FALL 2021

Canadian Ekphrastic Encounters
Seminar Instructor:  Dr. Wanda Campbell

Defined by James Heffernan as “the verbal representation of visual representation” (3) the tradition of ekphrastic poetry (from the Greek for “telling in full”) is a long one, stretching back to Homeric times and enjoying particular popularity among the Romantics and Moderns. In his book entitled Picture Theory, W.J.T. Mitchell asks “How can ekphrasis be the name of a minor poetic genre and a universal principle of poetics? The answer lies in the network of ideological associations embedded in the semiotic, sensory and metaphysical oppositions that ekphrasis is supposed to overcome” (156). By looking at ekphrastic poems by a number of Canadian poets including Stephanie Bolster, Anne Carson, Anne Compton, Michael Ondaatje, Armand Ruffo, Susan Glickman and Anne Simpson, we will explore how the traditional triangle of conversation between the experience of artist, poet, and reader is extended to even more voices, a polyphony that challenges navigation and draws attention to the breakdown of hierarchical binaries by exposing the mind at work through the transformative power of metaphor.  Often the poet is responding not only to the work of art, but also to the myth or event that triggered the art, and students will be challenged to lay bare the palimpsest and work to untangle various webs of connection.

Six American Poets and the Question of Confessional Poetry
Seminar Instructor:  Dr. Lisa Narbeshuber

In this blended seminar, we will study the poetry of six modern American poets who have in common their so-called confessional tendencies: Robert Lowell, Allen Ginsberg, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Adrienne Rich, and Sharon Olds. Given their emphasis on self-exploration, one of our objectives will be to examine how these poets construct subjectivity in relation to gender, sexuality, social roles and expectations. We will study these poets in the context of political, social, and literary movements of the time, and consider the usefulness of the term “confessional poet” in our analyses. We will also examine the prominent role, the effect, and the purpose of taboo and profane material in art.


Contented Couplings? Marriage in Shakespeare's Rom-Coms
Seminar Instructor: Dr. Jessica Slights

This seminar invites students to consider representations of marriage in six of Shakespeare’s most popular romantic comedies. We will explore how these plays at once draw on and resist the conventional trope of heterosexual marriage as symbolic of the achievement of personal happiness, religious piety, political stability, and social regeneration. Reading the plays alongside early modern letters, sermons, and conduct books, and informed by the work of modern historians and literary scholars, we will discuss such specific topics as courtship and elopement; child/parent relations; interracial and interethnic relationships; the legal and economic implications of marriage for women; marital discord and spousal abuse; and early modern alternatives to marriage, including singleness, monastic life, and widowhood.

The Literature of Sensibility and the Cultural Politics of Emotion, 1740-1800
Seminar Instructor: Dr. Stephen Ahern

Often called “the Age of Sensibility,” the later eighteenth century was a time when polite society in Britain became preoccupied with feeling as a basis for human knowledge, as a force for social cohesion, as a moral good. But by the end of the century, the ideals of sensibility were often seen as more affected than affecting. Why this abrupt change in taste?  Did the aesthetic features and political implications of the sentimental worldview doom it from the start to critique and parody? If so, why is sentimentality still a dominant mode in Anglo-American culture? In this seminar course we’ll address these and other questions as we read key examples of the literature of sensibility. We’ll consider the generic conventions and thematic concerns of the verse, fiction, and drama of the period, to build an account of literary sentimentalism. We’ll also investigate the models of affective agency promoted by social reformers, politicians, moral philosophers, and essayists, always with a critical eye to how the cultural politics of emotion have real world material impacts, significant then as now.