/ Graduate Catalogue / Writing / 2014-2015

The Hidden Lives of Poems


Poetry is the most concentrated of the literary modes and the one in which meaning and form are most intimately and subtly related. Therefore, to grasp fully what any poem has to offer, we need to understand more than the meaning of its statements; we must understand, in depth, how the poem is made, as well as the crucial relationship between what the poem is saying and how it is made. We may come to such understanding through an intensive study of whole poems, paying equal attention to the larger structures of meaning and feeling; the substructures of syntax, image, rhythm, and phrasing; and the “miniature” patterns (syllabic/phonemic) of sound and sense. Then poems stand forth in their full complexity as intricate and powerful expressive systems. In sum: While emphasizing crucial connections between meaning and form, this course will also go deeply into poetic anatomy and the poet’s toolkit: metaphor, simile, meter, stanza form, word-sound, diction, silence, line length, word length, line breaks, and so on. We will study a broad range of poems—both closed and open forms—and, on the way, work toward a general definition of poetry.