Monday, July 30, 2012

Love Poetry...Purgatory?

Getting there.

I've spent most of the day checking old syllabi and tinkering with the list of authors.  I'm thinking now that I'll cut back on the secondary reading, and try to pump up the non-Western aspect of the class just a bit, but not jettison the overall chronological structure, which always gives students a handle on the material.

Here's where I am right now with the list of authors and weeks:

Week 1:  Introductions

Wednesday:                Introduction to the class and to each other. 


Week 2:  Classical Foundations

Monday:                      Sappho, Eros, and the origins of the “Idealist” love tradition.  Read the Sappho poems and fragments posted on D2L.

Wednesday:                 Ovid; origins of the “Realist” tradition.  A selection of the "Amores" and all three parts of “The Art of Love.”

Week 3:  Jewish / Christian / Muslim Foundations

Monday:                      The Song of Songs as love song and allegory; the origins (perhaps) of companionate love.  Read pp. 3-131 in your edition, and browse the pages of line-by-line commentary when you find passages you particularly like. 
Wednesday:                 Ibn Arabi, Stations of Desire.  Read the Introduction and the poems on pages 53-75 and 105-138.  Consult the glossary in the back as you read, for helpful definitions.  (Or maybe Ibn ‘Arabi and Rumi, the "two oceans," instead.)

Weeks 4-5:  Cultures of Love

Monday                       Dante, Vita Nuova; Canto 5 of Inferno, and perhaps other parts of the Divine Comedy (by handout)

Wednesday                  NO CLASS:  Professor in UK

Monday                       The Age of Beloveds (a fascinating book about Ottoman and European love poetry, from Venice to London, during the "long 16th century"--and a chance to learn how to read and situate poems in historical / cultural contexts, to think about the uses of love poems, as well as their ideas and aesthetics)
Wednesday                  The Age of Beloveds, continued.

Weeks 6-7:  The Companionate Revolution

Monday                      Donne
Wednesday                 More Donne

Tuesday 5/2                Bradstreet, early American love poems, Whitman
Thursday 5/4               Dickinson

Week 8:  Modern(ist) Love

Tuesday 5/16              Cavafy
Thursday 5/18             Rilke 

Weeks 9-11: Love and Revolution

Tuesday 5/23              Surrealists
Thursday 5/25             Faiz

Week 10:  Love and Politics

Tuesday 5/30               Darwish
Thursday 6/1               Rich

The week I'm least comfortable with at the moment is week 8, which reduces Modernist Love to two poets, although we get a handful more in the sheaf of Surrealist work in the following week.  Still, I'm torn between really getting to know Cavafy and Rilke (which is a joy) and introducing students to a wider range of Modernist poets, including several female ones.  And I'm thinking of leaving a slot open for another poet, just in case.  

But it's a start!

Love Poetry Hell

I've spent the last few hours in Love Poetry Hell.

Once upon a time, you see, I taught a comp. lit. class on Love Poetry here at DePaul.  To be specific, it was called "Love Poetry: the Western Tradition," because I wanted to leave room to apply for an in-house grant to study non-Western love poetry and create a new course on the topic. More on that anon.

In any case, across the early 2000s I taught the course...oh, seven or eight times, always with more or less the same core set of poets and readings on the syllabus:

the Song of Songs
Dante and / or Petrarch
a suite of Surrealists

These were usually joined by some secondary readings from Anne Carson's Eros, the Bittersweet and Octavio Paz's The Double Flame.  Some years I added poems by Ibn 'Arabi and St. John of the Cross; some years, when I had enough class days, I found room for a suite of "Scoffers and Debunkers" and even, when we met three times a week, for class presentations on poets of their choosing.

Why the hell?  Well, this fall I'm teaching the course again--and I find the earlier format simultaneously attractive and frustrating.

Attractive, because it always worked:  students learned a lot about new poets and about poets that they've studied elsewhere (Donne, Milton, Whitman, Dickinson) from a radically new perspective.  Frustrating, because the poets and topics that I want to think now about are damnably hard to shoehorn into the syllabus.   I'd like to expand the section on sacred and secular love, since that's a particular interest of mine; I'd like to spend more time on some modernist poets (Auden, Rich, maybe Rilke and / or Neruda); I'd love to do a unit on love songs; and I'd like to put some non-Western poets onto the syllabus, since that grant won't be coming my way any time soon.  In particular, I've thought of adding Mahmoud Darwish, who doesn't get talked about nearly enough, I think, as a poet of love--but to do that, I'd need some Sufi poetry earlier.

Grrr.  Argh.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Rilke, Vacations, & Push-Ups

Vacations usually murmur to me what that archaic six-pack said to Rilke:  "You must change your life."  This year, though, the family trip was less inspiring, more confirming:  something's already changing, it said.  Slowly, somewhere, out of sight, you're settling down.  Enjoy it.


How many of my students would recognize that reference to Rilke, I wonder?  Back in 2003 I assembled my own anthology of poems for ENG 220 (Reading Poetry), organized more or less historically, running from Sappho (in translation, of course) to the present, with Rilke in the mix.  The idea was to teach an "Introduction to Poetry" course that reached outside the Anglo-American tradition, giving students a bit more cultural literacy than they acquire in my usual courses, which emphasize close reading skills. 

Is "cultural literacy" what I mean, exactly?  They learned some of the big names, yes, the reference points--but more than that, they got a whiff, like incense, of the romance of poetry.  That was the plan, anyway.

Like most of my more innovative syllabi, this one got abandoned at some point.  I don't remember why.  Maybe I should try it out again.


Archaic  Torso  of  Apollo
Rainer  Maria  Rilke
Translated  by  Stephen  Mitchell                                        

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power.Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast's fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you.  You must change your life.
That's not quite rhythmically steady enough, in English, to use for counting push-ups--not like Blake's "The Tyger," for example, which I've blogged about elsewhere.  

Still, it could be motivating.  I'm getting more archaic by the day!