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Section 001 / Fall 2004 / Susan Tichy / Tuesday 7:20-10:00 / Thompson Hall 106

Office: Robinson A-431 / 703-993-1191 / stichy@gmu.edu
Office Hours: T 5:30-6:30, R 3:00-4:00, & by appointment

"The poetic convention of one style is the poetic resource of all styles."
Barbara Herrnstein Smith

Welcome. The first goal of this course is to nurture a context for the complex series of choices and spontaneous affinities that lead to the development of poetic style. Developing a style requires not only familiarity with poetic form and forms, but also an awareness of the historical moment. For this reason we will pursue the particulars of form within historical contexts -- the history of style, prosody, and subject matter, and of the social and material conditions in which they have been produced.

A second goal of the course is to give you, as a new writing community, a common base of ideas and experience. This does not mean a common style or a common belief about style; it means a set of shared resources and the ability to invest in each other's work. To paraphrase literary historian Cary Nelson: there is no need to treat each poem as if it were entered in a contest to determine the one and true best way to write poems in 2004. Yet it does matter how poems are written. How is what.

Please read this general introduction, then follow the link
at the end of this page to review the site map.

Whatever your background, parts of this course will probably be familiar and congenial, parts of it foreign and confusing. Try to go native: all poems must be read on their own ground and your purpose here is to learn their territories. If your reading background is weak or spotty, no problem: you're here to change that. The course is large and sometimes difficult, but whatever you are asked to do you will find the means to do it within the course materials and classroom discussion. Call or e-mail with questions at any time, or come in for a chat.

Reading will be drawn from poetry in English (and maybe a little Scots) from Chaucer to the present, from statements on poetic form and theory from Aristotle to the present, and from modern discussions of form and formal meaning. Specific formal and rhetorical issues discussed will range from meter and stanza forms to concrete and experimental forms, and you will write an equally broad array of poems. 

Writing: You will be asked to produce poems along a very broad range, from sonnets to concrete poems. The more spirit you bring to this aspect of the course the more you will get out of the effort you invest here. I will look at poem drafts during the semester, and will meet with you in conference, assigning provisional grades as we go. A final portfolio grade will be assigned only at the end of the semester. Details for the portfolio will be provided.

Summer Reading: This course as I teach it is basically boot camp for poets and the workload is abnormally high (though also abnormally fun), so you are strongly urged to start reading during the summer. The more you prepare ahead the more writing time you will have once the semester begins. 

What to do depends in part on what you have read in the past. You may want to read assigned poems from the two anthologies so that when you encounter commentary on them you are not getting the cart before the horse; or you may want to concentrate on areas of the course that are the least familiar to you. Our discussion of Beyers' A History of Free Verse will be spread over several weeks, so you may want to read that during the summer, to free time for writing and other reading in the second half of the semester. However, if your education has been almost entirely in free verse, reading Fussell and/or Attridge would give you a running start.

Electronic requirements: You will need access to the web for some assignments, so please get your e-mail and web access up and running before the semester starts. We'll also have a class e-mail list for announcements, for swapping notes and resources, and occasionally for discussion.

Workload & class process: Given the number and breadth of readings, it is important that you keep up on your reading and other assignments. Try to read a little ahead of the syllabus. You should not expect that everything assigned will be discussed per se in class--obviously, it cannot be. Instead, readings will provide a historical and critical base for our narrower discussions of form, style, structure, & genre. However, any or all of the readings may form the basis of exam questions. Quizzes (mostly unannounced) will focus primarily on poetic terms.

Responsibility thus falls on you to a) raise questions, whether subtle or fundamental; and b) integrate your reading and bring it to bear on the immediate topic at hand. You may want to form discussion groups to meet virtually or actually to go over the reading. This is not a full workshop course, though you will spend some time in small groups discussing the poems you are writing and some of your poems may form the basis of general class discussions.

Taking Part: We all share responsibility for making our discussions useful. If this is your first experience of a once-a-week class, keep in mind that a lot must be accomplished in each class session, and if you miss a class you miss an entire week of class. Thus, you are expected to attend the full length of every class meeting, to be prepared for class, and to take part in discussions. Your participation grade will suffer for excessive absence or lateness, lack of preparedness, and/or lack of participation in discussion. Your participation grade will rise if you contribute to discussions by beginning or extending topics and ideas. You may introduce a line of discussion, or you may respond to others’ ideas, thus taking us to new depths of thought.

This is not meant to encourage showing off or competition to see whose ideas make the most splash. It is just as important to facilitate the process of discussion, ask good questions, make sure we cover the basics of each topic, and catch unanswered questions before they slip away. You can be a valuable member of the class (and help your grade) even if all this material is new to you and your analyses are not the most advanced in the room.

