1 Yozshukree

Modern British Poetry Essay Questions

RATIONALE

My major interest is the development of twentieth-century poetry—its continuities and transformations—with an emphasis on how American poets have dealt with and radically changed poetic tradition. Modern poets have built upon and reacted to the profound legacy of Romanticism (both British and American)—its theories of the imagination, its conception of the poet's role in art and society, its complicated struggle with the question of how mind, world and language interact, and its exploration of the status of art, especially textual art, in the world. Twentieth-century poets have grappled with how to "make it new," as Pound declared modern poets must, how to reinvent poetic forms in an American way, how to write original, authentic American and modern poetry. I'm most interested in questions concerning this effort by modern and contemporary American poets of various traditions and schools to create a poetry that is original, American, and contemporary.

This effort has entailed an even greater self-awareness about and thematization of the interplay between poetry and the world, and an acute self-consciousness about what Wallace Stevens calls the "world of words" we live in. Modem poetry (along with the fiction I will examine and twentieth-century critical thought in general) is marked by a constant struggle with the paradoxes of living in, with and through words. Writers have been faced with the recognition that the medium of language is an always inescapable yet forever insufficient mode of expression, and many have considered the possibility that our selves and our world(s) only exist as they are constructed in language. In modern and postmodern poetics, this recognition takes on supreme importance, as the idea of stable meaning and truth becomes unhinged; this disruption of traditional beliefs comes (at least partially) as a result of shock waves from changes which erupted in the mid- nineteenth to early twentieth century, in thought and society in general. Along with growing suspicions about whether God, order, authority, the sanctity of art, or coherent meaning can exist at all, comes an intense preoccupation with the limitations, possibilities, and potency of language (and representation) that both inspires and torments twentieth-century art, nowhere more obviously or to such success as in poetry and experimental prose.

PART I:  POETRY

I. AMERICAN MODERN BEGINNINGS

Ralph W. Emerson
— essays
Walt Whitman
— selections
Emily Dickinson
— selections

II. AMERICAN MODERNIST POETRY

Ezra Pound
— Personae; Cantos (selectively); Selected essays
T. S. Eliot
— Collected Poems, Selected Essays
Wallace Stevens
— Collected Poems;, essays in The Necessary Angel
William Carlos Williams
— Collected Poems (selections); Paterson; Selected Essays
Marianne Moore
— Collected Poems, Selected Prose
Gertrude Stein
— Poems (Tender Buttons; portraits; Stanzas in Meditation); selected essays
H.D.
— Selected Poems
Mina Loy
— Last Lunar Baedeker
e. e. cummings
— Selected Poems
Hart Crane
— Collected Poems (White Buildings & The Bridge)
Robert Frost
— Collected Poems (selections), Selected Prose
Langston Hughes
— Selected Poetry
Jean Toomer
— Cane

III. OTHER MODERNIST POETRY

W. B. Yeats
— Selected Poems (selectively)
Rainer Maria Rilke
— Selected Poems, esp. New Poems, and Duino Elegies
Guillaume Apollinaire
— Selected Poems, essay on Cubists

IV. NEXT/MIDDLE GENERATION, NEW CRITICAL, LATE MODERNIST POETRY

Louis Zukofksy
— Short Poems, "A"--selections of it
George Oppen
— Collected Poems
Charles Reznikoff
— Selected Poems
Laura Riding
— Selected Poems
W. H. Auden
— Selected Poems, Essays
Charles Olson
— Selected Poems (w/ selections of Maximus Poems); selected essays
Robert Lowell
— Selected Poems; selected essays
Theodore Roethke
— Collected Poems; prose (Poet and his Craft)
John Berryman
— Selected Poems, esp. 77 Dream Songs
Elizabeth Bishop
— Selected Poems, selected prose

V. POSTWAR / CONTEMPORARY / POSTMODERNIST POETRY: 1950-1975 (and beyond)

NEW YORK SCHOOL RELATED
John Ashbery
— Selected Poems; various other poems not included, prose
Frank O'Hara
— Selected Poems; prose ("Personism," and others)
Kenneth Koch
— On the Great Atlantic Rainway

BEAT RELATED
Allen Ginsberg
— Collected Poems 1947-1980 (selections)
Gary Snyder
— No Nature: Selected (esp. from Riprap, Back Country, Turtle Island)
Amiri Baraka
— Selected Poems (Transbluesency).

NEO-SURREALIST / AMERICAN ROMANTIC
James Wright
— Collected Poems

PROJECTIVIST / BLACK MOUNTAIN
Robert Creeley
— Selected Poems

FEMINIST / "CONFESSIONAL" / OTHER
Adrienne Rich
— Fact of a Doorframe (selected); selected essays
Sylvia Plath
— Selected Poems
Gwendolyn Brooks
— Selected Poems
James Merrill
— Selected Poems
A. R. Ammons
— Selected Poems

LANGUAGE POETS
Charles Bernstein
— A Poetics ("Artifice of Absorption"); essays
Lyn Hejinian
— My Life; essay "Rejection of Closure"

PART II:  CRITICISM / THEORY: 20TH-CENTURY POETICS

1. INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND TO 20TH-CENTURY AMERICAN POETRY: CONTINUITY, RUPTURE, AND CANONS

