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Modern American Poetry
Professor Michael Thurston

In this course we will read some of the richly various poetry produced in the United States during the first half of the twentieth century. Our aims, at times in tension with each other, are (1) to understand some of the important and influential poetries produced by major modernist poets (Frost, Eliot, Pound, Stevens) and (2) to survey important poetries produced by less known but no less powerful poets. These aims will direct our study and methods so that we sometimes work for an extended period and at some depth with a single poet's work and sometimes read more broadly but less deeply, gathering a few poems by one or more poets. This combination of depth and breadth will, I hope, help us to situate the "big names" in a field that at once enhances our understanding of the canonical poets and helps us to understand and value the poetry that surrounded, influenced, and competed with theirs.


The following two texts are required.  A few additional poems will be made available in handouts (these are marked with an asterisk in the schedule).

Nelson, Cary (ed). The Oxford Anthology of Modern American Poetry. Oxford UP.
Pound, Ezra. Selected Poems. New Directions.



7 (Th) Introductions

12 (T) Frost -- Mending Wall, Home Burial, The Wood-Pile, The Road Not Taken, Birches, The Vantage Point*, "Out, Out --"*

14 (Th) Frost -- The Hill Wife, Fire and Ice, The Need of Being Versed in Country Things, Design, Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening, In a Disused Graveyard, Nothing Gold Can Stay, Desert Places

19 (T) Imagism: Pound -- In a Station of the Metro; HD -- Oread, Sea Rose, Garden; Amy Lowell -- Opal, Wakefulness, Grotesque

21 (Th) Pound -- Cino, Na Audiart, The White Stag, Sestina:Altaforte,  The Seafarer, Song of the Bowmen of Shu, The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter, The Jewel-Stairs' Grivance, Exile's Letter

26 (T) Pound -- Hugh Selwyn Mauberley

28 (Th) Pound -- Canto 1, Canto 9, Canto 45


3 (T) Williams -- The Young Housewife, Spring and All, To Elsie, The Red Wheelbarrow, This is Just to Say

5 (Th) Stevens -- Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, Tea at the Palaz of Hoon, Anecdote of the Jar, The Snow Man, The Emperor of Ice Cream, Sunday Morning

12 (Th) Stevens -- The Idea of Order at Key West, Postcard from the Volcano, Study of Two Pears,The Plain Sense of Things, Of Mere Being

17 (T) Eliot -- Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

19 (Th) Eliot -- The Waste Land

24 (T) Eliot -- The Waste Land

26 (Th) Pound -- Portrait d'une Femme; Eliot -- Portrait of a Lady*; Williams --Portrait of a Lady; Stevens -- A High-Toned Christian Woman

31 (T) Mid-Term Exam


7 (T) HD -- Eurydice; Millay -- Sonnets from an Ungrafted Tree

9 (Th) Loy -- Songs to Joannes

14 (T) Loy -- Songs to Joannes

16 (Th) Moore -- Poetry, Egyptian Pulled-Glass Bottle in the Shape of a Fish, The Fish, A Grave, Marriage

21 (T) Taggard -- Everyday Alchemy, With Child, Up-State Depression Summer, Mill Town; Bogan -- Medusa, Women, Cassandra

28 (T) Rolfe -- Asbestos, Season of Death, First Love, Elegia; Taggard -- For the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade; Hughes -- Letter from Spain

30 (Th) McKay -- Harlem Dancer, White Fiends, If We Must Die, White City, Mulatto; Brown -- Scotty Has His Say, Memphis Blues, Slim in Atlanta, Slim in Hell


5 (T) Hughes -- The Negro Speaks of Rivers, The Weary Blues, The Cat and the Saxophone, 2 A.M., Mulatto, Christ in Alabama, Three Songs About Lynching

7 (Th) Crane -- from The Bridge: Proem, Ave Maria, The River

12 (T) Crane -- from The Bridge: Cape Hatteras, Atlantis

14 (Th) Angel Island: Poems by Chinese Immigrants, 1910-1940


While there will inevitably be some lecture in the course, we will, as much as possible, proceed through group discussion. Your attendance and preparation are therefore of vital importance. You will notice that the reading assignments for most class days are fairly short. Do not let this fool you. Much of the poetry is quite difficult, and reading, in this course as in any literature course, means much more than simply casting your eye over the words. Read each day’s assignment slowly, carefully, and repeatedly. Read the poems aloud. WRITE IN YOUR BOOKS! Note things that interest or confuse you, underline patterns of image or sound, and jot questions in the margins. Come to class armed with your questions and ideas -- they are among our most important texts.

Formal assignments for this course are:

We will, from time to time, also write short and informal answers to discussion questions (in and outside of class), brief analyses of specific textual features, etc. These ungraded writing assignments will often help us to start and guide discussion, and they will be calculated into the class participation component of your grade.

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