Self Paced

Modern Poetry and Poetics (

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The decades between roughly 1890 and 1950 witnessed unprecedented efforts to create new art, new values, and a new culture in Europe and the United States. During this time Western writers, artists, and intellectuals questioned accepted aesthetic norms and produced radically experimental works of art and new understandings of what it means to live in modern times.

The first half of the twentieth century also witnessed the most devastating conflicts in Western history – the two World Wars and the Holocaust – and these events accelerated and profoundly influenced cultural changes. Modernist poetry, which emerged during this time, is among the most interesting cultural developments of the last century, and it is the subject of this course.

Critic Cary Nelson has argued that modern poetry—meaning, most generally, poetry from the turn-of-the-century through the 1950s—does not conform to any linear narrative and that it should not be studied as such. However, while it is true that modernist poetic developments sprang up in unlikely and seemingly spontaneous ways, we will attempt to progress through this course in a roughly chronological manner. This is because, in many ways, poetry is a social form that reflects the cultural and political situations in which it is written.

This course will invite you to situate poetry within those contexts. Throughout the course you will explore such questions as: what makes poetry modern? Is artistic innovation influenced by political commitments? Should it be? Does literature have ethical responsibilities? Is it possible to fully reject traditional norms and values? The course starts with a theoretical consideration of modernity and modernism, as well as a historical overview of the period. It then explores fin-de-siècle poetic innovation, World War I, early modernist movements like Imagism and Vorticism as well as the writings of High Modernism. It then analyzes how World War II and the Holocaust affected poetry and how poetic innovation continued in the postwar years. A unit on African American modernism explores another crucially important dimension of what is now recognized, somewhat paradoxically, as the modernist tradition. By the end of the course, you will have studied the work of major American and British modernist writers, and you will have critically explored the characteristic techniques, concerns, and tropes of modern poetry.

Course Requirements: it is recommended that you have already completed the following courses from the Core Program of the English discipline: Introduction to Literary Studies, Medieval Cultural and Literary Expression, Cultural and Literary Expression in the English Renaissance , Cultural and Literary Expression in the 18th and 19th Centuries, Cultural and Literary Expression in Modernity , and Introduction to Literary Theory.