Feminist Avant-Garde Poetry

English 660:001 / Spring 2007 / Tues 4:30-7:10 / Krug Hall 253 / George Mason University

Susan Tichy / stichy@gmu.edu / Robinson A-455A / 703/993-1191

Book List
Grading Criteria
Paper Guidelines

This course provides an introduction to five 20th/21st century poets (Gertrude Stein, Mina Loy, Sonia Sanchez, Susan Howe, and Harryette Mullen) as part of an inquiry into the meaning and nature of “feminist,” “avant-garde,” and “feminist avant-garde.” We will follow a path laid down by Elisabeth Frost’s The Feminist Avant-Garde in American Poetry, which examines the avant-garde as a necessary response to historical and aesthetic circumstances, including male avant-garde traditions.

Book List

Online sellers discount some of these titles. Used copies for as little as half the cover price should be available for most.  http://www.bookfinder.com

Elisabeth Frost. The Feminist Avant-Garde in American Poetry.
University of Iowa Press, 2003    0-87745-929-0    $19.95 

Gertrude Stein. Tender Buttons.
Dover Publications; New Ed, 1997   
0486298973    $4.95

Also available on line:

Tender Buttons on Project Gutenberg.

Tender Buttons on Bartleby.com http://www.bartleby.com/140/index.htm.

Mina Loy. Lost Lunar Baedeker.
Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1996.    0374525072    $22.00

Sonia Sanchez. Does Your House Have Lions.
Beacon Press, 1998.    0807068314    $14.00

Susan Howe. Singularities.
Press, 1990.    0819511943    $13.95

Harryette Mullen. Recyclopedia.
Graywolf Press, 2006.     1555974562    $15.00

Requirements & Policies

  • Written assignments include
    • two annotated anthologies
    • a final paper, preceded by a proposal and annotated bibliography
    • five writing prompts for poems or creative prose in response to the work of our poets
    • optional portfolio of poems (or creative prose) written in response to our poets
  • If you do not choose to turn in a portfolio of poems, the word-count for your anthologies should come in at the high end of the assigned range. Your grade will be calculated as
    • First anthology 15%
    • Second anthology 15%
    • Proposal & bibliography 10%
    • Final paper, 15-20pp 30%
    • Prepared class discussions 15%
    • Participation in discussion & in oral reading 15%
  • If you choose to turn in a portfolio of poems, the word-count for your anthologies may come in at the low end of the assigned range. Your grade will be calculated as
    • First anthology 10%
    • Second anthology 10%
    • Proposal & bibliography 10%
    • Final paper 10-15pp 25%
    • Portfolio of poems 15%
    • Prepared class discussions 15%
    • Participation in discussion & in oral reading 15%
  • Attendance is expected at the full length of all class meetings. If illness requires you to be absent, please let me know ahead of class time. If you choose to miss class for another reason, turn in your work ahead of time and arrange to find out from a classmate what you missed. More than one absence for reasons other than illness or emergency will adversely affect your participation grade.
  • No late work accepted. Exceptions may be made, at my discretion, in cases of illness or genuine emergency. Documentation may be required. Business trips, vacations, family occasions, procrastination, etc., are not emergencies. You are strongly urged to complete your work before the last possible moment. Missed presentations may not be made up.

  • Appointments and drop-ins always welcome. To reach my office, walk through Robinson A-455 and find my door (455A)  in the corner. Once inside, you will meet a very large tree.

Paper Guidelines
Annotated Anthologies  /  Proposal & Bibliography  /  Final Paper  /   Optional Portfolio of Poems  

In lieu of short papers, you will create two annotated anthologies. One must be for Stein or Loy; the other may be for any poet in the course. Design your selection as one of the following.
  • an introduction to this poet, such as might be used in a course on a more general topic (e.g. Modernism, Contemporary American Poetry, African American Literature Survey, Writing About Literature, 20th Century Women's Literature);
  • an introduction to one particular aspect of the poetry, such as might be used in a course on a more focused topic (e.g. satire, gender, race, poetic form, poetry & visual arts, poetry and jazz);

  • a selection of poems by which to explore a particular aspect of the work in depth, without reference to teachability or accessibility (e.g., any of the above topics, or, more narrowly, cubism, portraiture, questions of representation, collage, signifying, etymology);
  • poems you might concentrate on if writing about this poet for your MFA exam -- i.e. poems you consider key to an understanding of this poet and illustrative of her most significant qualities, including formal qualities.
Include an introduction of 1200-1700 words in which you define the purpose of your anthology and explain why each poem was chosen. Depending on your selection, you may or may not want to explain why certain other poems were NOT included. This might be called for if you skipped major poems or obvious choices for your topic. Your introduction should reflect your most mature thinking about the poet and demonstrate your ability to apply critical concepts and terminology, as well as biographical and aesthetic perception to the reading of her poems. An introduction based solely on your close-reading skills, without reference to critical concepts or historical circumstances, is not adequate for this project.
  • Your introduction may be composed as an essay, or as multiple short entries on poems or groups of poems. Choosing the latter option does not reduce the expectation for sophisticated commentary.

  • Number your pages and include a table of contents. Be sure your name and contact info is at the top of the first page.

