English 795 / Comp Lit 795
Sound of Poetry, the Poetry of Sound
Thursdays, 6:30pm, Fisher-Bennett Hall 222
The seminar will follow up on the 2005 MLA Convention
Presidential Forum and its many related panels, organized by
1. Is metrical (or rhythmic) choice culturally or nationally
determined? And, as a corollary, what is the relation of metrical
choice to historical circumstance (e.g., free verse as the ostensible
sign of freedom in the 20th century)?
2. How does one best describe the sound structures of poetry?
How does one avoid mere impressionism on the one hand, excessive
technical analysis on the other?
3. What determines the choice of verse or prose in a particular
case? John Ashbery's Three Poems, for example, is written
in prose. Does this choice make this long tripartite poem different
from Ashbery's other poems? If so, how? If not, how not?
4. What are the politics of rhythm? What happens to that
politics in translation?
5. What is the role of sound in predominantly visual poetry?
How does one perform a visual poem?
6, How does sound structuring change over the careers of individual
7. What about recorded sound, the collaging of sounds, digital
soundings? How have magnetic tape, radio, and the computer changed
poetic sound and our attitudes toward it?
8. What is the relation of poetic sound to its environment? to
music? to the architecture in which it is performed? to its audience?
9. What role do the so-called secondary sound features—rhyme,
alliteration, consonance, repetition—play in poetic prose
as well as in lineated poetry?
10. And finally a question close to my heart: how much "flatness" –i.e.,
ordinary prosaic language--can today's poetry tolerate? Has \free
verse, as we know it from the little magazines, had its day?
And what about such mathematical forms as those of Oulipo?
"For sound, the last external material
which poetry keeps, is in poetry no longer the feeling of sonority
itself, but a sign,
by itself void of significance, a sign of the idea which has
become concrete in itself, and not merely of indefinite feeling
and its nuances and gradations. Sound in this way becomes
a word as a voice inherently
articulated, the meaning of which is to indicate ideas and thoughts.
[...] To express these it uses sound indeed, but only as a sign
in itself without value or content. The sound, therefore, may
just as well be a mere letter, since the audible, like the visible,
has sunk into being a mere indication of spirit."
Aesthetics, Vol. I, p.
88-89, trans. T.M. Knox
Required Books at Penn Book Center
Adelaide Morris, ed, Sound States
Reuven Tsur, What Makes Sound Patterns Expressive
Jacques Attali, Noise
Charles Bernstein, ed., Close Listening
Susan Howe, The Midnight
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An earlier version of this seminar, with a greater focus on
music, was give at SUNY-Buffalo in Spring, 2000, and co-taught
with Jeffrey Stadelman. Syllabus
here. Because these seminars are designed as serial
environments for reading, reflection, & discussion, it might
be useful to review earlier syllabi: from Penn and Buffalo.
The seminar will follow up on the 2005 MLA Convention Presidential
Forum and its many related panels. The focus is on the poetics
of sound and related issues of poetry and performance, including
Jacques Attali's Noise, Reuben Tsur's What Makes Sound
Patterns Expressive & his more recent work on cognitive
poetics, Andrew Welsh's Roots of Lyric, and essays in Close
Listening: Poetry and the Performed Word and Adelaide
Morris's Sound States and Dennis Tedlock's The Spoken
Word and the Work of Interpretation. There will be a focus
on sound reproduction technologies as they affect poetry. Al
Filreis will lead one seminar on Wallace Stevens; Susan Howe
will give a lecture on Stevens, Jonathan Edwards and her own
work. Additional sections on sound poetry (from Dada and
Schwitters to Chopin, McCaffery, Bok, Morris, and Bergvall).