Critical Reading and Writing: Poetry and Drama
Course Theme: Dysfunction and Miscommunication
Prof. Josh Roiland
“The weight of this sad time we must obey; Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say. The oldest hath borne most: we that are young shall never see so much nor live so long” -from King Lear Act V, Scene iii
Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun
Eugene O’Neill, A Long Day’s Journey Into Night
Marsha Norman, ‘Night Mother
Edward Albee, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Caryl Churchill, Far Away
William Shakespeare, Henry V
John Lennard & Mary Luckhurst, Eds., The Drama Handbook
Michael Myers, ed., Poetry, An Introduction, 4th Ed.
Tension and conflict pervade our lives. But why? When differences cannot manifest themselves clearly, situations are exacerbated and dysfunction often ensues. This dysfunction can present itself as the inner struggle of a single person, strife amongst families, quarrels over societal values, and hostility between nations. From arguments to war, the inability to communicate with one another can both begin and intensify conflict. This semester we will pay special attention to how we use, misuse, manipulate, and misinterpret language – and where such miscommunication leads us – in the hopes of recognizing the power of our own words and those of people around us.
Writers and poets are the gatekeepers of language. Good writers are never hasty or careless with their words. In taking such time and care, these writers can acutely reflect and reveal the world in some of its purest forms. In this class we will read both poetry and drama with the goal of becoming more attuned to the use and power of language. My hope is that through our readings and discussion we achieve a better understanding of literary techniques and dynamics and also foster a more sophisticated appreciation and enjoyment of literature in general.
English 112 is both a reading and a writing intensive course. Like English 111 we will place a heavy emphasis on our own words, putting them on paper nearly every day (either in class or out). Writing, both informally and formally (a pseudo barrier) allows us to explore the depth of our thoughts and feelings about literature. We will write to find out what we know. Along with keeping a daily poetry journal and composing reflective essays in class, we will be writing four longer essays, comprised of (at least) three drafts of each essay. After completing the first draft you will work with a writing partner to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each other’s work. After the second draft I will meet with each of you individually to talk about your paper, and then you’ll have time to work on a third and final draft which will then receive a grade (which you’ll have a chance to revise and bring up if you so choose).
Our class will rely almost exclusively on classroom and small group discussion. For this format to work, everyone needs to attend class. For this format to thrive, everyone attending class needs actively to participate. Essentially, though, this is college and you make your own decisions. If you decide not to come to class, or if you come to class just for the sake of being there, so be it. But be clearly forewarned – your grade will severely reflect the consequences of your actions. After three absences, your grade will drop 1/3 (e.g. B- to C+) for each absence thereafter, so please come to class and participate. Should you be late, or absent, please have the courtesy to call and let me know ahead of time. You will be responsible for any notes and/or assignments you miss. And DO NOT be late or absent on Writing Workshop days.
Near the end of our time with poetry, we will focus specifically on two poets – Emily Dickinson and Langston Hughes. Though it’s beneficial to read a cross-section of work that cuts through time and genre, it can also be helpful to focus in on the work on a single poet and note the patterns and techniques that she employs. Therefore, after our study of Dickinson and Hughes I will pair you up and you will choose a poet to give a ten minute presentation on. Generally the presentation should include a brief biography, analysis of a body of work, and close scrutiny and recitation of two poems. In conjunction with the presentation I will ask you and your partner to collaborate on a 3-5 page paper that puts your analysis in a more formal aspect. Both the presentation and the paper are worth 10 percent of the overall grade, combining to have the same weight as the other papers. I will provide more specifics on the presentations when the time draws near.
We will read a lot of poetry this semester. Unfortunately we will not have a chance to discuss each and every poem in class. This is where the journal comes in. Each day that we read poetry I want you reflect both personally and analytically on several of the day’s poems. I still expect you to read all of the assigned poetry and be prepared to discuss any and all of them. But in case we don’t get a chance to touch on every poem I want to you select five of them each day and write at least two paragraphs on each one. I will collect this journal periodically to read your entries (so please keep up on the writing, rather than doing it all at once!). This journal is an important part of reflecting upon the work you’re reading so please take it seriously.
