March 04, 2007

English 204
INVESTIGATIVE POETICS: a craft of poetry

Ed Sanders begins his 1976 essay “Investigative Poetry” with “There is no end / to / Gnosis: // The hunger / for / DATA.” This is a course in poetics, which means all of making, not just poetry. And while we’ll be reading a lot in poetry, we’ll also be reading political theory and popular journalism and watching some film. As it is a craft course, we will discuss the ways that writers, artists, and scholars use formal tools so as to best represent their content. In order to do this, the course will be focused around three content areas: ecology (with a special attention to the cluster of race, class and environment that defines something like Katrina), military (with a special attention to how the war with Iraq is being represented in very contemporary poetry), and the city (with a special attention to how artists and writers have translated urban theory’s attention to class). Required work includes regular responses to the reading or viewing and
three projects, one in each content area (but they can be in any genre or form).

SPD = book available at SPD
MBS = book available at Mills bookstore
OR = online reserve, the password is eng204-s07
R = on regular reserve as of 1/14/2007

If there is no designator, you should be able to find at local bookstore and/or on web and/or on reserve. But plan ahead.

January 23


please read Ed Sanders “Investigative Poetry” as soon as you can just for some context. [OR]

first module: the MILITARY
argument: In the last five years an unusually large amount of poets have written on the same topic: US military expansionism. We will begin this class by looking at a number of these works and cataloguing the various formal techniques that these writers use.

recommended reading …

Alice Notley, Alma or the Dead Women [MBS]

Amiri Baraka, Somebody Blew up America [SPD]

Barrett Watten, Bad History [SPD & R]

Carole Mirakove, Mediated [SPD] or Carole Mirakove, Occupied [SPD]

Eliot Weinberg, “What I Heard about Iraq” [OR]

Fanny Howe, On the Ground [SPD & R]

Judith Goldman, Deathstar/Rico-chet [SPD & R]

Jules Boykoff, Once Upon a Neoliberal Rocket Badge [SPD]

Rob Fitterman & Dirk Rowntree, War, a Musical [SPD]

Judith Goldman and Leslie Scalapino, editors, War & Peace 2: Poetry and Essays [SPD & R]

Jena Osman, Essays in Astericks [SPD & R]

K. Silem Mohammad, Deer Head Nation [SPD & R]

Kent Johnson, Lyric Poetry After Auschwitz [MBS]

Kim Rosenfeld, Trama [SPD & R]

Kristin Prevallet, Shadow Evidence Intelligence [SPD & R]

Lisa Jarnot, Black Dog Songs [SPD & R]

Meg Hammell, Death Notices [SPD]

Drew Gardener, Petroleum Hat [SPD]

Linh Dinh, Borderless Bodies [SPD & R]

also, highly recommended for thinking about representational issues around the wars…
Judith Butler, Precarious Life: The Power of Mourning and Violence [MBS & R]

first assignment

Choose at least two books and prepare a ten minute presentation on these books. The goal of the presentations is to develop a list of forms, a sort of toolbox, that various authors use to discuss various wars of the last few years. And then to be able to discuss how these forms are used and how they work. For reference, read Charles Bernstein’s “Poem Profiler” [OR]. You might want to structure your presentation like this: 1. context around book; who the author is. 2. formal devises used (a listing might be easiest here). 3. what the book is “about”; what the author decides to include/exclude. 4. thoughts on how the form and content are working. Please prepare a handout that summarizes your presentation and bring copies to class. This assignment doesn’t need to be fancy but it should have some detailed information in it.

second assignment

Using the same content area (the recent wars) as your focus, write your own piece. Bring copies of this piece to class and also bring a one page discussion of what decisions you made as you
wrote the piece and why you made them.

January 30
class presentations of first assignment

February 6 @ 11: Judith Goldman will talk. Place to be announced.

