Topic outline

  • English 53, Modern American Poetry // GENERAL RESOURCE MATERIALS.


    • Please download this entire file to your computer and consult it weekly.  It has working links for access to online materials as well as all weekly reading assignment in the print anthology as well as online.  Key parts of this syllabus are also reproduced below, but you should consult this file every week for our weekly reading assignments and instructions.

      Students are responsible for reading and understanding all English 53 Course Requirements.  If you have any questions about these or anything else on our syllabus, please consult with Prof. Schmidt.

    • Updated right before spring break.  Will be updated and re-posted after March 20.

    • See instructions on the syllabus, but basically for week #2 all students in group "X" will post reactions to one of the poems and all in group "Y" will respond to some of the posts.  Then the next week the roles will be reversed.  We'll go back and forth like this every week for the rest of the semester.  So you'll need to visit Modern American Poetry on Facebook every week.  Please post comments by Wed. or Thursday so your classmates will be able to read them and post their responses either Thursday evening or Friday morning.  Posts don't have to be long, but should be thoughtful and should not be vague or bland.  We'll use some of your ideas in class discussions.

    • For annotating lyrics of all kinds, from rap to pop to classic r&b and country.  Using the Genius annotation site is one of the "creative project" options for English 53: for more information, see the syllabus and follow the directions.   

    • Note what the syllabus says:  

      • All students will regularly post brief comments on upcoming syllabus materials to the English 53 Facebook page, alternating between weeks when you post a comment on our reading and weeks when you give brief feedback on others’ posts.  (We'll assign everyone to one of two Engl 53 Facebook groups.)  A slight grade deduction will be incurred for students who don’t participate in this assigment every week.
  • Topic 1

    Jan. 23: Introduction to Modern American Poetry

  • Topic 2

    Jan. 30: A broad selection of great poems from the 1950s to the present

    Listed below are all assigned readings for this week, from anthology and online.  Scroll down to find the online materials.

    from the Modern American Poetry anthology:

            • Bishop, The Fish

             • Wilbur, A Baroque Wall-Fountain

             • Plath, Black Rook in Rainy Weather

             • Ammons, Corson’s Inlet

              • Mary Oliver, The Lillies Break Open Over the Dark Water

               • Hongo, Ancestral Graves Kahuku [Hawaii]


                • Dickinson, There’s a certain slant of light; I heard a fly buzz; Volcanos be in Sicily [all in our anthology]; and #1463, A route of evanescence (see link below).    

                • Whitman, Song of Myself, sections 4, 5, and 6 (see link below). 

    Also assigned, from the English 53 Moodle site and/or the Internet (see below):

    • James Merrill, Christmas Tree
    • Arthur Sze, Before Completion
    • Ellen Bass What Did I Love (includes a link to a New Yorker podcast reading and discussion of the poem)
    • Kevin Young, Crowning (includes a link to a New Yorker podcast reading and discussion of the poem)
    • … and three contemporary poets with Swarthmore connections:

      • Daisy Fried (Swarthmore ‘89), “Women’s Poetry” (xerox and pdf on Moodle)
      • Rowan Richardo Phillips (Swarthmore ’96), “Proper Names in the Lyrics of Troubadours,” “Terra Incognita,” and “Aubade, Vol. 2: The Underground Sessions,” from The Ground (pdf on Moodle).  Phillips’ second book of poems, Heaven, will be published in 2015.
      • Dilruba Ahmed, “Ghazal” (Ruba lives in Swarthmore and teaches and reads widely in the Philadelphia area and beyond).

    • We're reading a total of 4 Dickinson poems this week.  For the 3 others, see the above notes for this week.  This one, "A Route of Evanescence" (#1463), is the fourth.  

      The link provided shows the poem in its several incarnations, along with helpful references.This link thus introduces you to the fact that ED’s poems look very different in print from how she wrote them out by hand.  Is that difference important? If so, how?  Contemporary scholars increasingly think that ED resisted “fixing” her poems into one printed form—related to the fact that she refused to publish in her lifetime.  Let’s discuss this.

    • The text of the poem, plus a link to The New Yorker online podcast site, where two poets, Philip Levine and Paul Muldoon, read and discuss Bass' poem.  Be sure to access this: both the reading and discussion are excellent.

