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Chinn Poetry in the Age of Technological Reproduction

ENG 380: Poetry in the Age of Technological Reproduction

In all our arts there is a physical component which can no longer be considered or treated as it used to be, which cannot remain unaffected by
our modern knowledge and power. We must expect great innovations to transform the entire technique of the arts, thereby affecting artistic
invention itself and perhaps even bringing about an amazing change in to our very notion of art.
- Paul Valery La Conqute de lubiquit (1928)

The poet Paul Valery, writing in 1928, expected a future full of change in the physical and technical makeup
of art in the 20th century and beyond. Interrogating the implicit hope in Valerys statement, Walter Benjamin
responds with a politically charged critique of such hope in The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical
Reproduction (1936). These two figures are the starting point for a class examining the technological
reproducibility of poetry in the 20th century. Does poetry change significantly because it can now be
recorded? Do we need written poetry when records can be a type of archive for oral poetry? How does
literacy, with the advent of public education in the 19th century, shift conceptions of recorded poetry in the
20th century? These questions, and many more, will guide this class.
This class will examine the relationship between the spoken and written word in the 20th century and the
technologies that have allowed poets to experiment with sound as a technical and conceptual tool. The
spoken word has had a less than illustrious intellectual history as an object of study in literary studies. One
reason that it has not been seriously studied is because the discourse of the spoken word revolves around the
idea that the spoken word is somehow fleeting or ephemeral and thus cannot be interrogated with the
same rigor as the printed word. This class will challenge that notion, using digital assignments (see the
separate assignment sheet) and transforming analog to digital that will culminate in an exhibit that highlights
the stability and materiality of sound reproduction and the poets who use sound reproduction as a mode of
poetic representation. You will have weekly VoiceThread posts (see attached assignment sheet for more
information), along with the following assignments.
In Unit 1, we will focus on writers (poets, prose writers, and theorists) of the 20th century to examine how
they are influenced by contemporary and classical music. What kind of muse is music? Which authors work
with what types of music? What do different types of musical influence tell us about a writers understanding
of the composition process? What styles of music can be directly linked to styles of writing? What are some
of the problems and critiques of taking music as ones writing muse? These questions will be addressed in this
first unit. We will read and listen to sound recordings for each class, as outlined below. You will write a 5page paper (double-spaced, 1-inch margins, 12-pt. font, MLA style), after class 8. This paper should take one
reading and one song as the frame. The guiding purpose of the paper should focus on the relationship
historical, social, culturalof the piece of music to the reading of your choice. At the end of the unit you will
work with Audacity to create a soundscape of a particular text. For instance, if you want to create a
soundscape of Ralph Ellisons back-and-forth with his opera-singing neighbor in Living with Music, you
would need to account for the musicians he names, as well as the exterior sound of the city.
In Unit 2, we will examine the poets relationship to sound recording. What can translate from page to
record? What are the limits of sound recording? What is clarified when listening to a poet read her work?
What types of experimentation with sound happen in any given historical decade given the sound
reproduction technologies available in that particular decade? For instance, what is accessible in the early
recordings of H.D. or T.S. Eliot that are not present or accessible in the 1960 recordings of William S.
Burroughs or Brion Gysin? What can Gysin or Burroughs do that early 20th-century artists cannot? At the
mid-point of this unit, you will write a 2-page process paper in which you will reflect on you experience
listening to the experimental recordings discussed in class. At the end of this unit you will also write a 4-page
analysis of what you heard in these sound recordings. You will want to pay particular attention to what is
recorded. Is it a poem? Why or why not? Use Mark Katzs book Capturing Sound heavily for this assignment.

Chinn Poetry in the Age of Technological Reproduction

Unit 3 will lead to a final project in which students will plan and produce an online exhibit that uses sound as
the primary material of exhibition. Thus, you will work closely with the recordings that have appeared on the
syllabus and any recordings that you may have found in online archives. For instance, you may want to work
exclusively with Aspen magazine for your online exhibit. You will have to think about how to organize items
to create an historical narrative. You will also be expected to create one to two sound objects for your exhibit.
For instance, you could decide to create a sound map of a particular part of New York City in the 1920s
(look at Emily Thompsons Roaring Twenties for a much more fleshed out version of this assignment: We will use Omeka for this final project.
Please note: all web pages with archival material, no matter where you have found it, will need to be password-protected to respect
copyright of the items you display.
* Please also note that you do NOT have to have any expertise in music or musical composition to
take this class. We examine the social, cultural, and historical questions of musics influence in
relation to the literary import of the work. *
Required Texts: Please buy the exact copy with the correct ISBN number:
Jean Toomer, Cane
Mina Loy, The Lost Lunar Baedecker
Brion Gysin, William S. Burroughs, Gregory Corso, and Marice Beiles, Minutes to Go
Mark Katz, Capturing Sound, 2010 (Get REVISED edition, not the 2004 edition). Youll also need
access to the books website
All sound recordings listed on the syllabus are uploaded to the class website:,
so you do not need to worry about finding these selections elsewhere
All other texts, sound recordings, musical recordings and web-based poems will be uploaded to:
You will also find a digital syllabus, with links to all music and all pdfs at
Participation and discussion are two major components of this course. Thus, if you have more than three
absences, your grade will automatically fall one letter grade. If you have more than six absences, you will
automatically get an F for the course. If you cannot meet these requirements, I encourage you to drop the
course before the end of the Add/ Drop period. If you arrive fifteen minutes late, youll automatically be
counted absent.
Laptop/ E-Reader policy: I will tell you when to pull out your laptop or e-reader in class. If we are
discussing a reading, you may take notes on an e-reader, but annotate the text with a pencil or pen, oldschool style when reading the piece at home. Writing and annotating with a pencil makes your more engaged
with the text, and it helps you learn kinesthetically. This class will engage all three major modes of learning:
visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. Please take the last one as seriously as the first two.
Course Objectives:
By the end of this course I expect that you will be able
-To read and annotate readings and poems carefully.
-To identify formal choices made by the poet or writer.
-To advance compelling interpretations through discussion and writing.
-To analyze poetry in relation to archival materials.
-To think critically and creatively about poetry and its modes of reproduction.

Chinn Poetry in the Age of Technological Reproduction

Grading Breakdown:
10% Class Participation
15% Musical influence on a writer paper (Unit 1)
25% Voice Thread blog Responses
5% Soundscape (Unit 1)
5% 2-page Listening Response Paper (Unit 2)
20% 4-page Listening Paper (Unit 2)
20% Final Project/ Exhibit (with reflection paper) (Unit 3)
Grading Rubric:
A 94-100
A- 90-93.9

B+ 87-89.9
B 83-86.9
B- 80-82.9

C+ 77-79.9
C 73-76.9
C- 70-72.9

D+ 67-69.9
D 63-66.9
D- 60-62.9