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Limits of Reality: American Poetry in the Mid-Century

Class at Faculty of Arts |



This course begins with an analysis of what Robert Lowell called the ?tranquilized fifties?, that is, the post-war United States at the onset of the Cold War, by examining the way that different novelists analyse the construction of that reality. Themes such as sexuality, race and foreignness will arise as lines of demarcation, deciding what is real (i.e., socially and culturally acceptable) and what is unreal (i.e., threatening to the status quo). In the first part of the course we will look at a wide range of materials, including paintings and music, demonstrating that the 1950s were not quite so tranquilized as Lowell had them.

Following this, we will look at the rather limited and restrained early work of the New Critical poets, and then the explosive poetics of Allen Ginsberg, who recuperated the tradition of inclusive radical American patriotism from Whitman. We will conclude with a consideration of the variety of 1960s poetry.


Record of attendance will be kept and to receive their credit students will be expected to submit an essay of 3,000 words.