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"Modern American Poetry at Millennium"

Marsha Bryant, University of Florida

My Homepage:
MAPS site:


This course will assess the competing narratives and cultural constructs that frame 20th century American poetry in the 21st century. Besides asking what makes a poem, we will also ask how poetry has been used in American culture during the last hundred years. Our main text will be Cary Nelson’s new and controversial anthology, which continues to delight and enrage academics both here and abroad. We will make productive use of the anthology’s companion website, "MAPS," and will discuss recent reviews. You’ll be widening your exposure to a variety of poetry: from standard modernist figures (such as Stein, Eliot, Pound, H.D., Stevens, Hughes), from recovered women and minority poets (such as A. Lowell, Loy, Grimké, Tolson), from recovered Asian-American voices (haiku by Chinese immigrants and interned Japanese Americans), and from an especially controversial selection of contemporary poets. In addition, we will read Rachel Blau du Plessis’s new book about modern American poetry and assess its analyses of race, gender, and religion, as well as its method of "social philology." Finally, we will read some of J. Hillis Miller’s analyses of poetry in conjunction with the Department’s fall symposium, "Rethinking Deconstructions."


Cary Nelson, Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford, 2000)

Rachel Blau du Plessis, Genders, Races, and Religious Cultures in Modern American Poetry (Cambridge, 2001)

Small coursepak distributed from Custom Copies kiosk


1. Anthology worksheet

2. Teaching Report on a Poet (15 minute presentation + handout)

3. Short paper comparing a poet’s cultural status in 2 anthologies (5 pages or 2500 words)

4. Seminar Paper proposal (2 pages)

5. Seminar Paper (15-20 pages)

SYLLABUS: (*NOTE: explore the MAPS website throughout term; each poet has a page*)


24 MAP - Preface, Whitman, Dickinson, Markham (s.a. illustrated version p. 1226), Ridge, A. Lowell, Hartmann, Masters, Robinson, Johnson, Dunbar; also Cullen’s "Incident" p. 530

DuPlessis - Chap. 1, "Entitled New: a social philology of modern American poetry"

Q - How do Whitman and Dickinson offer competing origins of modern American poetry? How might the opening cluster of poets provide alternative cultural narratives?

31 MAP - Stein, Dunbar-Nelson, Grimké, Johnson, H.D., Moore, Millay, Parker, Bogan + Williams, "The Young Housewife." NOTE: read the Stein quickly–try some of it aloud

DuPlessis - Chap. 2, "‘Corpses of poesy’: modern poets consider some gender ideologies of lyric"

Q - What is productive, what is problematic in positing a women’s modernist tradition?

1 Teaching Report: _________________________________________________


7 MAP - Loy, Williams, Pound, Jeffers, Crosby, Crane, Winters

DuPlessis - Chap. 3, "‘Seismic orgasm’: sexual intercourse, its modern representations and politics"

Q - How might Crane invite us to revise DuPlessis’s analysis of modernist sexualities?

1 Teaching Report :_________________________________________________

14 DUE: Anthology Worksheets

MAP - Frost, Sandburg, Lindsay, Stevens, Eliot, Ransom, McKay, MacLeish, cummings, Wheelwright

DuPlessis - Chap. 4, "HOO, HOO, HOO’: some episodes in the construction of modern male whiteness"

Q - What cultural boundaries are troubled thru today’s poems? (high/low, black/white, popular/academic, aesthetic/political, personal/social, etc.)

1 Teaching Report :____________________________________________________

21 MAP - Spencer, Toomer, Jerome, Trent, Tolson, Brown, Angel Island section, Hughes, Bontemps, Bennett, Cullen

DuPlessis, Chap. 5, "‘Darken your speech’: racialized cultural work in black and white poets"

Q - How might we situate the Harlem Renaissance within modernism more generally?

1 Teaching Report :____________________________________________________

28 MAP -Taggard, Reznikoff, (Riding) Jackson + Niedecker through Wright

DuPlessis, Chap. 6, "‘Wondering Jews’: melting-pots and mongrel thoughts"

Q - How do cultural constructions of Jewishness (and immigrants more generally) invite us to revise our previous discussions of modernism and race? Of what is "American?"

1 Teaching Report :____________________________________________________


5 MAP - Roethke through Rukeyser

Q - How do Roethke and Rukeyser invite us to rethink the poem sequence and the long poem?

