Monday, September 15, 2008

The class behind the blog

No Time for Poetry?

Do you like reading poetry? Not only is it good for laughter (see Ogden Nash: “The cow is of the bovine ilk / one end is moo, the other milk”), it can sometimes contain serious political thought (see Geoffrey Hill’s poem “To the High Court of Parliament, November 1994”). 
Poetry as a vector for memory and history will be one of the focuses of our work together. 
Langston Hughes managed to get the greater part of the history of African Americans into his poem “Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz” (1961), and Donald Hall played baseball while expounding on contemporary America in “Baseball” (1993).
How can this class help you? Reading poetry out loud is one of the best ways to work on your pronunciation of English. Talking about poetry will enable you to perfect your argumentative faculties in a foreign language. Your vocabulary will be enriched from these texts, demonstrating that English is still more than just a language for world communication.
Poetry is also related to the power of language, the way language can accomplish what it sets out to do, the way it can become “performative.” Some poets spend time trying to undo the spin that words have been given so as to forge new meanings and most avoid cliché or use it to spin against itself.
In this course intended to be entertaining at times, as well as educational, a selection of poems distributed in class will form the basis for class discussion and written assignments relating to content as well as form. 
By the end of term, not only will you have found at least a few poems in English to admire, but you will have also learned about the major currents in English and American Poetry over the last 150 years, as well as the names of the most important English language poets. Not always appropriate table talk, this will most certainly be knowledge you can use when speaking about history or politics relating to English Language and Culture. Your English competency in oral and written comprehension and expression should improve as well.
So, plan to expand your cultural suitcase, and join us in finding some time for poetry.

Required Text: Jeffrey Wainwright, Poetry, The Basics, London:  Routledge, 2004.
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The above course description applies to a class offered to Students in the Master's program at Sciences-Po (Institut d'Etudes Politiques) in Paris.  This course, a seminar for English (Level 4) has been taught in Spring 2005, Spring 2006, Autumn 2006, Autumn 2007, Autumn 2008 ...