The University of Southampton

ENGL2001 Modern American Poetry

Module Overview

Post-war American poets experimented with the language arts so as to involve their readers and audiences in personal and authentic modes of poetry. At a time when American culture turned to science for explanations and knowledge, poets such as Robert Lowell and Allen Ginsberg spoke for the cultural significance of poetry by making the performance of their poems almost as important as their publication. Addressing their readers and listeners with a personal and confessional poetry, modern American poets celebrated the speaking voice and promoted their polemical and intense poetics, establishing a stage for the emergence of those previously silenced.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

- To introduce you to influential modern American poets and poems - To acquaint you with the range of poetic techniques, forms, and themes that have helped define this poetry - To develop your skills for the close reading of poems - To increase your understanding of some cultural contexts of modern American poetry, such as modernism, war, ethnicity, gender, the city, and above all the aspiration to create a distinctly American culture - To enable you to make informed contrasts between different types of poetry

Learning Outcomes

Cognitive Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Approach difficult texts with effective reading strategies
  • Marshall and evaluate evidence from secondary sources
  • Employ cultural history to analyse texts
  • Make connections between developments in poetry with developments in other areas of modern American history
  • Engage in informed discussion of complex poems
  • Write a sustained and convincing analytical essay
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Work with a group to respond to questions and problems
  • Devise approaches to and gather evidence for an argument
  • Recognize characteristics of correct, clear expository writing
  • Analyze complex written texts
  • Understand how to employ advanced rhetorical techniques characteristic of modern poetry
Learning Outcomes

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Leading American poets and their ideas
  • The significance of key modern American poems
  • The shaping influence of American culture on its poetry
  • How some of the most influential modern poetic forms work
  • The role of changing ideas of language, voice, speech and dialect on American poetry


We will be concentrating on American modernists and their successors. American poets have offered a range of different solutions to a shared dilemma: how to celebrate the cultural significance of poetry in a culture that looked to science for explanations and knowledge, that was struggling with postcolonial wars, and increasingly engaged in identity-based politics. This module will centre on a representative range of major American poets in the modernist tradition, and will centre on the close reading of poems located in their historical contexts.

Special Features

Module makes full use of the growing availability of texts and recordings on the internet. Previously unavailable material is now accessible also, notably interviews and short essays on poetics published in poetry magazines. An impressive website set up by Cary Nelson on Modern American Poetry includes a rich source of teaching materials.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include - Lectures - Seminars Lectures will include audio and video recordings of poets reading their work. Learning activities include - In seminars, you will give required but not assessed presentations on poems, will work in groups and engage in detailed discussion of texts. - As individuals, you will do primary and secondary reading as assigned, will devise arguments and gather information for two analytical essays, will write essays, and will take a final examination.

Independent Study126
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Harryette Mullen (2006). Muse & Drudge in Recyclopedia. 

William Carlos Williams (2005). Selected Poems. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (3000 words) 90%
Essay  (1000 words) 10%


MethodPercentage contribution
Resubmit assessments 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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