I’ve been working on a course description for my modernist poetry class next semester. I’m pretty excited, as I know a heckuva lot more about stylistics since the last time I taught the course. Here’s the current draft:
One scholar calls the rapid transformation of American poetry in the modern period “one of the most remarkable developments of a major literature in history.” Another claims that “modern American poetry may be—second only to jazz music—the most important contribution this country has made to world culture.” There is no doubt that during the first part of the 20th century, American poets and their work became widely read and highly influential on the world literary stage; and whether they intended to or not, writers were answering the call of Ezra Pound to “Make it new!” However, beyond generic statements such as these, there is no central, convenient history the genre.
Instead of attempting to codify some kind of monolithic Euro-American modernism, we will do close readings of a variety of poems by a variety of poets; we will attend to style, prosody, and form as much as we attend to meaning; we will discuss important themes, problems, trends, and aesthetic disputes of the period; we will explore how these poets both embraced and rejected the Western literary tradition; and we will investigate the array of cultural, historical, and social problems that the poems speak to. Most of all, we will attempt to get some sense of the intensely experimental, aesthetically fragmented, and bewilderingly multicultural landscape of the poetries being written in the first half of the 20th century that have come together under the label “modernist.”