This course ponders when, how, and why American poets begin to write “modernist” verse. We will begin by looking at different kinds of “vernacular modernism” that emerge around 1910 (Imagism, the Chicago School, Robert Frost) and examine a later figure who extends and complicates this mode (Langston Hughes). Poetry, these various figures believed, should be written in a language as close to everyday American speech as possible. Not everyone agreed. We will look at two other kinds of 1910s modernism that questioned whether an “everyday,” “common,” and “natural” language was anything other than a populist fiction: first, Gertrude Stein’s and Mina Loy’s avant-garde verse and, second, the oblique allusive ironic style pioneered by T.S. Eliot in Prufrock and Other Observations. After a survey of several of the ambitious “high modernists” who dominate the 1920s (Moore, Pound, Stevens, Williams), we will spend several days concentrating on the most
famous modernist poem, T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land.” How did this one peculiar poem end up symbolizing a generation and an era?