Dr. Alex E. Blazer Course Site Syllabus
First Day Questionnaire Online Books Selected Reading
Poetry Reading Strategies In Class Activities Discussion Board Response
Exam Short Paper Annotated Bibliography
Research Paper  


"Constantly risking absurdity"

English 382-75: Contemporary Poetry in English

Fall 2005, MW 4:00-5:15PM, Davidson Hall 303

First Day Questionnaire

I would greatly appreciate it if you would complete the following questionnaire in Blackboard > Assignments > Questionnaire by Tuesday, August 23. This survey is completely optional. I simply want to get a sense of the class's poetic interests, and this questionnaire will give you practice with Blackboard if you need it.


1. What is your name?

2. If it is not apparent from the roster, how do you pronounce your name?

3. Do you prefer to be called something other than the name which appears on the roster?

4. What is and/or what are your favorite work(s) of literature (play, film, television show, novel, or short story)?

5. What is your favorite poem, poet, and/or poetic movement?


6. What is your prior experience with poetry?

Online Books

Books listed on the syllabus as "online" (except Bernstein's Dark City, see below) are available on the Chadwyck-Healey Twentieth-Century American Poetry individual literature collection through the article database Literature Online on the UofL Libraries' website.

Bernstein's Dark City will be available in a few weeks in Blackboard > Course Documents and on reserve at Ekstrom Library.


If you would rather have an actual book, you may independently order these books from a bookstore. Full publication information, including ISBNs, are available here:

Selected Reading

Literary Biography

You are required to read the poets' Contemporary Authors literary biographies available in Blackboard > Course Documents.

Selected Poems

You are required to read the complete volume of poetry for Dorn, Hejinian, and Dahlen since these are book-length poems. You should read the complete volume of poetry for every other poet in the course, excluding Creeley's complete works; however, you are only required to read the selected poems listed below. To prepare for class, I suggest you read the selected poems at least three times: first aloud, second while taking notes on and asking questions of the poems, and third for preliminary meaning and theme. It would also be advisable to keep a reading journal.

Strategies for Reading, Analyzing, and Writing about Poetry




In Class Activities

1. Ed Dorn's Gunslinger: Characterizing the Road Trip

Divide into four groups to discuss the following three prompts. After approximately 25 minutes, the groups will report their analysis to the larger class.

  1. Narrative: Sketch what happens in Book I? What is the purpose of the journey? Where does the narrative start and where does it end, at least in Book I?
  2. Characterization: Do a character of one of Book I's two major characters, the Gunslinger or "I," that your professor assigns your group. What are the character's predominant traits? In what ways does he foil the other major character?
  3. Issues and Themes: Tentatively speaking, what are some of the issues that Gunslinger broaches? What are some possible themes it's setting up and/or conveying in Book I.

2. Marvin Bell's The Book of the Dead Man: About the Dead Man and In Class Group Activities

Divide into four groups to discuss the following issues regarding the poem your group is assigned.

  1. Characterization: Do a character sketch of the Dead Man. Describe the nature of his "death." What are his core conflicts and issues?
  2. The Poem: What is your assigned poem about? What is the key issue of the poem?
  3. The Book: What is The Book of the Dead Man about? In your current thinking, what is the theme of the collection?

3. Charles Bernstein's Dark City: Finding the Poet among the Debris of Language

Language Poetry


Although John Ashbery is a postmodern poet, he nonetheless has one foot in traditional romantic lyric of self-expression. The three poets that we're reading in the next few weeks (Charles Bernstein, Lyn Hejinian, and Beverly Dahlen) have a far more radical, poststructuralist view of language and self. Although Ashbery influences these poets, they comprise a revolutionary tendency in postmodern poetry called Language poetry, which foregrounds anti-absorptive language over against conventional, "meaningful" poetry. The following characteristic list borrows from Bob Perelman's "Language Writing and Literary History," The Marginalization of Poetry: Language Writing and Literary History (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1996) 11-37, available in Blackboard > Course Documents.

