Course ENG 205W: Introduction to Poetry: Cruising the Difficult
Time Fall 2015, M/W 11:30am–12:45pm
Location Candler Library 101
Instructor Aaron Goldsman
Office Hours By Appointment
Contact aaron.goldsman@emory.edu
Course Site eng205f15.aarongoldsman.com

Course Description

Reading poetry is hard. It can be other things too—provocative, boring, exhilarating, exhausting, to name a few—but, at least today, it is poetry’s difficulty that seems to get the most press. Rather than shy away from this state of affairs, this introduction to poetry and poetics will tackle difficulty straight on. Reading poems from a wide range of time periods, modes, and styles, students will work their way through a catalogue of poetic difficulty, from difficulties of form and historical context, to difficulties of literary allusion and oblique language. Along the way, students will learn how difficulty is not simply an obstacle to reading—what turns us away from a poem—but can in fact be a way into a poem, an occasion for sustained thought, argument, and yes, even pleasure. In addition, each student will have the chance to engage closely with a book of contemporary poetry of his or her choice, using their developing understanding of poetic difficulty to dive deep into a recent collection of poems. In learning to “cruise the difficult”—to embrace, rather than reject, the things that make reading poetry hard—students will develop the confidence to read any poem, no matter how demanding, and perhaps even enjoy the challenge.

Course Objectives

Over the course of the semester, students will work towards:

  • Becoming confident readers of poetry across a range of modes, time periods, and styles
  • Developing a toolkit of strategies for addressing poetic difficulty, and coming to see difficulty not as an obstacle, but as an occasion for sustained thought, argument, and even pleasure
  • Gaining a working familiarity with an array of poetic forms and modes, from traditional metered verse to free verse and experimental poetry
  • Identifying and making use of resources for reading both within and beyond the frame of the individual poem, including historical context, networks of allusion, and exploring a given poet’s other work
  • Composing thoughtful and sustained written engagements with the poetic text combining close reading and thesis-driven argument