Module Leader: Michael Hulse
Office hours: Tues 13.00-14.00 and Thur 10.00-11.00 in H544
This module is an option on all Pathways.
Seminars in 2018/19: Tuesday 2:00 - 3:30pm
The module provides a critical overview of some of the main currents and writers of poetry in English worldwide since the end of the Second World War. It covers a broad range of formal and linguistic approaches, a variety of poetics, and very different understandings of the relation of poetry in the period to belief, to society, to cultural dynamics, to the sense of self, and to thought. Evolving beyond the heyday of Modernism, poetry has used language from the plain to the intellectually dense, from high to demotic or dialect; it has found subject matter in religion and myth, in history and in the contemporary scene, in the nature of self and affect, in the natural and the manmade worlds, and in the paradoxes of the act of writing itself. Poetry has honoured its age-old debts to society but at the same time has insisted more radically than ever before on its autonomy. The module emphasizes that important poetry in English now originates from many places in the English-speaking world, not only in the traditional centres of the UK and the US.
Familiarity with a substantial range of late twentieth century world poetry in English. Texts studied will include work by John Ashbery, James K. Baxter, Elizabeth Bishop, Allen Curnow, Robert Gray, Seamus Heaney, Geoffrey Hill, Philip Larkin, Derek Mahon, Les Murray, Sharon Olds, Sylvia Plath, Charles Simic, Derek Walcott and Judith Wright.
Understanding of the nature of poetics in different English-speaking cultures worldwide, of the implications of contemporary debates on language and cognition for the writing of poetry, and of the evolution of the sense of self as a social, psychological, philosophical and political individual in poetry.
The construction of a cogent argument from examination of primary and secondary texts; a critical understanding of the global character of contemporary poetics in the English language; evaluation of the relative merits of regionalism and internationalism in literature.
Close analysis of a range of texts; critical evaluation of primary, secondary literature and of other student papers.
An understanding of poetry as an ideological as well as aesthetic performance; historical and critical exegesis.
The anthology used for the course is Michael Hulse/Simon Rae (eds.), The Twentieth Century in Poetry (Ebury Press, 2011). Supplementary material will be provided in hand-outs. For the final class, students may also wish to buy Tony Barnstone: Tongue of War (BkMk Press, 2009), but some poems will be available in hand-out.
The following anthologies are also recommended:
Keegan, Paul (ed.) The New Penguin Book of English Verse, Penguin, 2000
Fallon, Peter and Mahon, Derek (eds.) The Penguin Book of Contemporary Irish Poetry, Penguin, 1990
Vendler, Helen (ed.) The Faber Book of Contemporary American Poetry, Faber, 1986
Gray, Robert and Lehmann, Geoffrey (eds.) Australian Poetry in the Twentieth Century, Heinemann/Minerva, 1991
Hulse, Michael, Kennedy, David and Morley, David (eds.) The New Poetry, Bloodaxe, 1993
Atwood, Margaret (ed.), The New Oxford Book of Canadian Verse in English, OUP (Canada), 1982
Bornholdt, Jenny, O’Brien, Gregory and Williams, Mark (eds.), An Anthology of New Zealand Poetry in English, OUP (New Zealand), 1998
Buckley, Vincent (ed.), The Faber Book of Modern Australian Verse, Faber, 1991
Corcoran, Neil, English Poetry since 1940, Longman, 1993
Davie, Donald, Under Briggflatts: A History of Poetry in Great Britain 1960-1988, Carcanet Press, 1989
Gray, Richard, American Poetry of the Twentieth Century, Longman, 1990
Gregson, Ian, Contemporary Poetry and Postmodernism, Macmillan, 1996
Herbert, W.N. and Hollis, Matthew (eds.), Strong Words: Modern Poets on Modern Poetry, Bloodaxe Books, 2000
Jefferies, Lesley and Sansom, Peter (eds.), Contemporary Poems: Some Critical Approaches, Smith/Doorstop Books, 2000
Kennedy, David, New Relations, Seren, 1996
Larrissy, Edward, Reading Twentieth-Century Poetry, Blackwell, 1990
Markham, E.A. (ed.), Hinterland: Caribbean Poetry from the West Indies and Britain, Bloodaxe, 1989
Krishna Mehrotra, Arvind (ed.), Twelve Modern Indian Poets, OUP (India), 1992