  1. Language poetry employs a theoretically informed, poststructuralist view of the self. The self is pluralistic, multiplicitous, shifting, and conflictive, and subject to language and discourse.
  2. Language poetry utilizes a new (hyper)realism that strives to portray the contemporary subject’s divided yet blase consciousness through the sheer banality of everyday language usage in all its mixed and shifting saturation.
  3. Language poetry implements writing as a critical process instead of a stagnant product. Thus Language poetry is interested in overcoming the consumable goods that are traditional and conventional verse (and prose) through a poetics of a) semantic and syntactical disjunction, b) nonlinear antinarrative, c) nonreferential textuality and materiality of language itself, and d) polyvocal and polylogical expression of "speaker."
  4. Language poetry is interested in readerly participation in the writing process such that the reader constructs meaning just as the writer does, thereby moving beyond the role of passive consumer and into the role of active producer of meaning.
  5. Language poetry uses the four above characteristics (poststructuralist subbjectivity, hyperrealism, writing as process of critique, and reader response thereof), as a means to approach politically informed and motivated ends at the level of representation at worst and the level of mainstream political discourse at best.



To jump start our discussion of Bernstein today, divide into groups of three or four to discuss what "happens" in an assigned poem (either "Debris of Shock / Shock of Debris" or "Reveal Codes") as well as what the speaker-poet feels about the nature of the world and self.

  1. Summarize a page or so of the poem by noting what happens, at the literal, figurative, conceptional, and/or ideological level, in each line. Note the juxtaposition of rhetorics and ideas. What do the lines and ideas have in common? What might the juxtaposition mean?
  2. Note when, where, and in what context the poem uses "I," in other words, when the poet may be speaking directly. What do we learn about the poet's sense of self, his world view, and/or his subjectivity?

4. Lyn Hejinian's My Life: The Process of Meaning in "A pause, a rose, something on paper"

Autobiographical, Procedural Poetry


Lyn Hejinian's My Life is a book of poetry that tests the limits of autobiography, diary, memory, and identity. Each prose poem constitutes the poet's memory of a year of her life. Although the reader receives informative details of that existence, those facts are overrun by language because the poet remembers what has been through what is now, that is, the creative language of her life. The poet's multiplicitous and fluctuating identity is constructed by a language that questions reference and sublimes convention: "My life is as permeable constructedness" (93).


The book gains thematic continuity by repeating and recycling the titles of more than half of its poems throughout the text of subsequent poems. However, these recurring phrases are continually amended and revised, thus bringing a degree of discontituity into the heart of continuity. The titles of the first two poems and their subsequent reuse are listed below the following discussion questions.

