ENGL 5280: 20th Century Poetry

T-Th, 3:30-4:45

Professor Luke Whisnant


The ECU Catalog's bland description of this course consists of a single sentence fragment: "Variety of voices that comprise poetry written in English." Let's be a bit more specific: we'll be studying one of the richest periods (perhaps the richest) of poetic development and innovation in all of British and American literary history. We'll start with Whitman and Dickinson just to get our ears tuned, and then move to the 20th century; among the modern poets we'll read are the usual suspects, listed here in order of birth: William Butler Yeats, Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, H.D., Robinson Jeffers, T.S. Eliot, Edna St. Vincent Millay, e.e. cummings, Jean Toomer, W.H. Auden, Langston Hughes, Elizabeth Bishop, Dylan Thomas, Ann Sexton, Sylvia Plath, Seamus Heaney, etc. As we move closer to postmodern and contemporary poetry, we'll find more poems by women and minorities, and we'll take a quick tour of work by the Beats, the Confessional School poets, the Neo-formalists, and a number of emerging poets. Twentieth century poetry is (to use a worn out but accurate phrase) an embarrassment of riches, and we'll have to read several hundred poems just to scratch the surface. With only 14 weeks in the semester, we'll be moving fast. This is not a good class for slackers. It's a great class for folks who love poetry, who are excited by le mot juste and the way metaphors can change your brain, who are practiced and careful readers, and who, as Nabokov said of good readers, "caress the details."

Attendance is required.
Three short (3-5 pp) critical essays
One term paper focusing on a particular poet (10-15 pp)
Oral reports on poets
Other such stuff as the professor may devise

Texts are TBA.