ENGLISH 398 - Junior Seminar in English Studies
Section: 001 Poetry and Politics
Term: FA 2019
Subject: English Language and Literature (ENGLISH)
Department: LSA English Language & Literature
Requirements & Distribution:
Waitlist Capacity:
With permission of instructor.
May be repeated for a maximum of 8 credit(s). May be elected more than once in the same term.
Primary Instructor:

Writing in the New York Times Book Review in December of 2018, Tracy K. Smith, the US Poet Laureate, has this to say about politics and poetry: Even here in America, political poetry has done much more than vent. It has become a means of owning up to the complexity of our problems, of accepting the likelihood that even we the righteous might be implicated by or complicit in some facet of the very wrongs we decry. Poems willing to enter into this fraught space don’t merely stand on the bank calling out instructions on how or what to believe; they take us by the arm and walk us into the lake, wetting us with the muddied and the muddled, and sometimes even the holy.

In this junior seminar, we’ll start with Smith’s essay about political poetry, and move from there to an in-depth look into what we might call “the political poem,” focusing mostly on contemporary and twentieth century poets, but reaching back as well to study the political poem in a variety of historical periods. Our reading of poetry will be punctuated with a handful of additional critical essays that, like Smith’s, will function both as models and fuel for our own critical work. Because my plan for this class is to build a kind of creative writing / literary studies hybrid, students’ work for the class will include both critical essays about the poems we study as well as a portfolio of your own creative work (in the form of “political poetry”)—with an emphasis on the former, though the creative work you do will indeed be a vital component of the class as well. And because this class meets the Upper-Level Writing Requirement, we’ll spend a good deal of time focusing on building your writing skills; around the halfway point, our class-meetings will shift to become mostly workshop-based classes, where your writing is read by the entire class and is the subject of that day’s discussion.

We’ll read poetry by: Martín Espada, Evie Shockley, Robert Frost, W.H. Auden, Marilyn Nelson, Natasha Trethewey, Allan Ginsburg, Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, Elizabeth Alexander, Gwendolyn Brooks, Adrienne Rich, Danez Smith, Lucille Clifton, E.E. Cummings, Wislawa Szymborska, Sherman Alexie, Khaled Mattawa, Wilfred Owen, Mark Doty, Margaret Atwood, Amiri Baraka, Carolyn Forché, and oh so many others.

Course Requirements:

Your formal, graded writing will include an early short essay, a midterm portfolio of critical and creative work, and a final portfolio of critical and creative work—with several ungraded writing exercises assigned every few weeks or so. Class meetings will be largely discussion-based.

Intended Audience:

This is technically a Junior Seminar, though it’s open to all levels and all majors. English 298, the prerequisite for the English major, will likely be helpful for lots of students in this class, but it’s not a required prerequisite for English 398.

ENGLISH 398 - Junior Seminar in English Studies
Schedule Listing
001 (SEM)
TuTh 1:00PM - 2:30PM
002 (SEM)
TuTh 2:30PM - 4:00PM
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