Skip to main content

EN986 Topics in American Poetry

Dr Stephen Ross


2014-2015: Prose, Poet's Prose, and the Prosaic

THURS 10-12, H305

This module will devote significant attention to the American prose poem, but even more, to the crucial role of prose and the prosaic in various articulations of poetics throughout American literary history. In this respect, a key foundation will be Stephen Fredman’s contention in Poet’s Prose: The Crisis in American Verse, that the question of prose has often functioned for American poets as an indispensable tool with which to redefine the “poetic” itself, of finding a way of “including what poetry has been told to exclude” (10). Extending this insight, we can see that such concerns stretch from Whitmanian conceptualizations of free verse and Emily Dickinson’s epistolary poetics and stress on the letter as form through to Ezra Pound’s emphasis on “The Prose Tradition in Verse,” mixings of poetry and prose in W. C. Williams’ Spring and All and Jean Toomer’s Cane, and finally, Marianne Moore’s syllabic verse which can have the feel of lineated prose. Moving beyond modernism, we will examine how more recent poets such as Spicer, Ashbery, Robertson, and Lerner all reflect on the prose traditions of American verse in distinctive ways. Ultimately, no consideration of the question can bypass the precedents of Baudelaire and Rimbaud, and the module will begin with a brief consideration of their work.

Course Outline:

Week 1. Introduction: A. Rimbaud, Illuminations (selections; J. Ashbery, trans.; hand-out); C. Baudelaire, Little Poems in Prose (selections; K. Waldrop, trans., hand-out), S. Fredman, Introduction, Poet's Prose (please click here to read in advance of first seminar).
Week 2. Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (1855 edition).
Week 3. Emily Dickinson, Poetry and selected letters. Most if not all letters to be read can be found here. 
Week 4. W. C. Williams, Spring and All (New Directions, 2011; facsimile edition).
Week 5. Marianne Moore, Complete Poems (Penguin Classics, 2005, if easily available; other editions acceptable). Poems to read: "To a Steam Roller," "Critics and Connoisseurs," "In the Days of Prismatic Color," "To a Snail," "An Octopus," "When I Buy Pictures," "Poetry," "Marriage," "He 'Digesteth Harde Yron,'" "The Pangolin," "A Grave," "Spenser's Ireland," "The Icosasphere," "Baseball and Writing."
Week 6. J. Toomer, Cane (Norton Critical, 2011).
Week 7. John Ashbery, Three Poems (in Collected Poems 1956-1987, Carcanet, 2010; other volumes also acceptable in which Three Poems is printed in full).
Week 8. Jack Spicer, After Lorca and Admonitions (from The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer, Wesleyan UP, 2008).
Week 9. Lisa Robertson, The Weather (New Star Books, 2011 (original publication date, 2001)).
Week 10. Ben Lerner, Angle of Yaw (Copper Canyon Press, 2006).

Texts to Buy:
1. Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (1855 edition), Penguin Classics (or any other edition which includes the integral 1855 text, such as the Library of America).
2. Emily Dickinson, The Poems of Emily Dickinson, edited by R. W. Franklin, Harvard UP.
3. W. C. Williams, Spring and All, New Directions, (facsimile edition).
4. Marianne Moore, Complete Poems (Penguin Classics, 2005, preferred edition).
5. Jean Toomer, Cane (Norton Critical, 2011).
6. John Ashbery, Collected Poems 1956-1987 (Carcanet, 2010, preferred edition).
7. Jack Spicer, My Vocabulary Did This To Me: The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer (Wesleyan UP, 2008).
8. Lisa Robertson, The Weather (New Star Books, 2011).
9. Ben Lerner, Angle of Yaw (Copper Canyon Press, 2006).

Selected Secondary Reading:

Christopher Beach, ABC of Influence: Ezra Pound and the Remaking of American Poetic Tradition
Leo Bersani, A Future for Astyanax
Ronald Bush, "Late Cantos LXXXII-CXVII" in Cambridge Companion to Ezra Pound, Ira Nadel, ed.
William Merrill Decker, Epistolary Practices: Letter Writing in America
Michel Delville, The American Prose Poem: Poetic Form and the Boundaries of Genre
Wai Chee Dimock. Through Other Continents: American Literature Across Deep Time
Eberwein and MacKenzie, eds. Reading Emily Dickinson's Letters
Besty Erkkila, Whitman: The Political Poet
Stephen Fredman, Poet's Prose: The Crisis in American Verse
W. Godzich and J. Kittay, The Emergence of Prose: An Essay in Prosaics
David Herd, John Ashbery and American Poetry
Susan Howe, My Emily Dickinson
Nathan Huggins, Harlem Renaissance
Daniel Katz, The Poetry of Jack Spicer
Hugh Kenner, The Pound Era
Kathryne Lindberg, Reading Pound Reading: Modernism after Nietzsche
Jonathan Mayhew, Apocryphal Lorca: Translation, Parody, Kitsch
Anthony Mellors, Late Modernist Poetics from Pound to Prynne
William Montgomery, The Poetry of Susan Howe: History, Theology, Authority
Miriam Nichols, Radical Affections: Essays on the Poetics of Outside
Christopher Nealon, The Matter of Capital
Michael North, The Dialect of Modernism: Race, Language, and 20th Century Literature
Laura O'Connor, Haunted English: The Celtic Fringe, the British Empire, and De-Anglicization
Marjorie Perloff, The Poetics of Indeterminacy: Rimbaud to Cage
Jean-Michel Rabaté, Language, Sexuality, and Ideology in Ezra Pound's Cantos
Ron Silliman, The New Sentence
Michael Snediker, Queer Optimism: Lyric Personhood and Other Felicitous Persuasions
John Emile Vincent, ed. After Spicer: Critical Essays