Modern American Poetry


Modern American Poetry–Marsha Bryant, University Of Florida Essay, Research Paper

Marsha Bryant, University of Florida


My Homepage:

MAPS site:


This course will assess the competing narratives and cultural constructs that frame 20th

century American poetry in the 21st century. Besides asking what makes a poem,

we will also ask how poetry has been used in American culture during the last hundred

years. Our main text will be Cary Nelson’s new and controversial anthology, which

continues to delight and enrage academics both here and abroad. We will make productive

use of the anthology’s companion website, "MAPS," and will discuss recent

reviews. You’ll be widening your exposure to a variety of poetry: from standard

modernist figures (such as Stein, Eliot, Pound, H.D., Stevens, Hughes), from recovered

women and minority poets (such as A. Lowell, Loy, Grimk?, Tolson), from recovered

Asian-American voices (haiku by Chinese immigrants and interned Japanese Americans), and

from an especially controversial selection of contemporary poets.


Cary Nelson, Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford, 2000)

MAPS website {read relevant poets’ pages before class; see URL, above}

Small coursepak distributed from Custom Copies shop, across from Krispy Kreme


Explication Paper – 15%

Panel Presentation – 10%

Anthology Paper – 20%

Class Participation – 15%

Reading Quizzes – 10%

Parody of a poem – 10%

Essay Examination – 20%


1. You must complete all assignments to receive credit for this course.

2. Attendance: You are expected to attend all classes. Missing more than the

equivalent of three 50-minute sessions earns you a lowered course grade. You will fail

the course automatically if you miss more than six 50-minute sessions.

3. If you are absent, you are still responsible for knowing the material and for

turning in any assignments for that day. I recommend getting several classmates’ phone

numbers so you can keep up.

4. Latecomers receive partial absences, and must see me after class so I can

mark their attendance.

5. Paper Format: Please put your e-mail address on the front page of your

paper. Be professional with the appearance of your paper; it should be clear enough to

read without eye strain. Please leave roughly an inch margin on all sides, double-space

the text, and number your pages. Grammatical errors will earn you a lowered paper grade.

6. Submitting Papers: Your papers are due in class on the assigned days

(if you are absent, your paper should be in my office when I return from class).

Late papers earn grade reductions; papers submitted a week or more after deadline earn an


7. Save That Paper!: Always make disk copies of your work and save them until

the term is over. Also, save indefinitely the graded work I return to you in case you

ever request a letter of recommendation; my comments are crucial for writing a good


8. Participation: The quality as well as the frequency of your contributions

determine your participation grade. Your "default" participation grade is a C+,

and you move up or down accordingly. If you’re shy about offering interpretations,

you might try asking questions. Panels will help you feel more comfortable addressing the



As stated above, each of you must participate in one panel. For your panel you will

prepare a one-page, double-spaced statement in response to the question(s) on the

syllabus. Obviously the page limit forces you to make some over-simplifications, but you

will have the opportunity to clarify your opinion during panel discussion. In order for

the panel to run smoothly, you must do the following: (1) Panelists turn in copies of

your statement 24 hours before your panel (Late statements earn a penalty). Place the

copies (enough for me and for your fellow panelists) in the envelope on my office door.

(2) Pick up copies of your fellow panelists’ statements and study them before class

begins. Panelists should not get together before class, but they should be prepared to

comment on each other’s statements. (3) In class, the panel will begin with each of you

reading your statement. (4) Next, panelists will ask each other questions and may amplify

their own views. (5) Finally, the rest of the class will join in with questions and


TAKE-HOME EXAM TOPIC: Explore several poets in the anthology that were not included on

our syllabus. Which 2 would you include in your own anthology of modern American

poetry, and which 2 would you exclude? Give clear and convincing reasons for your

editorial decisions, and ample evidence from relevant poems.

SYLLABUS (all readings are from the anthology unless otherwise noted)


22 W Introduction

24 F Nelson’s preface, Whitman, Dickinson

27 M A. Lowell, Grimk?, Johnson

29 W Stein

31 F Loy

PANEL 1 – How does "Songs to Joannes" challenge your expectations of love

poetry? In your opinion, does Loy risk more or gain more thru her

innovations? Use examples from at least 2 sections to support your answer.


3 M No Class: Labor Day

5 W Williams

7 F Frost

10 M Stevens

12 W Eliot

14 F Sandburg, Lindsay

PANEL 2 – Log onto Lindsay’s page on the MAPS website, and click on "Race

Criticism of ‘The Congo.’" Whose comment do you find most

convincing, and whose least? Give clear reasons and convincing textual evidence for

your opinion.

17 M McKay, Millay (just the shorter sonnets, not the sequence "Sonnets from an

Grafted Tree"

19 W Bontemps, Bennett, Cullen

21 F DUE: Explication Paper [panelist can submit it Monday]; Hughes

PANEL 3 – Do you find more connections or disconnections between

Hughes’s radical poems of the 30s (such as "Come to the Waldorf-Astoria"

and "Good-bye Christ") and his better known poems of the 20s (such as "The

Negro Speaks of Rivers" and "The Weary Blues")? Use one poem from each

decade to support your answer.

24 M Zukofsky, Oppen

26 W Roethke

28 F Taggard, Rolfe

PANEL 4 – Choose one of today’s poets and use his/her work to support one

of the following propositions: (1) it is imperative to separate aesthetics and

politics; (2) it is impossible to separate aesthetics and politics.


1 M Bishop

3 W Rukeyser

5 F Hayden, Japanese American Concentration Camp Haiku

PANEL 5 – How does the inclusion of the haiku prompt us to rethink the definition of

"American"? How effective do you find their arrangement in a narrative sequence,

and their treatment as "a collective enterprise?"

8 M Berryman

10 W Lowell

13 F No Class: MSA Conference

15 M No Class: MSA Conference

17 W Brooks

19 F Ginsberg

PANEL 6 – Overall, is Howl an expansive vision of universal sympathy, or is

Ginsberg’s sympathy extended only to an underground "elite" of Beats and

other hipsters? What evidence in the poem supports your opinion?

22 M Duncan, Levertov

24 W O’Hara, Rich ("Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers," "Trying to Talk to a

Man," "Diving into the Wreck")

26 F Rich, "21 Love Poems"

PANEL 7 – How does Rich’s sequence of blur boundaries between the

"personal" and the "political"? Do you think this makes them more

or less effective as love poems?

29 M Plath

31 W DUE: Anthology Paper; Baraka, Momaday, Lorde


2 F No Class: Homecoming

5 M Clifton, Harper

7 W Gl?ck, Palmer

9 F Grahn, Olds

PANEL 8 – Today’s poets are often grouped as "women’s poets," and

have appeared in women’s poetry anthologies. Do you find enough "common

ground" (thematic, technical, or both) in the poets to justify the label? Why or why


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