  1. A pause, a rose, something on paper
    1. A pause, a rose, something on paper, in a nature scrapbook. (13)
    2. A pause, a rose, something on paper. (16)
    3. I found myself dependent on a pause, a rose, something on paper. (21)
    4. A pause, a rose, something on paper. (31)
    5. A pause, a rose, something on paper. (36)
    6. A pause, a rose, something on paper implicit in the fragmentary text. (41)
    7. A pause, a rose, something on paper. (43)
    8. A pause, a rose, something on paper. (45)
    9. A pause, a rose, something on paper. (52)
    10. A pause, a rose, something on paper—an example of parascription. (64)
    11. A pause, a rose, something on paper of true organic spirals we have no lack. (65)
    12. A pause, a rose, something on paper. (70)
    13. There was a pause, a rose, something on paper.(75)
    14. A pause, a rose, something on paper. (80)
    15. A pause, a rose, something on paper. (86)
    16. Things are different but not separate, thoughts are discontinuous but not unmotivated (like a rose without pause). (96)
  2. As for we who "love to be astonished"
    1. As for we who "love to be astonished," my heartbeats shook the bed. (22)
    2. As for we who "love to be astonished," a weasel eats twenty times as much as a lizard of the same size. (24)
    3. As for we who "love to be astonished," I'm not your maid I'm your mother. (28)
    4. As for we who "love to be astonished," mother love. (30)
    5. As for we who "love to be astonished," every Sears smells the same. (34)
    6. As for we who "love to be astonished," a moth has more flesh than a butterfly could lift. (40)
    7. As for we who "love to be astonished," you would say these are its ghosts. (41)
    8. As for we who "love to be astonished," he's a walker. (44)
    9. As for we who "love to be astonished," so do all relationships move. (45)
    10. As for we who "love to be astonished," the ear is less active than the eye. (47)
    11. As for we who "love to be astonished," the night is lit. (50)
    12. As for we who "love to be astonished," McDonalds is the world's largest purchaser of beef eyeballs. (54)
    13. As for we who "love to be astonished," each new bit of knowledge is indicative of a wider ignorance. (56)
    14. As for we who "love to be astonished," life is linked to man. (61)
    15. As for we who "love to be astonished," thicken the eggs in a bath Marie. (70)
    16. As for we who "love to be astonished," money makes money, luck makes luck. (74)
    17. As for we who "love to be astonished," the old-fashioned branching ice cream cones could hold twin pairs of scoops, of four. (77)
    18. As for we who "love to be astonished," it's more like muggy was than wooden houses. (78)
    19. As for we who "love to be astonished," my love for these kids. (83)
    20. As for we who "love to be astonished," I was territorial at their nativity. (97)
    21. As for we who "love to be astonished," consciousness is durable in poetry. (98)
    22. As for we who "love to be astonished," we lead that life because it is mulish and packed. (104)
    23. The adult son and daughter of we "who love to be astonished"...and really what other chance, conclusion, power could I...resume. (111)



Divide into groups of three or four and discuss the following issues in Hejinian's book of poetry. If your group would like a good poem or two to commence your analysis, I suggest looking at "A pause, a rose, something on paper" (7), "She showed the left profile, the good one" (45), "Yet we insist that life is full of happy chance" (74), or "Now such is the rhythm of cognition" (92).

  1. What are some self-reflexive aphoristic statements that Hejinian makes about the poetry writing process and her identity?
  2. What are some patterns and repetitions you see occurring throughout Hejinian's poetry, Hejinian's book?
  3. Compare and contrast Hejinian's poetic process, meaning, and self with Bernstein's.

Discussion Board Response

You will respond to and then present to the class a poem (or, in the case of short poetry, a couple of poems; or in the case of a book length poem, a section of a poem) from our selected poetry list based on the poet you sign up for, below. You will post your response to our course discussion board: Blackboard > Assignments > Discussion Board. Typically this due date will be the Wednesday before the class discusses the poet. The response should

You will also be responsible to read the poem aloud (or, in the case of a book-length poem, a page or so) and present the high points of your response in an informal, 3-5 minute presentation. Approximately one week after submission, your graded response will be returned to you in Blackboard > My Grades > Discussion Board Response.


Week Date Poet Student
Week 1 none none


Week 2 none none none
Week 3 W, 9-7 Sexton, All My Pretty Ones [in The Complete Poems] Tiffany LaBarbera
Week 4 W, 9-14

Rich, The Dream of a Common Language

"Power," "Splittings," "To a Poet," or "Cartographies of Silence"

Eleanor Luken

Rich, The Dream of a Common Language

"Twenty-One Love Poems," "Not Somewhere Else, but Here," "Paula Becker to Clara Westhoff," or "A Woman Dead in Her Forties"

Michael Black
Week 5 W, 9-21

Creeley, Words [in The Collected Poems]

Jason Schwalm

Week 6

W, 9-28

O'Hara, Lunch Poems

Lane Hibbard

O'Hara, Lunch Poems

Nate Sturdevant
Week 7 none none none
Week 8 W, 10-12

Bell, The Book of the Dead Man

#1 / About the Dead Man, #3 / About the Beginnings of the Dead Man, #5 / About the Dead Man and Pain, #10 / About the Dead Man and His Poetry, #14 / About the Dead Man and Government

Steven Clark

Bell, The Book of the Dead Man

#17 / About the Dead Man and Dreams, #18 / The Dead Man's Advice, #23 / About the Dead Man and His Masks, #27 / About the Dead Man and The Book of the Dead Man, #33 / About the Dead Man and a Parallel Universe