    • The text of the poem, plus a link to The New Yorker podcast reading and discussion by poets Tracy K. Smith and Paul Muldoon.

  • Topic 3

    Feb. 6:  20th and 21st Century Poets: Poetic Justice / Historic Atrocities I

    Here below is a list of all readings assigned for this class, in anthology and online.  Scroll down to find the online resources.

    from Modern American Poetry anthology:

    • Bishop, In the Waiting Room

    • Plath, Colossus, Tulips, Daddy, Lady Lazarus.  Listen to Plath read Daddy: and read Lady Lazarus:

    You may find other readings of Plath’s on YouTube as well.

    • Rich, Diving into the Wreck

    • Ai, Testimony of J. Robert Oppenheimer


    from the English 53 Moodle page:

    • Julia de Burgos, “to Julia de Burgos”*

       *Note:    there will be a Swarthmore talk in English on Burgos’ work on Thursday, March 5, time and place tba.  Burgos is puertorriqueno and grew up on the island but has had a long and influential career while living in the U.S. (NYC).  She writes mostly but not exclusively in Spanish.  I present you with a good translation here (by Jack Agüeros) of one of her most famous poems.

    • Martín Espada, Alabanza (pdf; see also Espada selections in our anthology, which are optional reading.)

    • Gloria Anzaldúa, To Live in the Borderlands

    • Sandra Cisneros, 5 poems [note:  Cisneros’ “Loose Woman” pairs well with Plath’s Lady “Lazarus” and (later this semester) H.D.’s “Eurydice”]

    • Anne Carson, Pronoun Envy

  • Topic 4

    Feb. 13:  20th and 21st Century Poets: Poetic Justice / Historic Atrocities II

    NOTE:  draft of paper #1 due in class today.  I'll give this draft to your WA and you'll meet with the WA for a paper conference sometime between Feb. 13 and Friday, Feb. 27, when the paper is due (see below, and see syllabus for more details).



    from our English 53 Moodle site (see texts below):

    • Patricia Lockwood, The Rape Joke

    • Jamaal May, Man Matching Description

    • Claudia Rankine, excerpt from Citizen (Pulitzer Prize 2014)


    from the anthology:

    • Poems carved on the walls at Angel Island; see also background material on the anthology website:

    • Japanese American internment camp haiku (from World War II era).  Study all background material on the anthology website:


    • Robert Hayden, Runagate

    • Robert Lowell, For the Union Dead

    • Adrian Louis, The Great American Copulation

  • Topic 5

    Feb. 20:  American Songbook, I:  recent and classic rap; contemporary pop selections; etc.  See the 4 groups of resources below.  Download or print out all texts of lyrics and authors and bring to class, including Prof. Schmidt's tips on rhyming and listening to words and music together.  Listen to all music several times before class, studying how words and music interact.  Enjoy!   First is the reading/listening guide, then (scroll down further) the text and audio files you'll need.  Note:  some of the text files will have links to listen to the music.  If any of the links don't work, search YouTube yourself using the name of the author and song/rap.  You may also want to check out the website for lyrics and annotations for songs below that you are particularly interested in.

    classic rap:

    • Last Poets, E Pluribus

    • Queen Latifah and Daddy-O, The Pros

    • Lauryn Hill, Doo Wop (That Thing)

    • Erykah Badu, Apple Tree

    • digable planets, Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)

    • Ice Cube + Yo-Yo (on the sex wars)

    • Tupac (“Holla if ya hear me”) and Lee Morgan mashup.docx

    Border Songs (a project to raise money to place water jugs in the desert in Arizona and elsewhere to aid migrants and counter Miniteman patrols: for more information, see Moodle)

    • Margaret Randall (Offended Turf) and Glenn Wegart (musician; excerpt from Droneland Security)
    • Sweet Honey in the Rock, Are We a Nation?
    • Calexico, Across the Wire


    contemporary rap in Spanish and/or Spanish and English:

    Calle 13, Adentro

    Maria Isa

    Tres Delinquentes


    contemporary rap and pop:

