Spring 2013

engl 10113: introduction to poetry

“My Vocabulary Did This to Me”: Poets of the Modern Experience

Description from course syllabus:

No one knows precisely what Jack Spicer was trying to convey when he uttered this phrase in a San Francisco hospital, but for anyone with a remote interest in words—or, in the case of this class, with an interest in words as poetry—the notion that a man’s vocabulary could represent his ultimate undoing seems as good a place as any to start asking questions about how the words we use define the people we are. Vocabularies open worlds of possibilities by enabling us to communicate in fascinating new ways; learn a few new words, and suddenly you can express ideas, emotions, hopes, and wishes that were previously beyond your grasp. This is the fundamental principle underlying our course: that words are actually doors, and that poetry is a form of intellectual architecture, a way of placing doors in new (and often bizarre) places to see what kinds of structures one can make. By experimenting with words to create new sounds, new rhythms, and new patterns, the poet does more than simply supply English teachers with new modes of torturing their students. In doing these things, poets help open doors of perception that no one thought existed beforehand, and our goal this semester will be to walk through the doors opened by poets over the last 150 years to determine how these radically new vocabularies have helped redefine what a word like “poetry” means for readers in the twenty-first century.


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