Welcome to ENG 2100 – Introduction to Poetry
Hello, and welcome to the homepage for our ENG 2100 course. Here, you will find a basic explanation of what I (your instructor) understand to be the educational underpinnings of ENG 2100.
Although some of the language and terms on this page may seem complex at first, by the end of the semester you will find them readily understandable. As an instructor, I believe in using the same level of language with you that I would use with my colleagues, for in this way you can engage with genuine academic discourse. Such engagement will be necessary if you are to participate successfully in the academic discourse community. Just like entering any conversation, one must first be aware of both the conventions and the topic before one can meaningfully participate.
To this end, I offer you an honest and forthright approach to what is expected in this course and, insofar as I perceive it, in Academia. I hope that I may expect in return a fair-minded response. You will doubtless be asked to perform tasks that are new, unfamiliar, and challenging. You may be asked to read or write in topics and genres in which you have little interest. If you set aside preconceived notions and attempt to engage in good faith with the material of the course, you will find it rewarding. Your writing will improve. And, you will pass the course possessed of the skills necessary to help you undertake the more advanced writing tasks expected in your major.
What Skills Will Be Taught?
This course is meant to provide students with the discursive tools necessary for upper-division academic work, instructing students in a set of skills and techniques that can be used to address unfamiliar writing tasks. This course focuses on skills like identifying and working within genres, researching and citing sources, and addressing university-level writing expectations, to name a few.
Each professor’s approach to the course differs based upon areas of research and interest. So, this course will naturally reflect the crossroads between my interests and teaching style, and the expectations of the English department and the University. Consequently, this course will feature techniques like formal analysis and close reading across a wide variety of poetic eras and genres, from Caedmon to Carol Ann Duffy.
Why Use Poetry to Study Writing?
Poetry is an excellent place at which to begin any study in writing, as its divers and sundry forms allow for compositions of nearly any length, in any media, on any topic, to any sort of audience, and with any degree of formality. There are short, medium, and long poems; there are written, spoken, and performed poems; there are sad, happy, and hortatory poems; there are secret poems composed solely for the author, and poems meant to be read before an audience of thousands; there are poems with extremely rigid guidelines as to topic, grammar, rhyme, rhythm, length, and metre, and there are poems with absolutely no guidelines at all.
In short, working with the multiplicity of poetical forms is one way of learning the skills necessary for working with the multiplicity of genres that we encounter in prose. Learning how to evaluate and engage with one such form can help us to hone the skills that we use to evaluate and engage with all forms.
Unlike the composition of prose, the composition of poetry is seldom part of the secondary school curriculum. This means that working with poetry–not merely writing, but reading and analysing as well–is usually attended with fewer pre-existing expectations. High school students often learn the five-paragraph essay, but very few learn the Petrarchan Sonnet. Getting away from our formal expectations of a particular genre makes it easier for us to look at genre as an abstract feature. You will discover in this course that acquiring the skills to work successfully with genres is essential for professional life, in which we can expect frequently to encounter new and unfamiliar genres like a patient diagnosis, a curriculum vitae, an expense record, or a lab report.
And there is another reason to study poetry. Much of the impact and power of the most successful poetry comes from its ability to present a depth and quality of thought in a focused, rhetorically effective way. That is, it is dense–presenting much meaning in a little space. This is not to say that there are not very effective long poems (certainly, some of the most effective are very long indeed!), but rather that the economy of poetics is such that one is expected to do more, and with fewer words, than in prose. Observing and developing these poetic skills will have a powerful effect upon one’s prose, where conciseness is just as powerful a rhetorical tool.
This is not to say that the tasks of this course could not be undertaken through assignments that work with prose alone. Indeed the opposite is demonstrably the case. However, it is my belief that there are further distinct advantages of using poetry to foster student engagement, creativity, and learning.
The use of poetical analysis as a tool for teaching the essential skills of critical thinking and logical argument cannot be gainsaid. And the aesthetic merits of a broadened intellectual life are, themselves, vital for producing a citizenry which possesses the capacity to understand and appreciate the complexity not only of its own culture, but that of others as well.
What Are the Course Outcomes?
Our assignments seek to fulfil departmental learning objectives, which are explained in the course syllabus. The purpose of the learning objectives is to provide a uniform set of intentions, guidelines, and goals to provide for success in writing tasks. But rather than thinking of these objectives only as ‘end goals’ or things which happen ‘here-or-there’ in the writing process, think of them instead as different skills to sharpen, improve, and develop by completing the course work. The learning objectives are not simply ‘products’ that you do and then point to in order to demonstrate that you have done them–they exist to teach you new ways of doing things. To use a rough analogy: the learning objectives are not just a destination–they are the roads that you choose to get to the destination.
Of course, any finite set of learning objectives must necessarily be reductive in nature. So, throughout the course, we will develop our own additional goals and expectations for our writing. Some of this will come in the form of the collaborative creation of rubrics, in-class peer-reviewed work, and one-on-one conferences. You will find that your own goals are a necessary part of shaping this course. Reflect back upon this introduction and consider what you want to learn in ENG 2100. Knowing what you want to learn is a great first step in the knowledge process. By the end of this class, it is my hope that you will have discovered that following that path–wherever it might lead–is an exciting, challenging, and rewarding experience.
I look forward to working with you in ENG 2100: Introduction to Poetry.
S. P. Cooper
Wayne State University