Undergraduate English Courses
358:435 Political Poetry 1660-1700 and 1940-1980
01 TTH5 CAC 19596 MCKEON SC-101
This semester, this course can fulfill any two English requirements: Seminar, Eighteenth Century or Twentieth Century
This seminar is intended for students who have already learned to value poetry (for example, by taking 359:201), and who are interested in pushing their understanding of it beyond the usual limits.
Our aim will be to inquire into the meaning, and the importance, of “political poetry,” a kind of poetry that seems to many modern readers a contradiction in terms. How can poetry be both poetic and political? To be successful in its goals, doesn’t poetry need to transcend the pragmatic motives, the public orientation, the concrete particularity of politics? To be successful in its goals, doesn’t politics have to resist the idealism, the private subjectivity, the universal reference of poetry? Why try to write a kind of literature that seems so self-defeating?
However this view that poetry and politics are antithetical concerns came to seem commonsensical only rather recently. People haven’t always thought this--in fact, people haven’t always even conceived of such a thing as “political poetry.” When and why did the idea come into currency? What kinds of poetic--and political--purposes does it seem to serve? What’s the relationship between political and aesthetic distinctions, between “good” politics and “good” poetry? Are there standards of political and poetic evaluation that are complementary rather than contradictory? How does a forceful political aim affect such familiar poetic concerns as voice, audience, imagery, diction, meter and rhyme, etc.? How does the adoption of these poetic techniques affect an author’s political purposes? How have the categories “poetry” and “politics” changed in meaning from the beginning to the end of the modern period?
These are the broad questions that will guide our work together. They’ll be informed and concretized by a comparison between a segment of mid-twentieth-century poetry and one dating from the end of the seventeenth century. Some of our central themes: the praise of heroism and the critique of unjust authority; the celebration of a collective, communitarian, “commoner” or “working-class” ideal; anti-war sentiment; pastoral, ecological, and environmentalist complaint; black protest and liberation; women’s poetry and feminist resistance.
The period 1660-1750 will include poetry by Milton, Marvell, Gerrard Winstanley, the duchess of Newcastle, Edmund Waller, John Denham, Samuel Butler, Dryden, the earl of Rochester, Aphra Behn, the duke of Buckingham, John Oldham, the earl of Dorset, Thomas Shadwell, Fleetwood Sheppard, and Arthur Mainwaring, as well as some anonymous pieces. The period 1930-1980 will include poetry, in English and in translation, by Yeats, Brecht, Auden, Neruda, Muriel Rukeyser, Randall Jarrell, Gwendolyn Brooks, Langston Hughes, Allen Ginsberg, Galway Kinnell, Amiri Baraka, Robert Bly, Denise Levertov, Yevgeney Yevtushenko, Lucille Clifton, Adrienne Rich, June Jordan, Margaret Atwood, Ernesto Cardenal, Robert Hayden, Mari Evans, Audre Lorde, Olga Broumas, Sharon Olds, Louise Glück. We’ll also read some critical essays on political poetry.
Attendance policy: Consistent attendance is required in the seminar.
Means of evaluation: Students will be evaluated on the basis of: 1.) two papers (5-6 double-spaced pages); 2.) contribution to seminar discussion. There will be no exams.