English & Comp Lit 62: Twentieth Century Poetry
(from everywhere but the U.S.)
an interactive "wreading" workshop

Charles Bernstein


This "reading workshop" is an introduction to the unprecedented range of language exploration in the poetry that emerged in the 20th century from Europe, Latin America and others parts of the world. The basic course text will be Poems for the Millennium: The University of California Book of Modern and Postmodern Poetry, edited by Jerome Rothenberg and Pierre Joris. The anthology features poets such as Mallarmé, Rilke, Tzara, Mayakovsky,Vallejo, Artaud, and Césaire, along with a sampling of some of the most significant movements in poetry and the other arts: Futurism, Expressionism, Dada, Surrealism, "Objectivism," Negritude. We will also look at sound and visual poetry and also the new digital poetry that is emerging on the Intenet. In addition, there will be a poet visiting the class -- reading and discussing his work with the seminar.

Note that we will concentrate on poems from Europe (including the UK) and Latin America in the first half of the century, though a good deal of postwar poetry will be included. Due to time constraints, we not be considering the wealth of 20th century poetry from Asia, or from Australia and New Zealand, or the poetry of analphabetic (tribal/oral) cultures as it emerged in the 20th century.

The "reading workshop" is less concerned with analysis or explanation of individual poems than with finding ways to intensify the experience of poetry, of the poetic, through a consideration of how the different styles and structures and forms of contemporary poetry can affect the way we see and understand the world. No previous experience with poetry is necessary. More important is a willingness to consider the implausible, to try out alternative ways of thinking, to listen to the way language sounds before trying to figure out what it means, to lose yourself in a flurry of syllables and regain your bearings in dimensions otherwise imagined as out-of-reach.

The basic requirement for the class is a weekly response to the assigned readings - usually a notebook entry, imitation, or experiment. These responses are open-ended and can be in whatever form you choose - they are meant to encourage interaction with the poems and also serve as a record of your reading. The experiments are based on list of exercises (something like laboratory work!) aimed at getting inside the styles of the various poets studied. The responses and experiments will form the basis of workshop discussions.

Of special importance for this class:

Translation/imitation. Imitation and translation are part of the wreading exercises, but in the cases of the non-English language poetry, my preference is for you to attempt an translation of any of the poems if you know the original language or to try a homophonic translation if you have the text of the original poem.

But see the full list of "wreading" experiments and feel free to use any of these during the course.

A good introduction to Poems for the Millenium is the reading the editors gave at the Kelly Writers House, introducing a number of the poems and poets.

Note: If you would like a quick survey of the related visual art for Futurism, Dadaism, Expressionism, Surrealism, etc., do go to the modern collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and to the Barnes Foundation museum, as well as, in New York, the Met and MoMA. This set of slides is a good on-line intro, as is the Modern Art Timeline.

A signal event for modernist art in America was the 1913 Armory show in New York.

Poetry & Poetry Resources on the Web
Check out the Electronic Poetry Center and PennSound.
Reading and listening assignments from the web are listed in the syllabus. When an author is listed as at the EPC, go to "author" (epc.buffalo.edu/authors) section and then to the specific poet. Ubuweb is another important web source.

These resources are available throught the library e-resources page. Because the library changes the based URL for these, you may need to go back to the e-resources page to get the link:

Key E-Resouces:
has full-text versions of many of 20th century poets; LION is accessible through the library's electronic resource page. I have often linked to poems on LION or indicated if the poet's work is avaiable via LION.

Twentieth-Century American Poetry, a part of LION but with its own web page.

Gale Literature Resource Center is a very useful collection of biograpical sketches or most of the poets covered in this course. While I have linked author names to either EPC or Wiki pages, which are publically available, DLB often offers extensive reviews and commentary not available to the public. Best way to get started is to go to the basic search and choose "person".

Literary Encyclopedia
Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics

Poetry at Penn and in Philadelphia
The Kelly Writers House, which is part of the Center for Program in Contemporary Writiting, has many readings and related activities. I will send out notices of readings at KWH and in Philadelphia, via the class web log; and each of you is also welcome to post such announcements to the list. The best way to appreciate older poetry is to immerse yourself in contemporary poetry, so consider any poetry reading you attend as part of this class and includes reports and comments in your weekly responses and on the list.

This class complements English 88 and 288, as well as 262.

Full syllabus (subject to change)