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EN2K1/EN3K1 American Poetry: Modernity, Rupture, Violence

This module is running in 2024-2025

Module Credits: 30

Assessment, 2024-2025

Non-Finalists: 1 x 2,500 word essay + 1 x 3,500 word essay

Finalists: 1 x 3,000 word essay + 1 x 4,000 word essay

Please click here for the 2024-2025 syllabus

Module Outline

This survey module on American poetry will not be strictly delimited by historical period so as to remain supple and open to developments in the field, but will always feature a large 20th-century component. While “American” should be understand hemispherically, and works from beyond the United States might be included in certain iterations, the main focus will be on the United States. Intellectually it will be organised around three major concerns:

  1. Modernity. This refers to the prevalent view in US. cultural self-theorisation that the U.S. is in some ways on the advance-guard of history, for example, as an early democracy, as a nation founded on a cultural identity that cannot be traced in linear fashion to antiquity, as a state based on the principle of ethnic and cultural diversity, and as the bleeding edge of capitalist metamporphoses and liberalism.
  2. “Rupture” refers to discourses of American exceptionalism, often as derived from the considerations mentioned in point (1) above, but also to the long U.S. history of cultural opposition and critique of those very discourses. It is in this light that we can examine the specific characteristics of U.S. avant-gardes, or transnational avant-gardes with strong links to the U.S.
  3. Violence. Here, we will examine the particular histories of violence that are characteristic to U.S. history—both those mystified and mythified as foundationally and archetypally “American,” and those repressed and erased. Obvious examples include, slavery and segregation, the genocide of indigenous peoples, anti-immigrant and nativist violence, economic violence, and legal and symbolic violence against women, gays, queers, trans and other forms of sexual dissidence.

Objectives and outcomes

  • Demonstrate a basic knowledge of key movements and figures in the history of American poetry, and their relationship to their historical context.


  • Be familiar with the basic terms and methods of rhetorical and formal analysis of poetry, and be able to deploy them in critical readings of poems.


  • Demonstrate familiarity with key current debates in the field of poetry and poetics.


  • Be able to prosecute a complex, extended argument pertaining to material covered in this module, conforming to high standards of academic practice regarding the use of critical sources, originality of argument, and research skills.


Syllabus 2023-2024Link opens in a new window

Syllabus 2020-2021Link opens in a new window

Syllabus 2019-2020: for past-year students only!

Pathway information (for students who enrolled on their course prior to 2019/20)

American Pathway


Intermediate Year students: 2 x 4,000 word essay or 1 x 4,000 word essay + 1 2-hour exam (year specific)

Final Year students: 2 x 5,000 word essay or 1 x 5,000 word essay + 1 2-hour exam (year specific)

Convenor for 2024-25:

Dr Mae Losasso

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