ENGLISH 442 - Studies in Poetry
Fall 2023, Section 001 - Midcentury to Contemporary Poetry in the U.S.: Personal, Impersonal, Confessional
Instruction Mode: Section 001 is  In Person (see other Sections below)
Subject: English Language and Literature (ENGLISH)
Department: LSA English Language & Literature
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Waitlist Capacity:
With permission of instructor.
May not be repeated for credit.
Primary Instructor:
Start/End Date:
Full Term 8/28/23 - 12/6/23 (see other Sections below)
NOTE: Drop/Add deadlines are dependent on the class meeting dates and will differ for full term versus partial term offerings.
For information on drop/add deadlines, see the Office of the Registrar and search Registration Deadlines.


Why did so much of the best-known poetry written in the United States in the mid-twentieth century advertise itself as being more “personal” than what came before it?  Why did queer poets and poets of color more often refuse than embrace that trend?  And what makes a poem “personal,” or impersonal, anyway? How does a written poem make us believe it is a person, one who “speaks” authentically, intimately, immediately, either to or for its readers?  What did poets like Sylvia Plath or Robert Lowell or Anne Sexton mean by calling their work “confessional,” and how has confessionalism evolved since the 1950s when the term first emerged? How do the performances of self these poets experimented with compare to and predict our own highly self-conscious social media performances of who we are (or want to be) and how we feel?

These are some of the questions we’ll explore as we read the great poetic experiments with and against “the personal” in the decades immediately after World War II:  Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems, Sylvia Plath’s Ariel,  Robert Lowell’s Life Studies, Amiri Baraka’s Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note.  We explore the historical and aesthetic backgrounds that make this late 1950s and early 1960s era in poetry make sense, including looking at poets who explicitly resisted the allure and market for self-revelation: Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Hayden, Gwendolyn Brooks, among others.    We read contemporary works of literary theory that help us think about these concerns, such as “What is an Author,” by Michael Foucault, and “The Death of the Author,” by Roland Barthes.  The course provides lots of opportunities to hone reading and writing skills, to encounter interesting poetry, and learn about cultural history in the U.S. It will involve and often feature discussions about how aspects of race/ racism, ethnicity, gender, class, and aesthetics intersect in the period and its culture. 

Students will buy several poetry collections.  PDFs will also be provided for some of the readings.

This course satisfies the following CURRENT English major/minor requirement: American Literature, Identity & Difference, Poetry

This course satisfies the following NEW English major/minor requirements: Foundations & Methods 300/400-level, Time: Contemporary/Modern

Course Requirements:

The course requires active participation in lectures / discussion and keeping pace with the weekly reading.  Students write a series of low-stakes papers responding to and asking questions about the reading (2 pages) and develop a longer literary and cultural analysis paper through multiple drafts.  There will be a take-home, timed final exam and students will work on a group presentation. 

Intended Audience:

This course is intended for sophomores, juniors, and seniors.  You should enjoy careful reading and thinking about writing and culture.  While perhaps most appropriate to those with especial interest in close reading and writing about texts, it is suitable for all students in LSA, the Honors Program, the Residential College, as well as students in music, theater, dance, art and design, architecture, engineering, etc.  We will work on our literacy in reading poems together: varying levels of experience reading poems is a-okay.  


ENGLISH 442 - Studies in Poetry
Schedule Listing
001 (LEC)
 In Person
TuTh 10:00AM - 11:30AM
8/28/23 - 12/6/23

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