HONORS 493 - College Honors Seminar
Section: 001 Poetry and the Language of Oppression: A Poet's Perspective
Term: FA 2018
Subject: Honors Program (HONORS)
Department: LSA Honors
1 - 4
Honors, Minicourse
Advisory Prerequisites:
Permission of instructor or of the Honors Director.
Other Course Info:
May be repeated for a maximum of 8 credit(s).
Primary Instructor:

In his poem “Dedication” Czeslaw Milosz asks, “What is poetry that does not save/Nations or people”? As Seamus Heaney has said, Milosz was one of the poets whose imagination has been tested by history. This course explores, from the point of view of the practitioner rather than the critic, the interface between politics and poetry in our time, and the rift between a contemporary poet’s sense of private and public identity. When politics and tumultuous historical events act not as inspiration, or as obstacles to the creative process, but as a provocation to write oneself free, the practitioner can come to recognize, with Milosz, that “I am not seeking an escape from dread but rather proof that dread and reverence can exist with us simultaneously.” The problem of the contemporary poet is thus no longer that of having to choose between art for art’s sake and political commitment, in order to feel like a responsible member of society. Rather, the poet begins to search for an adequate language to create and celebrate freedom in the deepest sense: the sense that each one of us has a place and right to be on this earth. To use Whitman’s words, “Each of us allow’d the eternal purports of the earth,/Each of us here as divinely as any is here.”

Course discussion will revolve around the following texts:

  • A Book of Luminous Things, edited by Czeslaw Milosz (required for purchase)
  • Crossing the Carpathians by Carmen Bugan (provided to enrolled students)
  • Seamus Heaney and East European Poetry in Translation: Poetics of Exile by Carmen Bugan (recommended, on reserve in the Honors office)
  • The Witness of Poetry by Czeslaw Milosz (recommended), Finders’ Keepers by Seamus Heaney (recommended), and Releasing the Porcelain Birds by Bugan (recommended)

    Additional supplementary suggested readings will be available to those registered for the course.

    The poet Carmen Bugan reflects on the process of creating literature out of personal testimony through a series of lectures that explore the subject of the Cold War Communist repression, and the way in which she has engaged with it. She discusses the work of other poets who have responded to their own political realities, in order to offer several perspectives on writing poetry that arises from historical upheaval.

    The lectures are:

    Sounding the Deeps of Nature: Lyric Language and the Language of Oppression
    The concept of oppression, just as the concept of freedom, is narrative and operates at the level of words: There is a narrative that accompanies every transaction of meaning taking place between us and the larger forces of the world. This lecture will address the interface between poetry and politics at the level of language, arguing for the importance of claiming one’s inner freedom from the language of oppression that enters the language of poetry.

    Family and State: Private and Public Narratives
    There are two versions of personal identity that often clash in the artistic process originating in oppression; they destabilize the voice of the lyric “I”. This lecture will raise several questions about the relationship between personal biography and the construction of a lyric speaker, and will explore the notion of a poetics that insists on healing the damage politics does on family; it will discuss what happens when private and public identities become conflated because of politics.

    Writing in-between Languages: Poetry in a Second Language
    When the native language becomes unstable, and writers are forced to abandon it, or when experience simply destroys the transaction of meaning or truth between a writer and her language, the notion of the “place of writing” itself becomes destabilized and abstracted. This lecture probes the poet’s relationship with an adopted language, acknowledging losses and gains, and offers a glimpse into the experience of writing in-between languages, hovering at the borders between them.

    Artistic Distance and the Language of Oppression
    Writing is an emotional process and it works when it makes us feel, both as writers and readers. Yet a certain emotional distance is necessary when one writes poetry with the language of oppression, especially when one has been the victim, and offers a historical testimony. What kind of liberties can one take with the material? What constitutes appropriate artistic language when one navigates the territories of poetry about the hard truths? Rescuing language from screams of pain and anger into poetic language, which shows the effect of oppression on the inner landscape of feeling, is what poetry offers as an art.

    Course Requirements:

    To apply for enrollment in the course, students must submit two shorter poems for Dr. Bugan's review. Send poems by email to bfrecka@umich.edu. Rolling submissions will be accepted until course fills. Students will be notified as quickly as possible with a decision.

    Intended Audience:

    Advanced undergraduates and those who have taken creative writing courses

    Class Format:

    Registered students will participate in small poetry workshops with the instructor, in which they will have the opportunity to present their own poetry and receive group feedback on their writing.

  • HONORS 493 - College Honors Seminar
    Schedule Listing
    001 (LEC)
    Tu 3:00PM - 4:00PM
    Note: This course meets from 9/11 - 10/4. Students are auto-enrolled in lecture 001 when they elect discussion 002.
    002 (DIS)
    15LSA Hnrs
    WTh 2:30PM - 4:00PM
    Note: This course meets from 9/11 - 10/4. Students are auto-enrolled in lecture 001 when they elect discussion 002.
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