Daily reading & writing
Writing Workshop Participation
4 Essays (3 drafts each)
Attend a poetry reading and a play
Paper 1: 15%
Paper 2: 20%
Paper 3: 10%
Paper 4: 20%
Group Discussion/Workshop Participation: 15%
Poetry Journal: 10%
A Raisin in the Sun, Act I (p.17-75)
A Raisin in the Sun, Act II (p.76-130)
Drama Handbook, Ch. 1, 2, 5
A Raisin in the Sun, Act III (p.131-152)
Paper 1.1 Due
Henry V, Prologue & Act I (87-117)
Paper 1.2 Due
Henry V, Act II (118-154)
Drama Handbook, Ch. 6, 7 & 8
Henry V, Act III (155-203)
Henry V, Act IV (204-258)
Henry V, Act V & Epilogue (259-281)
Paper 1.3 Due
Poetry, Ch. 1
Poetry, Ch. 2 & 3
Poetry, Ch. 4
Poetry, Ch. 5
COMMON TEXT EVENT – REQUIRED ATTENDENCE
Poetry, Ch. 6
Poetry, Ch. 7
Paper 2.1 Due
Poetry, Ch. 8
Paper 2.2 Due
No Class, Spring Break
No Class, Spring Break
No Class, Spring Break
Poetry, Ch. 9
Poetry, Ch. 10
Poetry, Langston Hughes
Poetry, Emily Dickinson
Paper 2.3 Due
Poetry, Emily Dickinson
No Class, Easter Break
No Class, Easter Break
Class Presentations, 1-5
Class Presentations, 6-10
Paper 3.1 Due
Drama Handbook, Ch. 9 & 10
Paper 3.3 Due
Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Act I & II
Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Act III
Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Act IV
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf Act I
Drama Handbook, Ch. 16, 22, & 27
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf Act II
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf Act III
Film: “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”
Paper 4.1 Due
Chapter 1: “The Secretary Chant” by Marge Piercy, “Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden, “The Fish” by Elizabeth Bishop, “Snapping Beans” by Lisa Parker, “This is Just to Say” by William Carlos Williams p.534, “Stillborn” by Sylvia Plath, “At Last We Killed the Roaches” by Lucille Clifton
Chapter 2 & 3: “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner” by Randall Jarrell, “To the Virgins” by Robert Herrick, “Sex Without Love” by Sharon Olds, “We Real Cool” by Gwedolyn Brooks, “Fire and Ice” by Robert Frost p.370, “I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud” by William Wordsworth p.535, “Mock Orange” by Louise Gluck
Chapter 4: “Poem” by Williams Carlos Williams, “Root Cellar” by Theodore Roethke, “Dulce et Decorum est” by Wilfred Owen, “The Panther” by Ranier Maria Rilke, “In the Station at the Metro” by Ezra Pound, “Out, Out –“ by Robert Frost p.368, “Oranges” by Gary Soto, “Monarchs” by Sharon Olds, “The Shampoo” by Elizabeth Bishop
Chapter 5: “You Fit Into Me” by Margaret Atwood, “The Hand that Signed…” by Dylan Thomas, “Mirror” by Sylvia Plath, “Schizophrenia” by Jim Stevens, “A Noiseless Patient Spider” by Walt Whitman, “Mending Wall” by Robert Frost p.359, “Persimmons” by Li-Young Lee, “Thanks” by Yusef Komunyakaa
Chapter 6: “A Man Said to the Universe” by Stephen Crane, “Snowbanks North of the House” by Robert Bly, “Traveling Through Dark” by William Stafford, “Ethnic Poetry” by Julio Marzan, “The Chimney Sweeper” by William Blake, “Minor Miracle” by Marilyn Nelson, “Normality” by C.K. Williams
Chapter 7: “Blackberry Eating” by Galway Kinnell, “Sadie and Maude” by Gwendolyn Brooks, “Ode to the Nightengale” by John Keats, “Design” by Robert Frost p.372, “She Walks in Beauty” by Lord Byron p.486, “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath p.516, “Woodchucks” by Maxine Kumin
Chapter 8: “When I Was One and Twenty” by A.E. Housman, “Pro Snake” by Virginia Hamilton Adair, “Delight in Disorder” by Robert Herrick, “The Tyger” by William Blake, “Her Kind” by Anne Sexton, “My Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke, “Howl” by Allen Ginsberg
Chapter 9: “The World is Too Much With Us” by William Wordsworth, “Sonnet” by William Shakespeare, “Do Not Go Gently Into That Goodnight” by Dylan Thomas, “One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop, “All American Sestina” by Florence Cassen Meyers, “Wedding Ring” by Denise Levertov,
Chapter 10: “In Just” by e.e. cummings, “Sonnet” by William Shakespeare, “Red Wheelbarrow” by William Carlos Williams, “Latin Women Pray” by Judith Ortiz Cofer, “Rite of Passage” by Sharon Olds, “Work” by Yusef Komunyakaa, “The Truth The Dead Know” by Anne Sexton
Langston Hughes: “I, Too”, “Mother to Son”, “Justice”, “The Weary Blues”, “Cross”, “Lenox Avenue: Midnight”, “Ballad of Roosevelt”, “Ballad of the Landlord”, “Ku Klux”, “Dream Boogie”, “Harlem”, “Poet to Bigot”, “Dinner Guest: Me”, “The Backlash Blues”, “Theme for English B”
Emily Dickinson: “Presentiment – is that long Shadow – on the lawn -”, “A narrow Fellow in the grass”, “If I can stop one Heart from breaking”, “To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee”, “Water is taught by thirst”, “Papa above!”, “Some keep the Sabbath going to Church-“, “’Heavan’ – is what I cannot reach!”, “What Soft – Cherubic Creatures –“, “I Dwell in Possibility”, “I heard a Fly buzz – when I died –“, “Because I could not stop for Death-“, “The Bustle in a House”, “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant”
Additional Poems for Consideration: “A Study of Reading Habits” by Phillip Larkin p.37, “An Introduction to Poetry” by Billy Collins p.45, “Manners” by Elizabeth Bishop p.63, “Hazel Tells Laverne” by Katherine Howard Machan p.77, “The Youngest Daughter” Cathy Song p.94, “In the Suburbs” by Louis Simpson p.102, “Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold p.113, “London” by William Blake p.119, “February” by Margaret Atwood p.144, “Seventeen” by Andrew Hudgins p.174, “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning p.182, “Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost p.371, “I, Being Born a Woman and Distressed” by Edna St. Vincent Millay p.510, “The Second Coming” by W.B. Yeats p.541 “Stone” by Charles Simic, “You Can Have It” by Phillip Levine, “Fog-Horn” by W.S. Merwin, “Lady Lazarus” by Sylvia Plath, “Blades” by C.K. Williams, “What Work Is” by Phillip Levine, “The Actual Heart” by Leslie Miller, “The Heart” by Stephen Crane, “America” by Allen Ginsberg, “Mask of Anarchy” by Percy Bysshe Shelley, “The Image” by Robert Hass, “Monet’s ‘Waterlillies’” by Robert Hayden, “First Death” by Donald Justice, “The Bear” by Galway Kinnell, “Simple Truth” by Phillip Levine, “Onions” by William Matthews, “Why I Am Not a Painter” by Frank O’Hara
A Note On…
A Note on Asking Why?
