St/ Poetry (Modernist Poetry)

Paris, the
evening of May 29, 1913: decorously dressed ladies and gentlemen in a theater
audience find themselves acting very strangely indeed. Later, one of them will
recall that he gradually noticed he was getting a headache, and only then
discovered that the man in the seat behind his was slamming him on the head
with an umbrella.

That collective
alteration of consciousness was brought on by the world premiere of Igor
Stravinsky’s ballet RITE OF SPRING, with its pounding rhythms driving savagely
dressed dancers in gusts across the stage. (You can find a YouTube clip from a
2005 reenactment on my web page at The music seemed
to tell people that there was a new way of experiencing.

Early in the
twentieth century, for reasons we’ll explore in this course, change was pulsing
its way into language as well, and changing it in fundamental ways. After a
short tour of western culture in the days just before the change, we’ll begin
studying the change as it happened in poetry, the most sensitive technology for
recording change in words. And you’ll see: the language that some poets began
teaching us to use a hundred years ago is the language we still use today. Not
all change is a fundamental transformation, but the modernist revolution in
language was.

ANTHOLOGY OF MODERN POETRY. We’ll range widely through the book, but we’ll anchor
our reading in the work of four major figures: Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, Wallace
Stevens, and William Carlos Williams. Four five-page papers, midterm, and