I've been mulling over the syllabus for next year's Modern Poetry course. Ten weeks, meets once a week (nights), undergraduates. Last fall I taught a crazy, sweeping survey, organized by topic, built around the two-volume Norton Anthology of Modern / Contemporary Poetry. The assignment for a week's reading looked something like this:
Faith, Doubt, Myth: In Vol 1, read Dickinson, “Brain is Wider” 38; Hardy, “Hap” (44); Hopkins, “God’s Grandeur,” “As Kingfishers,” “Spring,” “The Windhover"; Yeast, “Hosting of the Sidhe,” “The Magi,” “Dialogue of Self and Soul,” Frost, “Design,” “Directive,” Stevens, “Sunday Morning,” from “Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction,” “Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour” (on-line; Google it); Pound, “The Return,” HD, “from The Walls Do Not Fall” and “From Tribute to the Angels,” Eliot, “Preludes,” “The Waste Land,” “Journey of the Magi,” “Little Gidding,” Graves, “To Juan at the Winter Solstice,” Smith, “Our Bog is Dood,” “God the Eater,” Kavanagh, “Canal Bank Walk,” Auden, “As I Walked Out One Evening,” “In Praise of Limestone,” Oppen, “Psalm,” “from Of Being Numerous.” In Vol. 2, read Bishop, “At the Fishhouses,” “Over 2000 Illustrations…,” Duncan, “Often I am Permitted to Return to a Meadow,” Larkin, “Water,” “Church Going,” “Faith Healing,” “High Windows,” Kumin, “In the Absence of Bliss,” Merrill, “b o d y,” Ali, “Ghazal.”Needless to say, I sometimes had some doubts as to whether all the reading was done. Needless to say, my students felt a bit overwhelmed--frustrated, too, that they'd read vastly more for any given class than we could discuss at length or in depth. On the other hand, this had the advantage of letting those students who had a taste for Yeats find Yeats, Oppen find Oppen, Smith find Smith, and the like.
I'm up in the air as to whether I should teach the course the same way again next fall, with some sort of minor tweaking--a different anthology, say, or pair of them for contrast--or whether I should (as I usually do) try something quite different.
One "quite different" model I've mulled over for several years now would build the course around books about modern poets and modern poetry. Earlier this evening I paged through Frank Lentricchia's Modernist Quartet, for example, and was struck by how much knowledge students would gain from it about not only the work of the four poets he discusses (Frost, Stevens, Pound, & Eliot) but about their lives, their times, their contacts, and so forth. Of course, these are all American poets--Eliot switch-hits, but is treated here as American--, all of them are white, and all of them are men. I won't teach a class like that, even if I do like the associated video:
But if I were to build my course around some books about modern poetry, in English or even more comparatively, what are the best texts out there to choose from? Not textbooky texts, but books designed to be read for pleasure, however erudite. Biographies, cultural histories, that sort of thing.
Alternatively, if you had to pick 9 essential "modern poets"--not exclusively American--who would they be? Anglophone only lists are good, but I'm open to teaching folks in translation, also, if good translations are out there.