Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 3 hours / session

Course Description

In this seminar we’ll read individual poems closely within a set of questions about the moral and political position of poetry – and of intellectuals – in different cultural contexts. Of course, part of the divergence in the social positions of poetry [and of ’the aesthetic’] depends on the dominant paradigm of the social, political and literary culture; part of the divergence derives from the momentum of literary development in the culture [how did the culture experience modernism? for instance], and part depends on the different attitudes toward traditional form. We read poets from North America (Whitman, Williams, Lowell, Plath, Bishop), from South America (Neruda), from Western Europe (Yeats), and Eastern Europe (Akhmatova, Szymborska); we conclude with a month dedicated to the work of the Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz, who won the Nobel Prize for literature (the first to win from a position of exile) in 1980.

Course Format

Our format is discussion, collision, conversation, convergence. Presentations, final project; no final exam.

Class size is limited to 15 students.


Several subjects of literary study.

Course Expectations


Because we’ll do much of the work of this subject through discussions, naturally I’ll expect you to be actively here during class and to practice the skills of a good participant: informed attention, helpful contribution, generous and intelligent listening.


Some time during the term, memorize and recite to me any poem by Elizabeth Bishop. The choice of poem (and of occasion) is up to you; the poem need not necessarily be one in the texts we’ll read, nor need the occasion be during class-time.

Seminar/Response Papers

Each student in the class will be responsible for doing three papers for the seminar: one seminar paper, one paper of response, [analysis, evaluation, problematizing of the argument of the seminar paper], and one strictly-factual “allusion” paper.

The seminar paper is standard in format. On the day of your seminar paper, you’ll bring copies enough for everyone else (this step is optional with the second paper), will read the paper (which should serve as introduction or provocation for the beginning of the day’s discussion), and will (probably) lead the discussion, for the start of the class-period. Because the terms of possible discussion are wide, the expectations of this assignment have corresponding latitude; there are many ways to the truth, and your assignment is to lead or to point us down one of them.

The “response” component is trickier, if ostensibly simpler. As respondent, your job is to evaluate the argument, presentation, question, problematics of the seminar paper, in order to lead us into discussions by means of that paper. You may critique, ignore, complement with other information; you may set a few questions for the discussion to follow. Let me see your “response” – insofar as it is in written form! – by Monday early afternoon before our evening meeting.

The “factoid” paper is factual, short, and succinct. You’ll either have an assigned topic (e.g.: why is Robinson Jeffers, of all people, the favorite American poet of Czeslaw Milosz?) Sometimes your topic will arise in the conversation the week before; sometimes I’ll assign it, and sometimes you’ll simply have the assignment of making a discovery for the rest of us, to give us something for our reading-lists.

Course Info

Learning Resource Types

assignment Written Assignments