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ENGL 372
Documentary Poetry Fall 2020
Division I

Class Details

One of the most vibrant trends in contemporary writing, documentary poetry draws on various kinds of source materials in the creation of innovative forms. This course will be a joint adventure in the reception and production of such projects, and is designed for anyone interested in the intersections of archival research and creative writing. Part of our work will be to historicize and theorize this mode of literary making, which emerges out of Modernist experiments in polyvocality, collage, and what Ezra Pound termed the “poem including history.” We will begin the semester by looking at Muriel Rukeyser’s 1938 poetic sequence, “The Book of the Dead,” which exposes the complicity of Union Carbide in the silicosis contracted by the miners who dug the Hawk’s Nest Tunnel in Gauley Bridge, West Virginia. Rukeyser wrote of her desire for a “poetry [that] can extend the document”; our subsequent readings in this course will look to a number of contemporary book-length projects that do just that. Our documentary models–by such writers as Heimrad B├Ącker, Anne Carson, Layli Long Soldier, Don Mee Choi, M. NourbSe Philip, Mark Nowak, and Claudia Rankine–treat a wide range of subjects, yet all share both an investigative approach and a commitment to thinking about the way individual lives are shaped by larger social and historical structures. Generically, these works make use of the strategies of poetry, but also frequently incorporate essay, narrative, and image to create distinctly mixed forms. Students likewise will choose topics to investigate over the term, conducting original archival research and thinking inductively through the material toward a final project that will be shared with the public on our course website.
The Class: Format: seminar; While this class will be taught remotely, it promises to be a space of intimate engagement and creative growth. We will prioritize synchronous learning, whether online or perhaps in person, outside, while the weather is warm. Each week, we will read and discuss one of the assigned texts; throughout the semester, you'll also be working on your evolving projects, which we will workshop in small groups and in individual conferences.
Limit: 12
Expected: 12
Class#: 2356
Grading: yes pass/fail option, yes fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: This class asks students to engage deeply with the assigned books, to do significant original research on a topic of their choosing, and to work creatively to bring that research to life. Frequent short writing assignments will assure students' understanding of the readings, as well as help them to pace themselves in the making of their own documentary projects. The semester will culminate with the workshopping, revision, and publishing of students' final projects.
Prerequisites: a 100-level ENGL course, or a score of 5 on the AP English Literature exam, or a score of 6 or 7 on the Higher Level IB English exam, or permission of the instructor.
Enrollment Preferences: Preregistered students; if overenrolled, preference will be given to English majors.
Distributions: Division I
Attributes: AMST Arts in Context Electives
ENGL Literary Histories C

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