TTh 1:10-2:30

G239 AH 1:10-2:30

Eric Rabkin

764-2553 & esrabkin@umich.edu

Office: 3243 AH

TWTh 3:10-4:00 & By Appt



Using Kennedy


Written Work

Reading Journals


Secondary Sources

Online Resources



Course Grade



This prerequisite to the English concentration is open to anyone interested in developing a richer understanding and enjoyment of poetry. No special background in literature is required for registration, but we will begin immediately to consider matters of poetic form (such as stanza structure, rhythm, and meter), diction (such as word choice, etymology, and sound), content (such as poems of love or war, the uses of allusion, and philosophic issues), and rhetoric (such as metaphor, irony, and symbolism). While using X. J. Kennedy's An Introduction to Poetry (9th edition; available at Shaman Drum, 313 S. State), which contains mainly English-language works from the Renaissance to the present, we will converse vigorously and work cooperatively toward developing widely applicable analytic, evaluative, and writing skills. Written work includes a daily reading journal, a 2-3 page paper on a single poem, a 3-4 page paper on at least two poems, and a 4-5 page paper on a single author or a single type of poem. Please do all work by the dates indicated in the calendar below.
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Th 7 Jan

Introduction: review syllabus; make class roster; use Introductory Notes

T 12 Jan

XJK Contents; Preface; Chap. 1: Reading a Poem; & reread syllabus

Th 14 Jan

XJK Chap. 2: Listening to a Voice

T 19 Jan

XJK Chap. 3: Words

Th 21 Jan

XJK Chap 4: Saying and Suggesting; begin reading for 26 Jan

T 26 Jan

XJK Chaps 21-23: Writing About Literature; Writing About a Poem, Writing and Researching on the Computer

Th 28 Jan

XJK Chap. 5: Imagery

T 2 Feb

XJK Chap. 6: Figures of Speech; paper 1 due in class

Th 4 Feb

XJK Chap. 7: Song

T 9 Feb

XJK Chap. 8: Sound; paper 1 returned in class

Th 11 Feb

XJK Chap. 9: Rhythm

T 16 Feb

XJK Chap. 10: Closed Form; optional revision of paper 1 due in class

Th 18 Feb

XJK Chap. 11: Open Form

T 23 Feb

XJK Chap. 12: Symbol; revisions of paper 1 returned in class

Th 25 Feb

XJK Chap. 13: Myth and Narrative

T 9 Mar

XJK Chap. 14: Poetry and Personal Identity; paper 2 due in class

Th 11 Mar

XJK Chap. 15: Alternatives; begin reading for 16 Mar

T 16 Mar

XJK Chaps. 16 & 17: Evaluating a Poem; What Is Poetry?; paper 2 returned in class

Th 18 Mar

XJK Chap. 18: Two Poets in Depth; begin reading for 23 Mar

T 23 Mar

XJK Chap. 24: Critical Approaches to Literature

Th 25 Mar

XJK Chap. 19: Poems for Further Reading (pp. 377-396)

T 30 Mar

XJK Chap. 19: Poems for Further Reading (pp. 396-419)

Th 1 Apr

XJK Chap. 19: Poems for Further Reading (pp. 419-436)

T 6 Apr

XJK Chap. 19: Poems for Further Reading (pp. 436-456)

Th 8 Apr

XJK Chap. 19: Poems for Further Reading (pp. 456-478)

T 13 Apr

XJK Chap. 19: Poems for Further Reading (pp. 478-497); paper 3 due in class

Th 15 Apr

XJK Chap. 19: Poems for Further Reading (pp. 497-514); student evaluation

T 20 Apr

Last class day; paper 3 returned in class; course summary; reading journals with self-evaluation due in class

F 23 Apr

4:00-6:00 Reading journals returned in office (date and time tentative)

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Our syllabus assigns the reading of virtually all of this volume to be read by specific dates. There is one significant exception, the biographical sketches of the poets (XJK Chap. 20). These should be consulted whenever appropriate as you read.

