Allen Ginsberg and the Postwar Avant-Garde
Tony Trigilio, Columbia College Chicago
Rather than read Allen Ginsberg exclusively as a Beat Generation writer, this seminar will study Ginsberg as a poet immersed in the major avant-garde movements of the postwar United States. Ginsberg’s most well-known poem, “Howl,” seemed to come out of nowhere in 1956, and it shook up the twentieth-century poetry establishment to such a degree that the poem often is seen as evidence that Ginsberg’s experimental poetics emerged in isolation. However, Ginsberg’s work is situated in a constellation of experimental poetries from his era. After a brief examination of Ginsberg’s avant-garde precursors, we will discuss the texts and contexts of Ginsberg’s relationship with postwar experimentalists, including but not limited to the Black Mountain School, the Confessional Poets (not necessarily experimental now, though they were exemplars of a radical subjectivity in the early years of Ginsberg’s career), the New York School, and the Language Poets.
Poets Without Borders
Srikanth Reddy, University of Chicago
Though we frequently think of poets as icons of their national literary traditions —Walt Whitman, for example, is often read as the 19th-Century’s self-styled “voice of America”—few vocations have entailed more border-crossing, displacement, and exile than that of the poet. In this course, we will study three writers who make their art out of a “transnational” movement, rather than settled forms of citizenship or native residence. Reading the work of Elizabeth Bishop, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, and Kamau Brathwaite, we will consider some ways in which the crossing of geographical, political, or cultural borders provides a model for the imaginative work of poetry itself in our modern historical moment.
The “Race” of the Harlem Renaissance from Right to Left
Tim Libretti, Northeastern Illinois University
The protagonist of James Weldon Johnson’s iconic work of the Harlem Renaissance The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man declares at one point, “Between people in like stations of life there is very little difference over the world.” This statement exemplifies what David Levering Lewis identifies as the fundamental credo the Talented Tenth, “that the assimilated, cultured Afro-Saxon was every whit the equal of his ‘Nordic’ counterpart.” For many of the major intellectuals and writers of the Harlem Renaissance, class was a much fairer index of cultural and social difference than race, as they championed solidarity of the elite classes across racial lines. Of course, other major writers such as Langston Hughes, Sterling Brown, DuBois, and Nella Larsen identified African-American culture as a working-class culture and both aesthetically and politically favored a working-class radical vision. Indeed, the Harlem Renaissance can hardly be understood as a unified cultural movement; rather it is best characterized as a moment contested in both aesthetic and political terms, with various factions defining race and culture quite differently and imagining the road to racial (and class) liberation in radically divergent ways. In this colloquium, we will explore the Harlem Renaissance’s divided politics of race, class, gender, and sexuality by considering shorter works and poetry by such writers as Langston Hughes, Sterling Brown, Zora Neale Hurston, George Schuyler, Alain Locke, and others.