1-2 Teaching Reports:__________________________________________________

13 LIBRARY SESSION, meet John Van Hook in classroom of Library West, ground floor, across from the elevators

MAP - Hayden through Lowell (Note: I’ll be teaching Berryman and Lowell in next year’s seminar on Confessional Poetry/Confessional Culture)

DUE in my mailbox by noon, 10/16: Anthology Papers on a Poet’s Reputation

19 MAP - Brooks through Ginsberg

Q - How do today’s poets contest standard retrospective accounts of the American 50s?

1-2 Teaching Reports :__________________________________________________

Note: You can also select a poet from the 10/13 list for a report

26 MAP - Creeley through Knight

Q - How do today’s poets prompt discussions of postwar "masculinity" and "femininity"? How do they trouble the personal/political boundary?

1-2 Teaching Reports:____________________________________________________


*NOTE* we’ll have a dinner/class at my house, midweek, to make up for missed seminar on Homecoming, Nov. 2. We’ll also set our alternate discussion time for the next week.

MAP - Plath through Olds

Q - How do today’s poets coincide and collide with reigning opinions about American confessionalism, and about multiculturalism?

1 Teaching Report:____________________________________________________

9 Rethinking Deconstructions Symposium (our seminar will attend the afternoon session)

*NOTE* We’ll have a 90-minute coffee meeting midweek (Nov. 6, 7, or 8) to discuss (1) Miller’s essay in prep for Friday’s Symposium, and (2) professional writing samples in coursepak. We’ll meet sometime between 9 and 2:00, or in the early evening.

Due: Paper Proposals in my mailbox by noon, Friday Nov. 9

16 MAP -Glück through Erdich

1-2 Teaching Reports:___________________________________________________

Q - come prepared with "some overwhelming question" for us to discuss.

Note: You can also select a poet from the 11/30 list for a report

23 No Class: Thanksgiving, but I strongly recommend that you make an appointment with me before the holiday to chat about your paper (Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday between 9:00 and 1:30). If your project intersects with that of others in our group, feel free to come as a pair or a trio for an extended conference.

30 Course Evaluations

MAP - Cisneros thorugh Alexie

Coursepak: anthology reviews + additional reviews we find; Nelson’s essay on the anthology for American Literary History (which I’ll distribute in advance)

Q - How would you respond to the reviews?

*SEMINAR PAPERS DUE no later than noon on Friday, Dec. 7*

Worksheet on Evaluating Anthologies

NOTES: Select any survey anthology of 20th century American or American/British poetry that includes headnotes for the poets (sometimes these appear in the back). The anthology must be at least 5 years old; the Library has some anthologies that date back to the 1920s. A few of the questions below may not be applicable to your text. Answers to each question should fall roughly within the paragraph range, from 2-3 sentences to a full page. At the top of your responses, please give the full bibliographic information on your anthology.

1. What information does the anthology give about the Editor/s? Does this information (or lack of it) influence your opinion in any way?

2. What principles of selection does the Editor’s Preface and/or Introduction make explicit? Are they consistent?

3. If this is an edition after the first, what seems to have motivated a new edition?

4. Looking through the table of contents, describe these balances in representation: male to female poets; white poets to poets of color; "major-master-chief" poets to less familiar poets; dead to living poets. Are there other striking balances or imbalances you notice? Do they influence your opinions of the poets? Of the anthology editor/s? Of academic culture more generally?

5. Examine a "representative" sample of headnotes to 6 poets:

(a) Do some poets receive longer headnotes than others?

(b) Is the Editor consistent or inconsistent in mentioning poets' race, class, or sexual orientation?

(c) Does the Editor attempt to gloss over any "unconventional" aspects of a poet’s life, such as sexuality, alcoholism, mental illness, incarceration, etc?

(d) Is the Editor consistent in mentioning poets’ physical appearance?

(e) Is the Editor consistent in mentioning poets’ education, publications, awards?

(f) Is the Editor consistent in mentioning the poets’ parents & childhood?

(g) Is the Editor consistent in mentioning the poets’ influences, artistic circle, subsequent influence?

(h) Is the Editor consistent in mentioning the poets’ style, technique?

(i) Overall, can you draw any tentative generalizations about any imbalances?

(j) How could these headnotes influence your perception of an individual poet?

(k) Overall, which poet fits most comfortably within the cultural narrative posited in the Editor’s Introduction and/or Preface? Which poet doesn’t fit?

6. Look up 3 poems that you've read before. Do the editors add footnotes to any of them? Generally speaking, how would you characterize these footnotes? Do they change your perception of the poems? Do poems without footnotes appear less "significant"?

7. Briefly describe 2 striking features of this anthology that you haven't noted above.

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