influence shapes, directs, enriches, or limits our reading of one or two of the poems studied this term. (You may, if you like focus on a specific kind of paratext, or on the way a specific editor or edition of a book uses paratexts to shape interpretation.)

5. Devise an essay topic of your own. This topic must be comparative (i.e., it has to be about more than one work studied this term) and it must have the prior approval of the instructor.

Note: Spicer’s separate “books” each constitute a single poem for this assignment, as does Stein’s Tender Buttons. Cain’s and Mullen’s books, by contrast, are collections of poems.

Option 2

Write an imaginary conversation between any two of the following poets: T. S. Eliot, Gertrude Stein, Philip Larkin, Jack Spicer, Harryette Mullen, Stephen Cain, Caroline Bergvall. This conversation must have some sort of structure and focus, and you should represent the poets and their views as fairly and as accurately as you can. You are encouraged to draw upon the poets’ own words (and you are not limited to poetry, but can also consult any essays, interviews, and so on) and provide full citations where you do so.

All essays require a title and a complete works cited list (MLA format preferred): those that do not will forfeit five percent (5%) of the grade on the assignment. Essays must use at least two secondary sources, such as an article from a scholarly journal or a book of literary criticism.

Please note that students who have not picked up their first (short) essay by the time the second essay is due forfeit the right to any comments on the latter.