Please note that Kennedy provides many questions and exercises. You certainly should use these to spur your thinking but please feel no compulsion to actually write out answers to or fulfillments of any of these unless you wish. We will see that although Kennedy's is a generally excellent text, we will sometimes want to direct our critical attention differently or even reject Kennedy's assertions and implications. Read Kennedy with an open, engaged skepticism. He is good, but he does not have access to absolute truth. Indeed, in matters of poetry, often there is no absolute truth, so learning to construct persuasive truth oneself is crucial to appreciating poetry.

Also, I want you to know that I have the "Instructor's Edition" of Kennedy's textbook. This edition includes a number of materials not found in your edition, including three items that you may want to consult: a) a listing of authors represented in the book by more than one poem with the number of included poems for each author noted; b) a lengthy listing of all the poems in the book distributed under scores of "subjects" and "themes"; c) a lengthy listing of all the poems in the anthology section of the book arranged according to the "elements" of a poem on a chapter-by-chapter basis corresponding to the "elements" chapters in the book. Please feel free to consult my copy in class or in my office if you think that it may help you in finding further reading and/or in deciding on materials for a paper.
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Each student in this class is asked to keep a journal and to write a series of short papers.


As understood in this course, a reading journal is a type of diary by means of which you focus your thoughts on the reading material, record references to key passages, articulate questions that the texts seem to raise, and sometimes try out answers to those questions. The reading journal should be kept in some sort of permanently bound, 8-1/2" x 11" notebook, such as a spiral-bound notebook, with your name and the course number prominently displayed. You should make entries in your journal for at least three poems from each class day's assigned reading. You may make entries for more poems from the assigned reading or from additional relevant reading within or without the course text. A typical entry should have (a) objective heading material, (b) line-by-line comments, and (c) reflective comments. (a) The heading material should include the date of entry and objective data about the text, such as the author's name, the title of the work, the birth and death dates of the author, the language, nationality, and gender of the author, and the date of publication of the work. You should leave some space after these preliminaries since after reading the work you might want to add other heading information, such as an indication of the type of work this is (for example, ballad or satire) or an indication of other works that seem particularly interesting to associate with it and the reasons for those associations (for example, similarity of narrative structure or of theme). As you read, of course, you ought to mark your texts, not only underscoring key words or passages but indicating in the book's margins why those passages are key or at least what they contain (for example, "central image" or "thematic reversal"). (b) In your reading journal you may want to record those comments by page and line number and amplify them. The process of writing as one reads often leads to promising stray thoughts that one doesn't want to forget but doesn't want to stop reading to pursue. These stray thoughts should also go in the reading journal. (c) At least as important as the stray thoughts are the thoughts that arise after the reading (and typically, with poetry, multiple rereading) is complete and one has had a chance to digest the work a bit, both by reflection and by looking back through it and through one's marginal notes. At that point, you ought to write down your observations about anything in the poem that seems interesting (for example, style, characterization, setting, tone, moral, and so on) indicating whether those observations feel conclusive or provisional. If provisional, you ought to try to frame questions that might test those observations. And if you then find answers, they should be added, too. If you have not yet done so, at that point you should also indicate pages and lines on which important passages may be found, be they important for framing or answering the questions in the entry or simply important as examples of something that you find striking. Each such reference should be accompanied by a few words indicating your idea of the passage's importance. These ideas, like all ideas in the reading journals, should be thought of as susceptible to revision as discussion, further reflection, and further reading suggest new understandings of individual poems and of literature in general. Entries should be made with very wide margins so that these second thoughts and later cross-references to other works noted in the journal can be made clearly and conveniently. A typical entry, then, will have (a) heading information, (b) a section of comparatively unorganized notes made during reading, and (c) a section of somewhat more organized observations made after reflection and review of the text and of the beginning of the journal entry.

