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Spring 2018 Undergraduate English Courses: Special Topics

358:215 Introduction to 21st Century Literature

01  TTH5  CAC  19475   VRANA  SC-212

A recent book, published in August of this year, asks in its title: Why Poetry? That simple question will guide this course’s survey of literature since the millennium, focusing on the role of poetry in American society over the first two decades of the new century. Proclamations of the death and irrelevance of poetry to the modern world are omnipresent, and yet American national responses to major tragedies and political conflicts continue to be heavily tied up with poetry. We will begin by looking at the circulation of older poetry in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and the outpouring of new verse that resulted, and we will proceed chronologically up through consideration of how poetry consumption surged in the aftermath of the controversial 2016 presidential election. Indeed, 2017 has seen record sales of poetry compared to recent years, prompting questions about the political and cultural interests of the readers consuming that verse in our multimedia, Internet- and television-dominated age.

Major moments, movements, and questions to be discussed will include: How do new technologies like social media affect readers’ interactions with and views of poetry? How do poets address violence, including responding to global warfare and helping to produce awareness of the #BlackLivesMatter movement? What role does humor and entertainment play in the “serious” or “lofty” genre of poetry? Why do readers continue to turn to poetry when faced with upheaval, and to what types do they turn? What does it mean when poems from previous eras begin to circulate in new contexts, as occurred with Auden’s “September 1, 1939” after 9/11, or Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise” after the 2016 election? Overall, who is reading poetry in twenty-first-century America, and what is its relationship to popular culture and entertainment?

This course will be discussion-based with minimal lecturing, requiring regular attendance, thorough preparation, and full participation. Students will be assessed by: two short papers (approx. 3-4 pages each, worth 15% and 20% respectively), a midterm (20%), a final (25%), and participation/class citizenship (20%). Attendance at one reading, by the current Poet Laureate of the United States Tracy K. Smith, will be strongly encouraged with extra credit options.

Texts may include (subject to revision):

  • Poetry After 9/11: An Anthology of New York Poets
  • Instagram poets like r.m. Broderick
  • Episodes of the Def Poetry TV series
  • Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine (2004)
  • Look by Solmaz Sharif (2016)
  • Poetry of Resistance: Voices for Social Justice
  • Resist Much / Obey Little: Inaugural Poems to the Resistance
  • Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith (2017)