  • If you are designing your anthology for use with high school students or some specialized audience (e.g. women at a homeless shelter) take note: do not write an introduction aimed at this audience. No matter whom your imagined course is designed for, your introduction must assume an audience of your peers and your instructor.
You do not need to physically reproduce the poems, but you may wish to. This might be a good idea if you will want these poems in hand for your MFA exam, or if you want to use marginalia, scansion, diagramming, and so forth to present part of your commentary. If you are working with short poems, I recommend that you type the poems out, one by one. You will learn more from this than by days of thinking.

Perhaps the best way to understand what I am looking for, and what I consider excellent, is to read some past examples. Here are some outstanding papers and anthologies from a course on Loy, Marianne Moore, & Lorine Niedecker.  Papers, Modernist Women Poets

Proposal & Bibliography for Final Paper

Your proposal should summarize the ideas you are bringing to bear on formation of your paper's thesis. As these ideas should include those gleaned from secondary reading, you must attach an annotated bibliography.

If you are taking the shorter paper option, you should reference at least three sources beyond the primary texts; for the longer option, you may wish to use more. These numbers are highly dependent on your topic, so please see me if you have questions. Briefly summarize the argument made or information provided by each source. In your proposal, indicate how you expect to use each source, how it bears on your thinking.

Use MLA style. Here are some links to help you. The latter two offer specific models for on-line sources, including such things as journal articles you found archived in a database.





Final Paper

Your paper should reflect your most mature thinking about the poet(s) and demonstrate your ability to apply critical concepts and terminology, as well as biographical and aesthetic perceptions. A paper based solely on your close-reading skills, without reference to critical concepts or historical circumstances, will not be accepted.

More specifically, your final paper should do one of two things--
  • apply in a new way or to new materials some specific mode of analysis gleaned from our readings (or from further readings you undertake); this could be a specific application of more general ideas or an extension of an argument into some new phase of a poet's work

  • make a new argument, something someone could disgree with; this could be a wholly new idea, a comparative discussion that breaks new ground, a refutation of a bonehead critic, or a new synthesis and application of ideas already in circulation
Some things not to do--
  • don't set out to prove the obvious (e.g. It is too late to be the one who claims that Stein's work relates to that of the early Cubist painters: you need a specific idea or argument about her relation to Cubism, grounded in particular ideas or practices in her work or theirs.)

  • don't set out to merely "explore" an idea: you may do that at the outset, but by the time you finish the paper you'll need a specific thesis which can be stated in a sentence or two

  • don't just point to a phenomenon in the poems and think you have made an argument (e.g. Don't write a paper that begins by asserting that so-and-so's work contains many images of horses, rounds up all available horses as examples, and concludes that, yep, there are plenty of horses in those poems. If you want to write about the horses, rounding them up is only the first step: now you need a thesis, an idea, an argument about those horses.)

  • don't present an explication or close reading of poems, sans critical frameworks; if you are making a comparison between one of our poets and someone/something else, you will still need some conceptual frameworks, definitions, etc., to keep your discussion in dialogue with others

Optional Portfolio of Poems

7-10 poems, accompanied by a statement (750-1000 words) placing your poems in relation to the work of one or more poets we have read this semester. The statement should reflect your most mature thinking about the poet and demonstrate your ability to integrate and act on critical concepts and aesthetic perceptions. "Act on" could include anything from imitate to satirize to reinterpret for our present cultural moment. It may not include "ignore." That is--your poems and statement must be in dialogue with the poet(s) you reference and with ideas of feminism and the/an avant-garde. An introduction along the lines of "I read so-and-so's poems and got this idea" would not be adequate,  nor would poems with no apparent relationship to the course poets and the course ideas.

Grading Criteria

An “A” paper

  • Has a specific, complex and/or striking thesis, developed w/o digression thru the paper; demonstrates an ability to understand, synthesize, and apply ideas from the reading, including the criticism, in a complex and nuanced argument grounded in the primary texts.
  • Prose is a step up from merely “clear”: it is adequate to the expression of complex ideas and relationships, and has few surface errors.
  • Uses literary terms accurately and addresses poetic form and/or genre in a meaningful way, connecting form or genre to meaning and integrating formal insights into the general discussion of the poem.
  • Citations are complete and in MLA format.

A “B” paper

  • Has a specific thesis, thesis generally developed through the course of the paper, consistently good interpretation of text, references the critical ideas of the course and demonstrates a good basic understanding of the issues and ideas we have been discussing. Argument is accurate and plausible but may lack nuance and complexity in the application of ideas to the poems.
  • Prose is clear and competent, with no more than minor mechanical problems.
  • Uses literary terms accurately and discusses form; treatment of form or genre may be somewhat elementary or not well integrated with the rest of the argument.
  • Citations are in MLA format with few errors or omissions.
A “C” paper has failed to reach the standards outlined above. It may discuss the poems without reference to the critical ideas of the course. It may record personal responses and general attitudes of the student, rather than closely discussing the poems. It may show an unacceptable level of error in grammar, construction, usage, and spelling. It may be excessively redundant. It may show an ignorance of literary terms. It may lack citations or rely on poor sources.