SEL3397 : Contemporary American Poetry: The (Post) Avant-Garde (Inactive)

Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0


This module explores avant-garde and experimental tendencies in postwar American poetry (1950-80). In particular, it examines an evolving practice of experimental ‘constructivism’; poetic works which radically foreground their own construction and formal procedures. Opening with a leading document in early postwar American poetics, Charles Olson’s essay ‘Projective Verse’ (1950), the module engages with the work of the New York School poets (particularly John Ashbery and Ted Berrigan) before attending to the emergence of ‘Language’ writing in the late 1960s and 1970s.

Over the course of the module, we will consider a range of issues and formal strategies associated with experimental poetry of the period: its emphasis on the materiality/visuality of the text; its resistance to the univocal ‘I’ subject; its use of ‘found’ texts, collage and erasure; its relations with earlier literary modernisms; its concern with the politics of literary form. Throughout the module, we will consider the major social and political transitions within which these radical poetic strategies evolved as well as their geographical identity with a small number of American urban centres (primarily in New York City and California).

The module aims to give students a firm grounding in the formal practices and historical development of innovative American poetry and poetics between 1950 and 1980. It will emphasise that the modernist mantra, ‘make it new’, continued to inform American poetry and poetics into the late twentieth-century.

Outline Of Syllabus

Texts for study may include works by: Charles Olson, John Ashbery, Ted Berrigan, Clark Coolidge, Amiri Baraka, Ronald Johnson, Lyn Hejinian, Ron Silliman and Susan Howe.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion140:0040:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture121:0012:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading180:0080:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching122:0024:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesWorkshops41:004:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyStudent-led group activity110:0010:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study130:0030:00N/A
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Twelve lectures introduce students to textual, critical and theoretical debates surrounding works and authors, providing readings of key poems and pertinent context. Seminars develop from the lectures, allowing students to engage with key texts in close reading exercises and to engage broader issues in a participatory group environment. A series of four workshops focusses on the practice of textual/reception history within the context of periodical and book publication.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Written exercise1M401500-word close reading OR textual/reception history
Essay1A602500-word critical essay
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The mid-module assignment allows students to develop an understanding of innovative American poetics in the period, either through a close reading or a textual/reception history of an individual poem.

The 2500-word essay encourages students to extend their close reading skills into a broader argument, placing individual poems within literary historical and/or social/political context.

Reading Lists