The Course

Modern Poetry–From Word to World

Virginia Woolf once wrote that somewhere around 1910, the world changed.  Things became, well, modern. Students and scholars still debate what exactly she meant by such a highly specific declaration, but few would disagree that fundamental changes were underway: rapid urbanization following booms in both industrialization and immigration; the challenge to traditional religious beliefs brought on by Darwin; the dwindling of British empire and the rise of America as a global force; the increasing tension and self-reflection surrounding questioning of race, gender, and class relations; developments in physics (e.g. Einstein) or the social sciences (e.g. Freud), among other areas of inquiry.  The list goes on; the changes under way, in short, felt tectonic. Our task in this course will be not to gain some monolithic sense of Modernism (with a capital “M”) but to understand how multiple, overlapping modernisms–some innovative, some more traditional; some urban, some rural–emerged as as a response to this world of rapid, often violent change. 

Though the majority of poetry we read will fall between the two World Wars (1914-1945), we will begin by going back to what we might think of as the roots of modernism in the nineteenth century. We will also trace various “late” modernisms as the movement–and its authors–persists beyond WWII.  What happens, we will ask, to modernism after, well, modernism? Finally, we will conclude by looking at how certain modernist figures live on in the poetic imagination of poets plying their trade up to the present.

By the end of this class, you will have had the opportunity to:

  • Distinguish modernist poetry from what came before (Romantic and Victorian poetry) and after (various manifestations of “post” modernism).
  • Explore the various movements that comprise modern poetry as you learn the key literary and theoretical terms related to the study of modern poetry.
  • Articulate how various contextual forces impacted modern poetry.
  • Describe the importance of original publications contexts (in both periodicals and books).
  • Blog extensively, in response to both critical and creative prompts, on a variety of poems and contextual considerations.
  • Work collaboratively with a group on a research-based project that results in an original and ambitious Digital Humanities Creations Project.

Course Texts:

Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry (Volume 1)

Spring and All, William Carlos Williams (Facsimile edition)

Recyclopedia, Harryette Mullen

Striven, The Bright Treatise, Jeffrey Pethybridge