ENGL 320
Two American Poets: Wallace Stevens and John Ashbery Spring 2016 Division I; Writing-Intensive; Cross-listed as ENGL320 / AMST336 / COMP335
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This tutorial focuses on the work of two major American poets who are known for their “difficult” poetry. In some respects, Stevens (1879-1955) and Ashbery (b. 1927) book-end twentieth-century poetry: Stevens is a major Modernist poet, perhaps the most philosophically oriented American poet of the twentieth century, and Ashbery is considered by most critics to be the most important American poet alive. Students will do close readings of their poems (and one play, “Three Travelers Watch a Sunrise”, by Stevens), as well as read their writing on poetry and art. We will discuss the overlaps between Stevens’ and Ashbery’s work and lives–their having grown up in the Northeast and attended Harvard, what some see as the abstractness of their writing, their mastery of tone, among others–but also the differences: Ashbery’s sexuality, his having lived in France, the supposedly more “avant-garde” nature of Ashbery’s work, and so on. Along the way, we will ask questions about the nature of poetic difficulty, of abstraction, of the (lyric) poetic speaker in their works, of poetic tone, of the link between the poem and the world (e.g., in description), of the thinking and philosophizing that poems do. We will also ask about their links to major poetry “movements” (Modernism, the New York School) and pose questions that are rarely asked about their poetry, such as “What are the politics, implicit and explicit, in their poems?” “What are their views about the United States and American society and culture?” “What assumptions about race, gender and class are embedded in their poetry?” And, always, we will be paying close attention to the question of form and language in Stevens’ and Ashbery’s poetry.
The Class: Type: tutorial
Limit: 10
Expected: 10
Class#: 3889
Requirements/Evaluation: typical tutorial format; papers every other week
Extra Info: may not be taken on a pass/fail basis; not available for the fifth course option
Prerequisites: none
Enrollment Preference: ENGL majors, COMP majors, AMST majors; preference will be given to students who have already taken at least one literature class
Distributions: Division I; Writing-Intensive;
Distribution Notes: meets Division 2 requirement if registration is under AMST; meets Division 1 requirement if registration is under ENGL or COMP
Attributes: AMST Arts in Context Electives;

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