Classes on Modernist Literature

Hey everyone! Since the semester is coming to a close, I know all of us are working to make our next semester schedules. While doing this, I saw a class that may interest a lot of you. As you know, this class deals with Modernist poetry, so if you have been interested in the Modernist movement, this might be a fun class to take. I’m not sure if the screen-cap will show up, but the class is called: The Modern Novel: Dysfunctional Families and Unspeakable Desires. I’ll paste the course description below:

“The Modern Novel: Dysfunctional Families and Unspeakable Desires”: The twentieth-century novel seems haunted by dysfunctional families and unspeakable desires. Our class explores landmark novels that have come to define literary Modernism, with works featuring a disastrous Christmas dinner with screaming family members; an undergraduate from Mississippi obsessed with his sister; an anxious evening wondering if Mommy would kiss her son before bedtime; a man preferring bondage to marriage. We will analyze some of the literary techniques that characterize the Modernist novel (stream-of-consciousness, interior monologue, psychological realism, narrative fragmentation, among others), and we will address the many desires and intimacies that Modernist writers located upon the family, even as their protagonists sought to escape from it. We will explore these issues across a range of texts, most which remain enormously popular among that fabled figure Virginia Woolf called “the common reader.” Authors we will read include Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, William Faulkner, Marcel Proust, Franz Kafka, Samuel Beckett, Joseph Conrad.

I instantly signed up when the description revealed we’d be reading Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury” (and even if you don’t take that class, I recommend this book), and overall it seems like a really interesting class that could offer more insight into the Modernist literary movement.

The class meets every Tuesday & Thursday from 2pm- 3.20pm, so if you need another class or this seems interesting to you, I recommend signing up before all the spaces close up!

EDIT:  The CRN for this class is 3415, in case you were wondering!!

– Victoria Shelton
*click on the picture to enlarge.


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Abortion and Brooks in the 1940s

Hi everyone, Brittany Kane here! Did some informal research today after class and thought I’d share…

After the discussion of Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem “The Mother” today in class, I was curious about societal ideas of abortion at the time of the publication of “A Street in Bronzeville” so naturally I came home and googled it (if Google can actually be used as a verb now…) and what I found actually surprised me. It is interesting that Brooks was writing about abortion and publishing it at this time, because maternal death rates from abortion dropped between 1940 and 1945 due to the development of antibiotics. This, as I could imagine, most likely increased the number of abortions occurring at the time, however since abortion was not yet legalized (Roe vs. Wade in 1967 solved that problem, legalizing it due to its medical nature) the number of abortions is hard to estimate, as many were not reported.
This is interesting because without this development of antibiotics Gwendolyn Brooks may not have been able to witness the emergence of abortion from its former botched-basement-experiment style in which they so commonly took place, and the beginning of abortion as a refined medical procedure. Thus, “The Mother” could potentially have never existed had abortion not become safer, and thus more prevalent in the 1940s.
In addition, this also changes my perception of the “you” within the poem, as well as the concept and understanding of what Brooks may have meant when referring to multiple aborted children, children already born, and the audience to which the “I” and “you” are meant to reference. Brooks could be speaking about and to this emerging number of women aborting children in the 1940s, as well as the collective that is made up of their children, both born and aborted. Lines such as “You remember the children you got that you did not get,/The damp small pulps with a little or with no hair,/The singers and workers that never handled the air” seem more grand to me when put into this context, making her poem seem more of a nursery rhyme/outcry/sighing account of the emerging popularity of abortion due to the “safety” that seemed to be attached to it once antibiotics were able to help with maternal recovery.
Just some food for thought…

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Cinema and the Early Modernists

Hey everyone, I figured the blog could use a tiny break from poetry to talk about the modernists outside of the poets we have been looking at.  Dr. McDonald pointed me in the direction of doing a post about film in relation to the modernist/avant garde artists of the early 20th century so I did some digging and found some interesting stuff.

