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“Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world” wrote Shelley in his 1821 “Defence of Poetry,” countering the widely held view of poetry’s airy irrelevance to the material progress of humanity. His claims are echoed a century and a half later in Audre Lorde’s “Poetry is Not a Luxury,”; in which she argues that poetry is a vital and essential part of her own political struggle as a Black lesbian feminist. But when W.B. Yeats–himself a very politically involved poet–writes in 1917 that “from the quarrel with others comes rhetoric; from the quarrel with ourselves comes poetry,” he implies that poetry would suffer from too much involvement with the “quarrel with others” that is politics. And when W. H. Auden writes in 1939 that “poetry makes nothing happen” he appears to locate poetry’s value precisely in its irrelevance to politics as such. This course will focus on the vexed relationship between poetry and political struggle, reading predominantly poetry and poetics (writings about poetry) of the last two centuries in an effort to answer the questions: what can poetry do for politics? what does politics do for (or to) poetry? Is poetry essential to political struggle, or do poetry and politics mix only to the detriment of both, producing, on the one hand, bad poetry, and on the other, mere distractions from the “real” work of politics? The primary goal of the course is to make students better readers and appreciators of poetry, and better readers and writers of argumentative prose.
Format: seminar; discussion
Grading: yes pass/fail option,
no fifth course option
graded essays, final in-class team project
first-year students who have not taken or placed out of a 100-level ENGL course
Students will write 5 essays total. After each essay, students meet individually with the professor to discuss their writing and plan specific improvements in their writig skills. Two of the essays will be revised after peer-review tutorials.