Brittany Yonts
Week 9 W, 10-19 Ashbery, Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror none
Week 11 W, 10-26

Bernstein, Dark City

Michelle Smock

Week 12 W, 11-2

Hejinian, My Life

[responders should not respond to the same poem]

Caleb Foss
Lilybelle Flint
Week 13 W, 11-9 Dahlen, A Reading (11-17) Brittany McKnight
Week 14 W, 11-16

Graham, Region of Unlikeness

"Fission," "From the New World," "History," or "Chaos"

Noah Glass

Graham, Region of Unlikeness

"The Marriage," "Holy Shroud," "Spring," or "What Is Called Thinking"

Corinne Tirone
Week 15 none none none
Week 16 none none none
Week 17 none none none
Finals none none none

Exam Review

The exam will consist of two or three essays. Each question will ask you to compare and contrast at least two poets particular themes, poetics, or views of the world. The goal of the exam is for you to show your understanding of thematic issues and literary concerns of contemporary American poetry by being able to make comparisons and contrasts among poems and poets.


If I were preparing for this exam, I would create and review a separate page of notes for each poet consisting of the following:

Although you could simply review your original class notes, I advise composing these set of notes for doing so attunes your thinking and writing process to the cause of the exam in a much more active way than using old notes. Constructing notes is prewriting for the essay exam.

Short Paper

The exam required you to make connections and distinctions among the poets, poetry, and movements. The short paper allows you to exemplify your understanding of a single poem, or part of a poem for book-length poems. Choose a poem from a book of poetry, which we have read in class, but not a poem which we have discussed in class. For example, you could select a Ferlinghetti poem that is not listed on the selected reading. If you choose Dorn, select a couple of pages which we did not explicitly discuss in class. Write a short paper that closely reads that poem in the manner demonstrated by our discussion of Ferlinghetti's [Away above a harborful]. First, develop out the predominant and paramount issues and ambiguous and ambivalent meanings, and then conclude what the poem thematically means as a whole: resolve the ambiguities and ambivalences by choosing a side.

Reading Journal and

Annotated Bibliography

To prepare for the research paper, you will keep a reading journal of the poetry you read and compose an annotated bibliography of the scholarly research you find.

Research Paper

While the exam tested your ability to compare and contrast poets and movements and the short paper required you to closely read a single poem, the research paper asks you to analyze a poet's worldview through not only a number of her poems but also scholarly research. Choose a poet, either from class or a poet writing in English between 1955 and the present. The poet may not be the same poet on whom you wrote your short paper; and the poems may not be those that we discussed in class. You must be able to find approximately 8-10 scholarly journal articles, books, and/or book chapters on the poet (see the Annotated Bibliography, above). Next, read a book or two by the poet, and keep a reading journal of your reading (see the Reading Journal, above). Write a research paper that analyzes an issue or theme that runs throughout the poet's work. In the course of the paper, you should interpret approximately 3-4 poems, albeit not closely as in the short paper, and use 3-4 scholarly sources to support your examination.

Student Poet Book
Michael Black
Adrienne Rich Dark Fields of the Republic
Steven Clark Adrienne Rich Sources
Lilybelle Flint Adrienne Rich Diving into the Wreck
Caleb Foss John Ashbery The Tennis Court Oath
Noah Glass Jorie Graham Materialism
Lane Hibbard Lawrence Ferlinghetti A Far Rockaway of the Heart
Tiffany LaBarbera
Lawrence Ferlinghetti Open Eye, Open Heart
Eleanor Luken
Sylvia Plath Complete Poems
Brittany McKnight
Jason Schwalm
Jorie Graham The End of Beauty
Michelle Smock
Denise Levertov The Jacob's Ladder or Evening Train
Nathan Sturdevant
Robert Lowell Life Studies
Corinne Tirone
Billy Collins  
Brittney Yonts Charles Wright The World of the Ten Thousand Things, Poems 1980-1990