    • Jay-Z and Eminem, Renegade
    • Mos Def, Hip Hop
    • Nas, Jungle Jay, ft. his father Olu Dara’s music
    • Sleater-Kinney, Jumpers
    • Taylor Swift, Shake It Off
    • Ariana Grande ft. Iggy Azalea, Problem
    • Beyoncé, Flawless [view video and read lyrics and annotations on the annotations site; see link below]
    • Grimes, Oblivion
    • jazz bassist & singer Kate Davis covers "All About That Bass" (!)
    • Margaret Cho, music and lyrics, Eat Shit and Die (the sex wars as musical comedy)
    • Yuna (Malaysia/US):  search and listen to her music on YouTube, and use for your favorites.  In particular, I recommend 4 for the music, the lyrics, and the video:  Falling, Live Your Life (co-written with Pharrell Williams), Rescue, and Mermaid. 

  • Topic 6

    February 27:   The Beats and Other Hipsters, 1950s and after,  I

    Also:  paper #1 due in class, both the WA'd version and your revised version.  No extensions.

    Reading from our print anthology:

    • Ginsberg, Howl Read the excerpt in our anthology.  For Ginsberg reading from Howl in 1959:

    • Snyder, Riprap, Straight-Creek--Great Burn, Axe Handles

    • Inada, Listening Images

    • Hughes, Montage of a Dream Deferred (pdf on Moodle; see below).  Hughes’ poem is an important precendent for all contemporary efforts to unite poetry and music/spoken word and dramatic performance.  This is a long poem (like Howl), so please devote extra time for reading this!

    • O’Hara, Poem, Today, A Step Away from Them, The Day Lady Died [about Billie Holiday, also know as Lady Day], A True Account of Talking to the Sun, and Having a Coke With You, and Ave Maria.  For Ave Maria, see our Moodle site; for “Having a Coke” read the pdf in Moodle and listen to O’Hara reading it on YouTube, recorded just a few months before he was killed:

    • Helen Vendler, essay on O’Hara’s Collected Poems (.doc file)

    • Reed, I am a cowboy in the boat of Ra

    • Kaufman, 3 poems

    • Cortez, I Am New York City, Do You Think


    Other resources on the English 53 Moodle site below:

    • Muriel Rukeyser, Ballad of Orange and Grape.  Optional: see also information on Rukeyser and a selection of her poems in Modern American Poetry.

    • the poet Muriel Rukeyser’s 1959 reflections on the SF vs NY poetry scenes, and also her thoughts on the male Beats’ attitudes toward women, see the relevant mp3 selections under #8 on the Rukeyser page on the PennSound website: 


  • Topic 7

    March 6: The Beats and Other Hipsters, 1950s and after,  II

    (see also the online syllabus above and the resources and assignments for the previous week)
  • Topic 8

    AFTER SPRING BREAK:  March 20:  Modernism Makes It New, I:  Frost and Stevens

    Read the Frost and Stevens selections in our anthology, plus the brief profiles of both poets.  Poems one which we'll concentrate:

    Frost:  "Mending Wall," "Birches," "The Wood-Pile," "After Apple-Picking," "The Road Not Taken," "Design," and "Fire and Ice."

    Stevens:  "13 Ways of Looking at the Blackbird," "Floral Decorations for Bananas," "The Snow Man," "The Emperor of Ice-Cream," "Sunday Morning,"  "The Idea of Order at Key West," "Of Modern Poetry," "The Course of a Particular," and "Of Mere Being."

  • Topic 9

    March 27: The American Songbook, II (classics from the 1920s through the 1970s, plus a sampling of work by 2 Broadway greats, Stephen Sondheim and Lin-Manuel Miranda).  Here's first a list of what to study; scroll down further to see text and audio files etc.  I've assigned LOTS of great songs this week--all are classics that have stood the test of time.  Most songs are just 3 minutes long or so, but it's worth trying to listen to your favorites several times so you can catch some of the nuances.  Please allow enough time to do this assignment--don't wait until Thursday evening to begin!