Leading Class Discussion: Each of you will be called on several times during the semester to lead the discussion of a particular poem, set of poems, or another assigned reading, or to make a short presentation based on the reading.  

  • Please give some thought to both the content of what you want to present and the process by which you want the class to engage with that content. Simply asking your classmates what they think on the matter is not sufficient.
  • After our discussion, turn in your notes to me. These may be in any form that makes clear the substance and process of your preparation, e.g. an outline, a few paragraphs, marginal notes on poems, etc. It need not be a formal paper, though it may take that form if you so wish. Your notes will be especially important if a) you hate leading discussions and don’t reveal as much as you actually know on the topic, or b) your classmates are especially unhelpful that day and discussion fizzles. 

  • Most of these presentations and discussions will be short, maybe 15 minutes. At the end of the semester we will devote two meetings to student-directed panel discussions, whose format may be longer.

Grading & Policies:

Midterm Exam: 20%
Final Exam: 20%
Portfolio of Poems, handed in twice: 30%
Quizzes on Terminology: 10%
Participation, including discussion, presentations, mastery of terminology, and completion of small assignments made week-by-week: 20%
No late work accepted except in cases of serious illness or emergency. Documentation may be requested. A cold on the day it's due is not a serious illness. A business trip or family occasion is not an emergency. You are encouraged to complete your work before the last minute. If you know you will be away, turn in your work before you leave. At my discretion, I may accept small assignments, made week-to-week, by e-mail, but I will not accept exams or portfolios by e-mail.

Absence: University policy prohibits grading based simply on attendance record, but please keep in mind that you cannot participate if you are not present. With this schedule, if you miss a class you miss a week of class. Thus, excessive absence will reduce your participation grade. Please note that "present" means present for the full class session. 

It goes without saying but they like us to say it:
This course falls under GMU's Honor Code.
Violators will be referred to the Honor Committee
& will most probably fail the course.


... a lot of them, yes, but I've chosen books that should prove useful for years. All will be ordered at the campus bookstore, but should it fail to obtain them you will have to go find them on your own. You may also want to find them more cheaply. A good place to start is the nonprofit http://www.bookfinder.com, which searches hundreds of used book databases all over the English-speaking world, in one step. It includes Powells and other big stores, plus hundreds of small used book dealers. It also checks Barnes & Noble and Amazon, so you can see at a glance if a used copy is a bargain.
  • If you can't find what you're looking for, and want to post a want-list, I recommend the service at http://www.abebooks.com, one of the sites indexed on Bookfinder. Neither of these sites will sell your e-mail address or send you spam, by the way. 

  • For new British books, try http://www.amazon.co.uk, since American sites will shamelessly tell you a British book is unavailable or out of print if they don't happen to stock it. On Bookfinder you can find a box to check to ask that new books outside the US be included in the search results.

1) Alex Preminger & T.V.F. Brogan, eds. New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry & Poetics.
Princeton University Press, 0-691-02123-6.

2) Derek Attridge. Poetic Rhythm. Cambridge University Press.

3) Paul Fussell. Poetic Meter & Poetic Form. McGraw-Hill, 1988.

4) Chris Beyer. A History of Free Verse. Arkansas University Press.

5) Annie Finch & Kathrine Varnes, ed. An Exaltation of Forms.
University of Michigan Press, 0-472-06725-7.

6) Margaret Furguson et al, ed. Norton Anthology of Poetry. W.W. Norton.

7) Jahan Ramazani, Richard Ellmann & Robert O'Clair, ed. The Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry. 3rd ed. 2 volumes. W.W. Norton, 2003. ISBN for both volumes packaged together is 0-393-97978-4.

The following two books are out of print. They will be available in photocopy from the campus bookstore. You might be able to find the first one used. The second is rather rare, though you might be able to find it through Interlibrary Loan. Any form in which you find it is likely to be cheaper than buying the bookstore photocopy, since copyright fees must be charged on the latter.

8) Herrnstein-Smith, Barbara. Poetic Closure. University of Chicago Press, 1968.

9) Easthope, Antony. Poetry as Discourse. London & New York: Methuen, 1983.
0-416-32720-6 cloth / 0-416-32730-3 paper.

Not required but highly recommended:

10) Burton Raffel. From Stress to Stress: An Autobiography of English Prosody.
Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1992. 0-208-02330-5 in cloth only.
A crash course in the scansion of English poetry and the historical development of English prosody. He simply scans poems in chronological order, with brief comments, from Anglo-Saxon to 20th century. If you can find a used or library copy for the first half of the semester, it will be enormously helpful.

Other short readings will be photocopied and available in the campus bookstore.

class process  /  grading & policies  /  books