The word why, in my opinion, is the most powerful word in the English language. It derives its power from the response generated in those who are asked it. Be it parents, teachers, politicians, etc., the word why grates and nags because it requires critical thinking, articulation, and honesty. We are a fast-paced culture that thrives on instant gratification, convenience, and economy. Why? entrenches itself against all these notions. It requires us to slow down, work hard, and perhaps – almost certainly – be displeased with the results we find. The benefits to this discomfort, however, far outweigh the inconvenience. Asking why allows us to travel beneath the surface, beneath the generalizations, easy answers, and half-truths. It allows us to get to the heart of the heart of the matter – to learn things others may not want to know. Asking Why? is a powerful tool that makes people nervous (think of your parents continually quelling youthful questions with the authoritative: Because I said so!) because once you find the answers you will then be in the position of power.
A Note on Respect
As I’ve noted, our class will function mainly as a discussion group (a hyper-analytical book club with writing assignments, if you will). Whether we meet in small groups or as a whole class, it is imperative that we treat everyone’s opinions with respect, empathy, and concern. No doubt we will, at times, get into heated debates in the classroom – this is great, this means we are passionate and engaged with our topics – but these debates must always remain civil and thoughtful. When emotions run high it becomes easy simply to dismiss other points of view, but in doing so we learn nothing. We must listen to the other side (if for no other, than to develop arguments against it), and try to understand why those in opposition to us feel the way they do. Civilized intellectual discourse is what college, and life for that matter, is all about, and more often than not, we will learn more from listening than from shouting.
A Note on Assignments
Upon receiving a writing assignment, small or large, do not immediately configure your thought process according to its parameters. Instead of asking me what I want, ask yourself what you would like to discuss. What interests you about the topic? What excites you? What makes you angry? Determine these answers first, and then proceed to figuring out how to incorporate your thoughts and feelings into the requirements of the assignment. These are your assignments; therefore, you should dictate what goes into them. Our course is not an assembly line, where, after several key stops, a polished and finished product (you, the writer) appears. Rather than production, think of this class as design, where you come up with new, creative ideas, and then test them out. Some will work, others will not, but this class, like college in general, is not a means to an end. It is a means to exploration of thought – and there can be no end to that.
A Note on the Center for Writing
Writing is a solitary task, but paradoxically it cannot be done alone. Even the best writers seek the opinions of those they trust most. Our Writing Workshops will give you the opportunity to give constructive feedback to your group members, while receiving it yourself. I, too, will discuss your writing with you, gain your insight, and give you my suggestions. At the same time, I would highly suggest – to even the most polished writers – to visit the Center for Writing regularly. Located in JRC 361, you can drop in any time, or make an appointment (962-5601) to meet with peer consultants who have extensive training in helping others through the writing process. Whether you are brainstorming for paper ideas (and they need not be only for this, or other English classes), having trouble with organization or flow, or simply want to see if all your arguments make sense, the Center for Writing is an invaluable resource to you – and it’s totally free. (Note: the consultants will not edit or proofread your paper – that is your job – but they will be happy discuss strategies for doing so effectively).
A Note on Grading
Do not be consumed by your grades. Thoughtful feedback, not judgmental grading, will help you become a better writer. Grade obsession often stifles creativity and compels students to pander to a higher authority (i.e., me, the teacher). This ideology runs counter to everything our class will celebrate. Take risks! Explore! And heed the words of author and critic James Baldwin: “It is very nearly impossible…to become an educated person in a country so distrustful of the independent mind.” It will serve you better to concern yourself with originality of thought rather than outcomes of performance.