In addition to thoughts on individual works made before, during, and immediately after the reading (and rereading) of each text, the reading journal should also record your more general observations and questions about poetry and your specific discoveries about etymology, allusion, and other extratextual matters. These observations and discoveries may well serve to focus class discussion and/or to lead you to your own paper topics.

By writing in the reading journal, you focus your ideas. Once written, those ideas can be shared and developed with others. At the beginning of each class, you should exchange your journal with a classmate. You should read your classmate's reading journal entries for the material for that day and then make a written response to one or more of those entries. Your response might comment on the virtues or weaknesses of each entry as a self-teaching tool; it might try to offer an answer to one or more of the questions posed; it might pose new questions in relation to the observations presented; and it might try to help in the development of such general ideas as possible paper topics. You should sign clearly the comments you make in your classmate's reading journal. During the course of the semester, you should try to get written comments from as many of your classmates as possible. Each day, after you retrieve your journal and have had a chance to read your classmate's written commentary on your entries, we can begin class discussion of the texts indicated on the syllabus.

This journal should be your record not only for the material listed by title on the syllabus but for all other reading work you do in this course. You should make journal entries here for research you may do in secondary texts to illuminate the poems and for reading you may do to widen your knowledge of a poetic type or an author. You should take your class notes right in the reading journal, too. This makes your own review of your progress in the course easy. Whenever you do review, feel strongly encouraged to write cross-referenced further thoughts in your margins and to add new observations, ideas, and questions wherever they seem appropriate or at the end. Date all such additional entries for reference.

And if you care to try your hand at original poetry, please feel free to include that as well.

Since your reading journal will be read by others, please make sure to write very clearly or to print. Given the nature of the entries, fragment sentences may well be quite reasonable, but illegible words are not. The typical entry for a poem probably should be no more than a handwritten page. You should leave at least a third of a page after each entry both so that your classmate has room to write and so that you have room to jot further notes based on that response and/or on class discussion. I will look over your shoulders and comment on these journals in class each day. When the journals are turned in to me on the last class day of the semester, they should be accompanied by a typed, thoughtful evaluation of the use the journal was to you. Please number the pages in your journal so that your own cross-references can be made easily and so that this self-evaluation can make concrete references to examples in your journal. The self-evaluation should include a suggestion of the reading journal grade you believe you ought to receive and your reasons supporting that belief.
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There will be three papers due for this course, each on a topic you choose, with my help if you wish, within the following scheme: a 2-3 page paper on a single poem (paper 1), a 3-4 page paper on at least two poems (paper 2), and a 4-5 page paper on a single author or a single type of poem (paper 3). Please consult with me as you choose materials about which you intend to write. For the first paper, since you may not yet have a firm sense of yourself as a writer and of our class as an audience, I offer the option of a revision for those papers that seem to me to have been vigorously attempted. If you want to revise, please consult me for approval. Revisions should be submitted with their first evaluated version.

All papers should be headed in the upper-right-hand corner with the name of its writer, the date the paper is due, the course and section numbers, and the total number of words. For the purposes of this course, all pages must be double-spaced. I take a "page" to be between 250 and 300 words, so paper 1 should be 2-3 double-spaced pages and be between 500 and 900 words; paper 2 should be 3-4 double-spaced pages and between 750 and 1200 words; and paper 3 should be 4-5 double-spaced pages and between 1000 and 1500 words. Papers that fall outside the required length and word limits will be penalized, just as fifteen line sonnets would be. We all need to learn to write to fulfill the expectations and demands of given writing situations.

