Very Contemporary Poetry

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This course is no longer being offered.

Course Description

This course is designed specifically for English Language Learners interested in further developing their English skills in a challenging college-level academic setting.

What are poets writing today, and how can we make sense of their work? If we had to account for the poetry of *right now*, what would we say? How does this poetry continue, or break from, the past?

Our course investigates features of very contemporary poetry, primarily in the United States: poetry published in the last five years. I've tried to include some of the most energizing and influential poetic voices of our period, and your independent writing, and our class discussions, will draw on these artists and/or on a list of related practitioners.

Most days, examples of very contemporary poetry will be paired with excerpts of critical texts, or with other works of art. I want us to explore how poetry interacts with TV, film, dance, theater, and novels. I want us to read poems aloud, to practice memorization skills, and to learn about the scenes from which poems originate. What does it mean to be a poet in today's world? And how can poetry change this world?

Our course is a survey of contemporary American poetry. I want us to discuss together what kinds of things American poets are doing in the now. We'll read excerpts from the following texts, provided by me in PDF format:

Frank Bidart. Half-light: Collected Poems (FSG, 2017)
Anne Boyer. Garments Against Women (Ahsahta, 2015)
Brandon Brown. The Four Seasons (Wonder, 2018)
Layli Long Soldier. Whereas (Graywolf, 2017)
Sara Nicholson. What the Lyric Is (The Song Cave, 2016)
Tommy Pico. Nature Poem (Tin House, 2017)
Margaret Ross. A Timeshare (Omnidawn, 2015)
Robyn Schiff. A Woman of Property (Penguin, 2016)
Danez Smith. Don’t Call Us Dead (Graywolf, 2017)

This survey will be structured according to three general rubrics: questions of FORM, questions of AUTHOR, and questions of HISTORY.

By FORM, I mean the ways poems enact their work, on the page or to the ear. How do poets turn rhyme, rhythm, blank space into *emotional* states?

By AUTHOR, I mean the relationship of the person writing with the person(s) speaking in, or through, a poem. How do we understand, and destabilize, that relationship? How do different poets approach their own, and others', poems?

By HISTORY, I mean the relationship of the poem, or text, to its context -- the world around it. How do poems recount, and challenge, narratives of the past? How do they shape the future?

Reading between classes will be manageable, but I do ask that students come to each session prepared. Preparation involves -- close, careful, sustained reading of poems; consideration of any excerpts of critical/related texts; and readiness for thoughtful contribution to class discussion. In class, we'll organize debates and performances, and do writing exercises together -- all designed to heighten our appreciation for the poets under consideration.

By the end of the course, students will be able to:

Identity features of a given poem intensifying, or complicating, its effect and meaning;
Discuss how poems, personal stories, and literary traditions intersect;
Describe how poems relate to other works of art;
Speak in more specific terms about how poems operate at the start of the 21st-century in America; what they sound like and look like, and what they can do on the page and in the world.

Prerequisites: This course asks only that students come to class ready to discuss poetry. No previous acquaintance with poetry, in any shape or form, is required.


Course Information

  • Course Code: CEEL0921
  • Length: 2 weeks

Program Information

Summer@Brown for English Language Learners

A select group of non-credit courses in the liberal arts and sciences supplemented with English language learning, two weeks long, taught on Brown’s campus. For University-bound English language learners completing grades 9-12 by June 2019.

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