February 6
class presentations of first assignment

February 13

February 20
workshop of second assignment

February 27
workshop of second assignment

second module: ECOLOGY
argument: We’re witnessing an unprecedented environmental crisis. Even the oil barons are beginning to realize they have to admit this or risk looking foolish. Poetry has a long tradition of glorifying and celebrating the natural world. In recent years a field of “ecopoetics” has begun to suggest that glorification of the natural world in isolation (aka “nature poetry”) is part of the problem, not the solution. We’ll look at a wide range of work and attempt to the study the various terrains of this debate.

list number 1…
Beth Tobin, “Imperial Designs: Botanical Illustration and the British Botanical Empire.” [OR]

Jeffrey Kastner, ed. Land and Environmental Art [MBS & R]

Jonathan Skinner, editor, Ecopoetics, all 4 volumes

list number 2…:
Andrew Schelling, Wild Form and Savage Grammar [SPD]

Cecilia Vicuna, The Precarious: The Art and Poetry of Cecilia Vicuna [MBS & R]

Eleni Sikelianos, the California Poem [SPD & R]

Gary Snyder, any titles [at any bookstore & R]

Haunani-Kay Trask, Night is a Sharkskin Drum [R]

Jack Collom, Red Car Goes by: Selected Poems 1955-2000 [SPD]

James Thomas Stevens, Combing the Snakes from His Hair [MBS & R]

Kaia Sand, “Aquifer” in Interval [SPD]

Larry Eigner, any titles [SPD & R]

Lorine Niedecker, any titles [SPD & R]

Marcella Durand, Anatomy of Oil

Mary Oliver, any titles [at any bookstore; also some work on reserve]

‘Oiwi: A Native Hawaiian Journal

Ted Kooser, any titles [at any bookstore; & R]

Spurse and Rachel T. Fouladi, “Investigations in Place: Some Thoughts on Psychogeographic Mapping Strategies in an Examination of the Working Coasts of Maine” [OR]

Or, all three of these: Spike Lee, When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, Al Gore, An Inconvenient Truth, Luc Jacquet, March of the Penguins.

first assignment:
Maps. Choose at least work from list number 1 and at least two off of list number two and make a map of these works, representing in some form other than prose what is in these works. An inclusive definition of map should be assumed. Charts and lists, for instance, could work. I just want the works represented in some method other than prose paragraphs. And I want to get some sort of picture of the scope of the various works. Although this is mainly a content assignment, come to class prepare to talk some about the formal choices that form these works.

second assignment:
Using the same content area as your focus, make your own piece. Bring copies of this piece to class and also bring a one page or one long paragraph piece where you discuss what decisions you made as you wrote the piece and why you made them.

Bonus points for assignments that suggest that the way this class divides the military and the environment into two separate modules is also part of the problem.

March 6
class presentations of first assignment

March 13
class presentations of first assignment

March 20, spring break

March 27
workshop of second assignment

April 3
workshop of second assignment

third module: URBAN SPACES
argument: As much as the environment is in crisis, so are urban spaces. Urban space has both grown and changed so much in the last twenty years. Extreme wealth and extreme poverty side by side is becoming one of the most defining characteristics of urban areas. We’ll look at how this economic divide does and does not get represented in various works.

reading …

BitterWeber, Live Like This, especially section on the Mecca (should be done with the Brooks poems) [MBS]

George Packer, “The Megacity: Decoding the Chaos of Lagos” [OR]

Gwendolyn Brooks, from A Street in Bronzeville [OR] & Gwendolyn Brooks, from In the Mecca (should be done with BittnerWeber piece) [OR]

Fiamma Montezemolo, Rene Peralta, and Heriberto Yepez, Here is Tijuana!

Inger Christensen, It [“Prologos” is OR but should read entire book]

Jeff Derksen, Transnational Muscle Cars [MBS & R]

Joshua Clover, The Totality for Kids

Mark Nowak, Shut Up Shut Down [MBS & R]

Mike Davis, “Fear and Money in Dubai” [OR]

Mike Davis, Planet of the Slums or NLR article [OR]

Renee Gladman, the Activist [SPD & R]

Samuel Delany, Times Square Red Times Square Blue [MBS & R]

first and second assignment:

By this time, you should know the drill. The first assignment should be about some of these
issues/works. The second should be an enactment.

April 10
class presentations of first assignment

April 17: Joshua Clover to talk @ 11; Mills Hall 312.

April 17
class presentations of first assignment

April 24
workshop of second assignment

May 1
workshop of second assignment

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