Thinking About Western Poetics

Meets: T, Th: 3:00 - 4:30 PM
Prof: R. Cunningham
Office: BAC 431
Off. Hours:

Course Description

In Thinking about Poetics we will read and discuss an historical range of thinking and writing about literary expression from the perspective of the literary critic. We will start by reading Aristotle’s Poetics, Horace’s Ars Poetica (The Art of Poetry), and On the Sublime (attributed to the nomme de plume Pseudo-Longinus). After having established a classical foundation from which to compare and contrast poetic discourse ("poetry" and discussions of poetry), we will move through the early modern (Sidney's Defence of Poesy)and Romantic (Shelley's Defence of Poetry) eras to conclude in the modernist period with Eliot's Tradition and the Individual Talent and Pound's The ABC of Reading.

Primary Texts:

Course Schedule

Course Requirements

Author Biography and Historical Context
Each class period with your name beside it in the course schedule is your class. On the days for which your responsibilities are biography and historical context you are expected to teach us about the author of that course component's text and the time in which he lived. You'll want to cooperate with each other on the historical context so the person speaking on that does not inadvertently intrude (at least not too deeply) into what the other person is going to say about the primary text itself.

Author Biography: Learn as much as you can about the author of the primary text we've read for that component of the course. Keep track of your sources and cite them as necessary. You are required to submit a list of Works Consulted for each author to which you are assigned. Some of these sources must be physically present in the Vaughan Memorial library. All of these sources must be credible academic sources. Provide a copy of this list of Works Consulted to the other members of the seminar.

Historical Context: When did the author live? Learn what you can about the culture of those times, and impart that learning during class. In their Introduction to the book Cultural Studies Cary Nelson, Paula A. Treichler, and Larry Grossberg describe culture this way: "culture is understood both as a way of life - encompassing ideas, attitudes, languages, practices, institutions, and structures of power - and a whole range of cultural practices: artistic forms, texts, canons, architecture, mass-produced commodities, and so on" (Cultural Studies. Edited by Cary Nelson, Paula A. Treichler, and Larry Grossberg, Routledge, 1992: 5). Keep this concise definition of culture in mind as you conduct your research and prepare your class. Provide a list of Works Consulted to be handed out.

Textual Overview

First and most importantly, walk us through the text. Use secondary sources, whether or not you think you need them. Second, find out what you can about this text's journey through history, from when it was penned until now. Was it influential initially? When did it come to be recognized as an important text in its own right? Who's writing about it, or using it in their work, today? What are they saying about it? To what use is it being put? Be sure to keep a record of all sources you consult. Provide a copy of this list of Works Consulted to the other members of the seminar.

Term Paper

Write a genuine term paper, one you start early and contribute to with each class: one that you can't possibly finish until the end of the term.


Your grade will be determined holistically. More than anything, it will reflect the effort you put into the course.


Acknowledgement of Traditional Territory:

We are in Mi’kma’ki, the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq People.

This territory is covered by the “Treaties of Peace and Friendship” which Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) and Mi’kmaq peoples first signed with the British Crown in 1725. The treaties did not deal with surrender of lands and resources but in fact recognized Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) title and established the rules for what was to be an ongoing relationship between nations.