Each paper should aim to enrich the reading of an intelligent senior in the class. This means that through your reading of the poetry, your participation in class discussion, and your secondary researches where appropriate, you should become expert in literary matters that particularly interest you, be they matters of technique, theme, genre, or what have you. For each paper, generate a hypothesis concerning some such matter, or for a set of related matters, concerning at least the poetry we have already read for class. Test the hypothesis against the poem(s) in order to confirm it, modify it, or discard it as necessary. Once you have a hypothesis you believe would be valuable to a classmate who had also read the poem(s) but had happened to be working on other matters, draft your paper so as to present that hypothesis clearly and persuasively. Where appropriate, paraphrase and/or quote from the poem(s). Use page and line references in parentheses. Do not, however, make your paper mere summary. The intelligent senior already knows what happened in the poem(s); you are trying to add to this knowledge by revealing the significance and/or subtlety of the poetry's meaning or technique. Reread your draft with the eyes of a potentially dissenting reader and revise to meet any legitimate objections. Constructing appropriate paper topics is a crucial aspect of your development as a reader and writer. Please feel warmly invited to consult with me as you do this or at any other stage in your research and writing process.
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I regret that experience compels me to deal explicitly with the issue of plagiarism. I endorse the standard definitions: "submitting a piece of work (for example an essay, research paper, assignment, laboratory report) which in part or in whole is not entirely the student's own work without attributing those same portions to their correct source" (LSA Bulletin, 1993-1994, p. 44); "the appropriation or imitation of the language, ideas, and thoughts of another author, and representation of them as one's original work" (Random House Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged edition, 1966). With the exception of knowledge that is demonstrably common (for example, 2 + 2 = 4) or whose source is demonstrably well known (for example, "To be or not to be"), material submitted without citation is normally presumed to have originated with the submitter. Therefore, work or parts of a work submitted without citation will be construed as having been submitted as originating with the submitter. If it appears that uncited work did not originate with the submitter, the work will be turned over to the LSA Academic Judiciary for their determination as to whether or not plagiarism has occurred. The LSA Judiciary exacts diverse penalties for plagiarism, up to and including permanent expulsion from the University. Plagiarism, then, is a deeply serious matter. It strikes at the core values of an institution designed to promote individual achievement in large part through the free and honest exchange of ideas among us all. I welcome all efforts you may make to learn. It is quite normal, for example, to talk with colleagues about one's ideas and to consult such secondary sources as language dictionaries, symbol dictionaries, bibliographies, biographies, concordances, and so on. It is less usual among undergraduates to consult secondary sources such as critical articles, but such consultation is certainly legitimate. However, remember that the aims of the writing assignments are a) to prepare you for class; b) to make you a better reader; c) to make you a better writer; and d) to make your own contribution to the education of the group. In order to achieve those aims, you must do original work.
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The grade for this course will be based on a simple computation: 15% for paper 1, 20% for paper 2, 25% for paper 3, 20% for the reading journal, and 20% for participation (both inside class and, if appropriate, outside class).

I take the grade of C to be "adequate," that is, the work fulfills its purpose with its audience in a manner that is adequate both in form and content. If either the form or content is excellent, that raises the work one letter grade in range; if both are excellent, that raises the work two letter grades in range. If either the form or content is inadequate, that lowers the work one letter grade in range; if both are inadequate, that lowers the work two letter grades in range. Since extended work is rarely of uniform quality in form or content, I adjust grades using pluses and minuses. Since assigning grades to work of the sort required by this course is no simple, mechanical process, I will gladly discuss the grades with you if you like but only within the week after the work has been returned. I will, however, always be willing to discuss your ideas, writing, and literature with you both inside class and in my office.

Obviously the interplay of journal exchange and collaborative give-and-take is impossible for those who are absent. Therefore, for the purposes of arriving at a participation grade, I will take attendance daily. However, mere attendance will not determine the participation grade. Daily attendance is expected; the high quality of one's participation--as questioner, answerer, and listener--is what I most hope to see as we all work together with these rich works of art.
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In reading literature, it is often helpful to have some specific background information. Sources I often use include:

Word Dictionaries

Symbol Dictionaries

Mythology Guides

Quotation Finders

Literature Handbooks

Poetry References

Online Resources

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