F. 0. Matthiessen
— The American Renaissance (sections on Emerson and Whitman)
Roy Harvey Pearce
— The Continuity of American Poetry (selections from Whitman forward)
David Perkins
— A History of Modern Poetry, vol. 1 & 2 (selectively for background on each poet)
Al Gelpi
— A Coherent Splendor (selectively for period overview 1910-1950)
Alan Golding
— From Outlaw to Classic: Canons in American Poetry

2. CRITICISM FOCUSED ON POUND AND ELIOT ISSUES

POUND:
Hugh Kenner
— The Pound Era (selectively)
Michael Levenson
— A Genealogy of Modernism
Michael Bernstein
— The Tale of the Tribe (long poems: Pound, Olson, Williams).
various other essays by Charles Altieri, Al Gelpi

ELIOT:
F. 0. Matthiessen
— The Achievement of T. S. Eliot

3. CRITICISM FOCUSED ON STEVENS AND OTHER MODERNS (FROST, WILLIAMS, MOORE, ETC)

Harold Bloom
— The Poems of Our Climate, selections, esp. first chapter.
— other essays (esp. Figures of Capable Imagination), on Emerson, Whitman, Crane, Ashbery, etc.
Frank Lentricchia
— Modernist Quartet
J. Hillis Miller
— Poets of Reality (esp. essays on Stevens, Williams)
Joseph Riddell
— "Decentering the Image" (in Textual Strategies) (and see his books on WCW and Stevens)
Paul Bové
— Destructive Poetics
Helen Vendler
— Part of Nature: see selected essays on Stevens, Eliot, Lowell, Ashbery, etc.
Richard Poirier
— Robert Frost: The Work of Knowing (selectively)
— selected essays in Poetry and Pragmatism and Renewal of Literature ("Question of Genius," "Modernism and its Difficulties")

4. ALTERNATIVE CRITICAL VIEWS OF MODERN/POSTMODERN POETRY

Marjorie Perloff
— The Poetics of Indeterminacy (esp. Pound, Williams, Stein, Ashbery) selected essays, from Dance of the Intellect, esp.
Rachel Blau DuPlessis
— The Pink Guitar
Carolyn Burke
— essay on "Sexual Difference"
Andrew Ross
— The Failure of Modernism (Eliot, Olson, Ashbery)

5. CRITICISM ON "CONTEMPORARY" OR "POSTMODERN" POETRY

Charles Altieri
— Enlarging the Temple (esp. intro chapter, and chapters on Lowell, O'Hara, and Creeley).
Marjorie Perloff
— Frank O'Hara: Poet Among Painters; essays in Dance of the Intellect; selections from various other various essays and books

Selected recent essays on various aspects of the period

Before committing to the composition of an essay on the topics described, the student may wish to examine an anthology of English poetry such as The Norton Anthology of English Literature because the Contents pages of this book lists British poets under the period in which these poets lived and wrote. Often a period such as the Romantic era, the Victorian age, or the Contemporary period appeals to a student. In addition, an examination of random poets in the anthology may attract a student to a certain one. Another thing a student may do is look through a textbook at the selections of poems. If one appeals to the student, then a paper can be written on this poet or his/her period.

  • Here are some Romantic poets who are often popular:

In the Romantic Period, there are several famous British poets who appeal to many readers, such as William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, George Gordon, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and John Keats. Their poetry has a lyricism, beautiful language and images, and inspiring words and ideas. Of course, the odes of Keats—"Ode to a Nightingale," "Ode on a Grecian Urn," and "To Autumn"—are perennial favorites. Shelley's odes are beautiful and inspiring as well. Another beautiful poem is Lord Byron's "She Walks in Beauty." Written to be set to music, the lyricism of this poem is compelling. Here is the first stanza:

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies:
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

This stanza exemplifies the beauty of Byron's language with the metaphors, simile, alliteration, imagery and lovely figures of speech.

Of course, the odes are also lyrical poems; their verses pay homage to a person, a quality, or a thing. Without doubt, the odes of Keats are inspiring. "Ode on a Grecian Urn" exemplifies the chiefly emotional aspect of Romantic poetry. Keats writes in this ode of the spirit that runs through all things, demonstrating that true beauty is eternal. In the urn, specifically, this beauty is self-contained.

  • Here are some Victorian poets who are popular

Another period that affords beautiful poetry is the Victorian era. For instance, Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnets from the Portuguese are lovely poems, especially Number 43, "How Do I Love Thee?" Her husband, Robert Browning, has exemplified well the possibilities of the dramatic monologue in "My Last Duchess." Most characteristic of Browning's poetry is the energy in his verses. Such buoyancy as Browning's imparts to his writing a creative vitality.  
Christina Rossetti was a Victorian poet who wrote pure lyric, narrative verse, and ballads, as well as inspiring devotional verse. Gerald Manley Hopkins's "sprung rhythm" gives his poetry distinctive design. In this new kind of rhythm, lines have a given number of stresses, but the number of unstressed syllables is highly variable. His "Pied Beauty" exemplifies this "sprung rhythm":

Glory be to God for dappled things
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
  For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim....

Hopkins' poetry is often compared to modern poetry because of its density, difficulty, and unconventional rhythm.

Certainly, the possibilities for a 3000 word essay are limitless. Writing about the time period is also an interesting choice as there are critical essays written about the characteristics of different periods. (See the links below. Anthologies also contain evaluations of the periods.)

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