    • Billy Holiday (2 songs, both written and sung by her:  Billie’s Blues and God Bless the Child)

    • Lead Belly, "Jim Crow Blues" (1930s)

    • Frank Sinatra sings Cole Porter’s I Get a Kick Out of You

    • Richard Lalli sings Gershwin’s Fascinating Rhythm and Porter’s “What is This Thing Called Love?” (see also Forte pdf on the Porter song);

    • Fred Astaire sings Kerns and Fields’ The Way You Look Tonight, from the movie Swing Time with Ginger Rogers; see lyrics and a YouTube link

    • Hoagy Carmichael (Stardust and How Little We Know, including one version sung by Lauren Bacall!  See the Forte pdf for analysis of How Little We Know)

    • Forte pdf discussing Porter and Carmichael songs (see above)

    • Lin-Manuel Miranda, “Breathe” and “$96,000” from the Tony-winning Broadway musical In the Heights.  Optional:  In the Height's opening number, which introduces all the characters and the musical's main themes.

    • Stephen Sondheim, 2 songs (for the Witch [Rapunzel’s mother] and Cinderella) from the Broadway musical and now the recent movie Into the Woods


    • country, rock, and r&b classics:

    Patsy Cline

    Hank Williams

    Chuck Berry

    Bob Dylan

    Joni Mitchell

    Aretha Franklin

    Marvin Gaye

    James Brown

    Bruce Springsteen

    Patti Smith


    • PS’s tips to listening to words and music

  • Topic 10

    April 3:  Modernism Makes It New, III:  Moore and H.D., followed by Niedecker and Bishop.

    Note: draft for paper #2 due in class, April 3.  You may write on any poem/poet we've read so far, except on what you covered in paper #1.  I recommend that you focus on giving a deep reading of one poem or part of a poem, applying what you've learned from my feedback on your first paper.

  • Topic 11

    April 10:  Modernism Makes It New, IV:  Pound and Eliot and Crane 


  • Topic 12

    April 17:  Early 20th Century Modernism Makes It New, I:  Williams, Hughes, and Johnson

    Note:  WA'd draft and revised paper #2 due in class, April 17—or to turn in your final draft, you may upload it using the link at the end of this April 17 section (see below).

    Read the Williams and Hughes selections in our Modern American Poetry anthology.  In addition, check out the Johnson, Williams, and Hughes materials below.  We read Hughes' 1950s Montage of a Dream Deferred before break; the anthology selections of Hughes and the 2 poems sung by Leyla McCalla primarily concentrate on his great earlier work from the 1920s through the 1940s.

    Meta Jones, an expert on Langston Hughes and author of The Muse is Music: Jazz Poetry from the Harlem Renaissance to Spoken Word, may be able to visit our class for part of the time on April 17 (!).  If so, I'll assign your a brief excerpt from her book.  Professor Jones is visiting Swarthmore to participate in the April 17-18 (Fri. and Sat.) Sound Breaks symposium sponsored by Professor Mark Lomanno, the Cooper Foundation, and the Swarthmore Department of Music on improvisation, music, the liberal arts, and strengthening democracy and civic engagement.

  • Topic 13


    April 24:  Whitman and Dickinson,  I.  See syllabus for the specific reading assignments.

  • Topic 14

    May 1:  Whitman and Dickinson  II; course conclusion.   See syllabus for the specific reading assignments.


    • Upload your final paper using this link.  Do not email.  6-8pp double-spaced.  Due date for uploading:  Friday, May 8, 5pm.  

      Topic: discuss poetic form and content for any poem from the syllabus on which you’ve not yet written.  If you’d like to write a comparative paper and discuss more than one poem and/or poet, I encourage you to do this; however, I recommend that you meet with me ahead of time to discuss your ideas and get my advice. 

      Students are also encouraged to reflect in their final paper on what they have learned from the course that is most valuable to them, and why; you may also take up larger themes that we’ve been emphasizing all semester, including your thoughts on the connection between lyric poetry and U.S. democracy.

      No extensions; plan ahead so you can meet this deadline.  There will be a grade penalty for all late papers. 

      Using a WA is not required for this assignment.  However, you’re welcome to set up and appointment at the Writing Center in Trotter to get a WA’s feedback on a draft.  Just don’t wait until the last moment to do this.

       Prof. Schmidt also recommends that well ahead of the due date you consult with him about your final topic.

      I will grade your final paper online and email you the paper with brief comments and a grade.