Maja-Pearce, Adewale (ed.), The Heinemann Book of African Poetry in English, Heinemann, 1990
O’Brien, Sean, The Deregulated Muse, Bloodaxe Books, 1998
Schmidt, Michael, Reading Modern Poetry, Routledge, 1989
Shelton, Pamela (ed.), Contemporary Women Poets, Detroit, 1998
Class schedule 2017/2018
Poetry and the speaking voice
Poetry and tradition(s)
Poetry and national identity
Poetry and post-colonial identity
Poetry: the public and the personal
Poetry, religion, myth
Rhythm, image and the anti-rational
Post-War US poetry (1): a polarity
Richard Wilbur and Allen Ginsberg
Post-War US poetry (2): the speaking voice
Elizabeth Bishop and Frank O’Hara
Post-War US poetry (3): the public and the personal
Sylvia Plath and Robert Lowell
Post-War US poetry (4): alternative routes
John Ashbery and Charles Simic
Poetry and English identity:
Philip Larkin and Geoffrey Hill
Poetry and Caribbean identity:
Poetry and Irish identity:
Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley and Derek Mahon
Poetry and urban identity
Ciaran Carson (Belfast) and Tony Harrison (Leeds)
Poetry and Australian identity (1):
A. D. Hope and Les Murray
Poetry and Australian identity (2):
Judith Wright and Robert Gray
Poetry and self
Sharon Olds, Michael Hofmann and Hugo Williams
Poetry and medicine (1)
A. D. Hope, Julia Darling and Hugo Williams
Poetry and medicine (2)
Thom Gunn, Peter Reading and Rebecca Goss
Poetry and myth (1)
Allen Curnow and James K. Baxter
Week 8 1 Mar
Poetry and myth (2)
Poetry, forms and freedoms (1)
Free verse and syllabics
Poetry, forms and freedoms (2)
The sonnet from Claude McKay to Tony Barnstone
An assessed essay of 4,000 words and an examination of three hours. The deadline for submission of the essay is given in the Undergraduate Handbook.
Some essay questions
These can be treated as suggestions on which you can improve, and you are strongly encouraged to formulate your own titles. Except where otherwise indicated, the titles below can be referred to any poet studied in the course. Poets not discussed in class may also be included in essay work but should not form the sole content.
1 “It has been said that a poem should not mean but be. This is not quite accurate. In a poem, as distinct from many other kinds of verbal societies, meaning and being are identical.”
(W. H. Auden) Discuss.
2 Ted Hughes wrote that “Most writers of verse have several different personalities. The ideal is to find a style or a method that includes them all.” Discuss.
3 Writing to Marianne Moore in 1944, William Carlos Williams observed of his own poems: “There is too often no convincing form [...]” Examine the formal problems facing AT LEAST TWO writers of free verse active since 1945, and assess their success.
4 Consider the interplay between personal expression and political intervention in the work of any TWO US poets writing between 1945 and 1985.
5 “Religion, courage, philosophy, drink, the routines of work and leisure—all these are regarded by Larkin as placebos.” (Seamus Heaney on Philip Larkin’s poem ‘Aubade’.) Discuss Larkin’s understanding of death and mortality.
6 Examine the ways in which England is represented in the poetry of any TWO writers studied on the course.
7 Examine the tensions between the rational and the irrational in any poet(s) of your choice.
8 Discuss the understanding of Australian national identity that emerges from the work of the Australian poets studied on the module.
9 “It would be as myopic to regard Mr Murray as an Australian poet as to call Yeats an Irishman.” (Joseph Brodsky) Discuss.
10 Examine the understanding of the role of poetry in defining a post-colonial identity that you find in the work of Derek Walcott OR any Australian OR New Zealand poet(s) studied on the module.
11 “In contemporary terms, the substitution of the imagination for a traditional belief in God has included the replacement of Christian and Judaic myths with myths reclaimed from the past or from other cultures.” (Mark Jarman) Is the treatment of religion AND/OR myth in the poetry of Allen Curnow OR James K. Baxter OR Seamus Heaney OR Derek Mahon evidence of cultural conservatism in this respect?
12 Consider the understanding of the city found in the poetry of AT LEAST TWO poets writing since 1945.
13 Discuss the handling of the sonnet form by poets active since 1945.
14 Examine the use of metrical composition by any poet of your choice.