As a film student, I have had to watch, rewatch, and rerewatch a lot of early films.  A majority of the pieces that came out around the turn of the century were deadpan representations of real life at 24 frames per second (It was actually 16 frames/sec but the other thing I said is just a famous quote).  These pieces by todays standards are dreadfully boring, however one must consider the mindset of somebody a century ago watching real life be recorded and played back over and over and over – to them that shit was mind-blowing.  People were reported to be fainting at early screening of the Lumiere Brothers’ Arrival of a Train at La Coitat because they thought it would actually hit them. (That may just be a film teacher embellishment – but the point stands that people where blown away)

Films continued along this route until a man named Georges Melies came onto the scene and changed everything.   Melies was a magician that was intrigued by the marvel of the moving picture and disappointed by it’s mishandling.  He believed that film, like all media, is a means of escape, a portal to the imagination.  He began making pieces that explored the depths of the oceans and the surface of the moon.

The moon is displeased.

His films gave movies a bigger picture.  Movies could alter time and space, movies could show varying perspectives, movies could do anything, show anything, be literally anything.  This struck a cord with a young artist named Pablo Picasso.  The concept of a moving picture was the basis of the cubist mindset and therefore inextricably linked to film.  Many of Picasso’s earliest pieces were influenced or representative of scenes from films of his time.  Picasso’s famous Demoiselles d’Avignon was directly influenced by Loie Fullers Serpentine Dancers 



As a cubist, Picasso’s goal was to create a new understanding of the image a hand.  He broke each of the five working girls into shapes with varying points of depth.  This is a cinematic technique – altering the depth of field to rearrange the focus and meaning of an image or to create an illusion of depth within the frame to build a unique perspective is a trick of the eye that jumped from film to painting in the early 20th century.  Furthermore the illusion of movement was an innovation unique to film at the time.  Marcel Duchamp drew inspiration from this and created movement within a painting with his nude Descending a Staircase numbers 1 & 2.

*not actually what women from 1912 looked like

All joking aside, that is beautiful.  Duchamp’s vision made waves in its day.  This was revolutionary.  With this the cubists powered forward for a decade.  Artist like Braque, Leger, Gris, and many more continued to push the boundaries of art.  They were able to make people question the fundamental foundations of art appreciation and understanding.  I suspect that Williams and the Objectivists (not the Ayn Rand superconservative kind) drew heavily from the philosophy of cubism.

Later in the movement (around 1920) the surrealists got to their feet.  Artists like Dali, Breton, and Ernst took ideas and philosophies from cubism and adapted them to their own works.  Dali’s use of perspective was nothing short genius.  Masson experimented with antiart and automatic drawings.  Ernst expanded the work of de Chirco (who used altered perspective and surrealistic environments and chiaroscuro – another technique used in film although its roots go back further than the origin of the moving picture).  The  surrealists and Dadaists really built upon the cubists and therefore they built upon film.

Together with Luis Bunuel, Salvador Dali created a film called Un Chien Andalou (an Andalusian Dog).  They penned the script together using Freudian psychology and agreed that the film would have no discernable plot or theme.  This film have been considered to be on of the most influential pieces of cinema of all time (Roger Ebert rip).


So here we 30 years into film and artists are already looking at the medium and deciding that fundamental change is needed.  It is artists like Picasso, Dali, Warhol, Melies, and beyond that look at a medium and decide that what is there just isn’t good enough, just isn’t stretching to its fullest potential.  Artist like this are what is needed in the world today.  To some extent a few filmmakers are working within the system and inspiring real change.  A select few filmmakers have had to chutzpah to tell hollywood that “good enough” is never good enough.  Without film we would not have had cubism (probably) and without cubism surrealism may not have happened.  Without surrealists who knows what films would be today (more trains arriving at the station maybe).

Please let me know if you have any info about this in the comments or if you know a really good experimental piece, that’d be cool too.  Also I will leave you with this:

This has something to do with film…I think…

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Some Niedecker and Objectism Research

