English 795 / Comp Lit 795

The Sound of Poetry, the Poetry of Sound
Charles Bernstein
Spring 2007
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 Marjorie Perloff.

Perloff's Questions:
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 poets?
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."
Hegel's 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.



course description:

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).