With the fall semester starting at Virginia Commonwealth University this week, I have started to think about some new writing and reading exercises for my students. As these exercises will relate with our course goals and readings, I thought I would share my course descriptions and reading lists for my two classes, English 215: Textual Analysis and English 305: Writing Poetry.
ENGL 215: Textual Analysis
“The Captive Body, The Body Captivating”—In order to investigate the means by which writers have control over textual bodies, we will examine a century’s worth of narratives about individuals’ control, or lack thereof, over their physical bodies. Beginning with Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis (1915) and working our way toward Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams: Essays (2014), we will explore through class discussion and written assignments the relationships between identity, form, and point of view. In doing so, students will hone their abilities as close readers and critical thinkers, analyzing the writers’ choices in presenting these narratives and their effects on the reader, as well as the historical significance of each text and its consequence in today’s debates about individuals’ rights over their own bodies. In addition to the following primary texts, we will also read criticism that reflects a diverse approach to these issues, including new criticism, feminist and queer theory.
- Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale. Knopf Doubleday, 1998. ISBN: 978-0385490818.
- Carson, Anne. Autobiography of Red. Vintage, 1999. ISBN: 978-0375701290.
- Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. HarperCollins, 2006. ISBN: 978-0060850524.
- Jamison, Leslie. The Empathy Exams: Exams. Graywolf, 2014. ISBN: 978-1555976712.
- Kafka, Franz. The Metamorphosis, In The Penal Colony, and Other Stories. Touchstone, 2000. ISBN: 978-0684800707.
- Morrison, Toni. Beloved. Vintage, 2004. ISBN: 978-1400033416.
- Nabokov, Vladimir. The Annotated Lolita: Revised and Updated. Vintage, 1991. ISBN: 978-0679727293.
- Ward, Jesmyn. Salvage the Bones. Bloomsbury, 2012. ISBN: 978-1608196265.
ENGL 305 Writing Poetry
American poet C.D. Wright once wrote: “If I wanted to understand a culture, my own for instance . . . I would turn to poetry first. For it is my confirmed bias that the poets remain the most ‘stunned by existence,’ the most determined to redeem the world in words.” In this course, we will hold poetry to this noble standard, as an amplifier for the voices in our culture and an invocatory rendering of our world. In doing so, I’ll ask you to not only read and write poetry but begin to look at your surroundings as a poet would. This requires close examination of images, scrutiny of your thoughts and feelings about subject matter, and consideration for other points of view. Additionally, you will be asked to think deeply about language, in terms of its meanings, its sounds, and its rhythms. You should bring to this class a hard work ethic supported by curiosity and generosity. As a means of introduction to the craft of poetry, students will submit original poems for workshop, a collaborative discussion about writing techniques and their effects on readers. In addition to workshop, you will be asked to engage with the writing of contemporary poets, to read like a writer would. I’ve chosen seven contemporary poetry collections and Poetry magazine so that you will have a lens through which to examine the current landscape of American poetry and to see that even today poets are still trying to “redeem the world in words.”
- Bendorf, Oliver. The Spectral Wilderness. Kent State University Press, 2014. ISBN: 978-1606352113.
- Diaz, Natalie. When My Brother Was an Aztec. Copper Canyon Press, 2012. ISBN: 978-1556593833.
- Emerson, Claudia. Secure the Shadow. Louisiana State University Press, 2012. ISBN: 978-0807143032.
- Faizullah, Tarfia. Seam. Southern Illinois University Press, 2014. ISBN: 978-0809333257.
- Reeves, Roger. King Me. Copper Canyon Press, 2013. ISBN: 978-1556594489.
- Smith, Carmen Giménez. Milk and Filth. University of Arizona Press, 2013. ISBN: 978-0816521166.
- Trethewey, Natasha. Native Guard. Mariner Books, 2007. ISBN: 978-0618872657.