Monday, July 30, 2012

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.

1 comment:

E. M. Selinger said...

One thought that occurs to me: what if I just start with the idea that poets who get taught in other English classes (i.e., Donne, Milton, Whitman, Dickinson) get cut?

Trouble is, they're not taught as love poets, necessarily, in those classes. But it would certainly be a way to open up some space.