Dr. Morris: T/Th 9:30-10:45

A Romp through American Poetry: Walt Whitman to Kate Tempest


Buffalo Bill  ’s

who used to
ride a watersmooth-silver


and break onetwothreefourfive  pigeonsjustlikethat


he was a handsome man

        and what I want to know is

how do you like your blueeyed boy
Mister Death

~ “Buffalo Bill  ’s” by E. E. Cummings

What do Mister Death, Jesus, and Buffalo Bill breaking pigeonsjustlikethat have to say about our twenty-first-century American experience? Where does Derek Walcott’s “How can I face such slaughter and be cool? / How can I turn from Africa and live?” fit into the context of our own past, present, and future? Or how do we situate ourselves around the sorrow of our still blind-sided approach to mental illness in Donald Justice’s“Counting the Mad” whose sufferers cry “No No No No / All day long”? Poetry, emerging from the earliest shadowy prehistory of the human race, has guided us through that history, evaluated the currents of our contemporaneous cultures, and served as a window into what might lie ahead in our futures. This course (CRN 83794) will survey the landscape of American poetry, briefly looking at its early development (throwing in a dash of British poetic influences) as a means to better understand the course’s primary focus: the distinctive voice and character of the American poetic movement, including the American Romantics and then tracing, in the context of technological developments, philosophical movements, and literary currents, the forms and themes that lead us up to our own contemporary period with emphasis on prosody and interpretation.


The Great Poet Returns

When the light poured down through a hole in the clouds,
We knew the great poet was going to show. And he did.
A limousine with all white tires and stain-glass windows
Dropped him off. And then, with a clear and soundless fluency,
He strode into the hall. There was a hush. His wings were big.
The cut of his suit, the width of his tie, were out of date.
When he spoke, the air seemed whitened by imagined cries.
The worm of desire bore into the heart of everyone there.
There were tears in their eyes. The great one was better than ever.
“No need to rush,” he said at the close of the reading, “the end
Of the world is only the end of the world as you know it.”