Introduction

This literature course, the sixth module in the Poetry in America series, explores a diverse array of American Modernist poets and poems.  While “Modernism” is notoriously difficult to define, the movement spanned the decades from the 1910s to the mid-1940s, and the poetry of this period marked a clear break from past traditions and past forms.  

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Throughout this module, we will encounter such poets as Robert Frost, T.S. Eliot, Marianne Moore, Langston Hughes, William Carlos Williams, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Claude McKay, Dorothy Parker, and Wallace Stevens.  We will study how these poets employed the language of rejection and revolution, of making and remaking, of artistic appropriation and cultural emancipation, in creating an American poetic tradition that was new and different. Traveling to the homes and workplaces of Robert Frost and Wallace Stevens; to the Poetry Foundation in Chicago, where the institution of American Modernism was born; and even exploring the River Thames in the London of Eliot's THE WASTE LAND, we will see the sites that witnessed—and cultivated—the rise of American Modernism.  

Led by Harvard Professor Elisa New, the Poetry in America series surveys nearly 400 years of American poetry. Through video lectures, archival images and texts, expeditions to historic sites, interpretive seminars with large and small groups, interviews with poets and scholars, and conversations about poems with distinguished Americans, Poetry in America takes learners on a journey through the literature of a nation. Along the way, distinguished guests including Elena Kagan, Henry Louis Gates, Eve Ensler, John McCain, Andrea Mitchell, Michael Pollan, Drew Faust, Tony Kushner, and Nas, among others, bring fresh perspectives to the study of American poetry.

What you'll learn:

  • Best practices for reading, analyzing, and discussing poems and other texts
  • An understanding of American Modernism (ca. 1910-1945) in its historical, social, cultural, and artistic contexts
  • Strategies for identifying formal and thematic features that make the diverse array of American Modernist poems “Modern”

Meet The Faculty

Elisa New

Elisa New

Powell M. Cabot Professor of American Literature at Harvard University

Elisa New is the Powell M. Cabot Professor of American Literature at Harvard University where she teaches classic American literature from Anne Bradstreet through Marilynne Robinson and from the Puritans to the present day. She is the author of New England Beyond Criticism: In Defense of America’s First Literature (Wiley Blackwell, 2014) The Regenerate Lyric: Theology and Innovation in American Poetry (Cambridge University Press, 1992) The Lines Eye: Poetic Experience, American Sight(Harvard University Press, 1999) and Jacob’s Cane: A Jewish Family’s Journey from the Four Lands of Lithuania to the Ports of London and Baltimore (2009). She also has a companion book to the Poetry in America project, How To Read American Poetry (2017-18), forthcoming from Wiley-Blackwell.

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