Asked to give a definition of poetry, Robert Frost replied, “Poetry is the kind of thing poets write.” We’ll see if we can expand upon that definition just a bit. We’ll read a great deal of poetry (spanning 2700 years and several continents), and we’ll discuss the specific qualities — of tone, of music, of imagery — that make some poems worth rereading (and rereading, and rereading). We’ll look at forms ranging from the sonnet to the villanelle to the double abecedarian. Along the way we’ll try to get a sense of the imaginative possibilities open to poets, both today and in the past. We’ll find Perry Mason characters facing off in sestinas. We’ll see The Waste Land refashioned as a series of limericks. We’ll read poems supposedly scribbled on Wendy’s customer comment cards. Assignments will include explications, memorizations, imitations, competitive forgeries, and a final paper. At all times, we’ll keep John Berryman’s aim in mind: “to write so good . . . the trolls of language will scream and come over to [our] side.”
Texts: (1) Making Your Own Days, Kenneth Koch; (2) The Rattle Bag, Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes, eds.