I may sound weird for this, but I have taken a liking to Lorine Niedecker’s poetry since we have been discussing it, and I decided to do a little reading up on her to try to bring further understanding to the movements that inspired her, which led to more research on what is described as objectivist poetry.
Niedecker’s biography from (it’s relatively short, I recommend reading it states that she was most heavily influenced in her early work by Imagist and Objectivist poets, one of which included was Ezra Pound, who we have also read, which intrigued me in regards to the actual definition of the objectivist movement, because I feel as though it is one of those things that seems self-explanatory and universally known, but specificities are overlooked, as well as the impact of the movement. I figured that knowing more about the movements surrounding Niedecker’s poetry would be interesting, so here is what I found for those who are interested:
The Britannica Encyclopedia defines objectivism as: “Objectivism, the theory or practice of objective art or literature. The term was used by the poet William Carlos Williams in the 1930s to describe a movement in which emphasis was placed on viewing poems as objects that could be considered and analyzed in terms of mechanical features. According to Williams, this meant examining the structural aspects of the poem and considering how it was constructed”. So in essence, I interpreted this to be referring to exactly how we analyze poetry today, by considering not only the words and ideas on the page, but also the decisions for layout, line break, appearance, and grammatical structure made by the author with intentions of affecting or accentuating meaning in their verse.
This movement of poets it seems, focused even more heavily upon that aspect, interweaving their structure and meaning into a solitary work of literary art. Pound’s goal for objectivist and imagist poetry was to have an author “compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in the sequence of the metronome” (taken from his biography on, found here:,which to me means to compose poetry freely, allowing the poem to dictate the underlying structural aspects of the words on the page, rather than writing to a specific style or format, which would limit the possibilities of the structure’s relationship to the words.
As related to Niedecker, the objectivist movement is apparent in her earlier poems, such as “There’s a better shine”, which reads:
There’s a better shine
on the pendulum
than is on my hair
and many times
• • • •
I’ve seen it there. (from New Goose, 1945)

The most apparent aspect to me that relates to objectivism is her use of the four dots, or bullet points, to separate the last two lines of the poem. Rather than following what tradition would dictate to break the lines, just a simple line break, she chose to utilize those four dots. Thus, the four dots generate meaning in themselves, as well as in relation to the poem. But why? And why at that point in the poem? And how does it affect the reading of the poem, the viewing? These are all questions that would be raised when objectively viewing and analyzing the poem, as they deal with the aftermath of structural decisions made by the poet, not by the content of the poem. In addition, one could objectively view the impact of having the lines “than is on my hair” and “I’ve seen it there” rhyme, and why that may positively or negatively impact the experience of the reader.
Hopefully I will be able to bring this up in class tomorrow, as I feel like it is important to recognize the Niedecker was a part of the movement that shaped and helped to develop how we analyze poetry today, let alone the way in which we have been analyzing much of the poetry this semester.

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Group 3 – Lorine Niedecker, “Paean to Place”


Photo: a young Lorine Niedecker

Lorine Niedecker: Poet of Place. So reads the website banner dedicated to the writer. It seems fitting with the title of the poem we are currently studying, “Paean to Place”. Apparently, Niedecker was known for her “poetry of place”, the body of work she created in seclusion on the island she called home, Blackhawk Island in Wisconsin. An island practically swallowed by water, as it rests in the middle of Rock River.

Blackhawk Island is the place of Niedecker’s birth. Her mother’s family owned a chunk of the Island’s land and a resort called the Fountain House Hotel. Niedecker’s father was a fisherman, particularly for carp. After Niedecker’s birth, her mother became deaf, ill, and closed-off from the family, and her father began a lengthy affair with a fellow Blackhawk Islander. Her parents’ marriage was strained, which eventually resulted in separate homes.


Photo: Lorine Niedecker on BlackHawk Island

As Professor Mcdonald previously mentioned in class, “Paean to Place” is autobiographical. Weaved into the poem’s alliteration and repetitive sounds is the tale of her parents and of where all three members of this family came from. The poem begins:

 And the place

was water





   Water lily mud

My life


in leaves and on water

My mother and I


in swale and swamp and sworn

to water


My father

thru marsh fog

I believe the poem’s beginning sets the stage for its entirety. “Paean to Place” revolves around water, around the life that inhabits it or grows on it’s banks. “Fish, fowl, flood” crops up throughout the poem, in the repetitive mentions of types of fish (“carp”, “minnows”, “pickerel”), birds, particularly water fowl, (“canvasbacks”, “sora”, “hummingbird”, “plover”, “woodcock”), and the use of water language (“swale”, “swamp”, “seined”, “netted”, “anchored”, “shore”, “wade”, and the reoccurrence of “water” and “flood” themselves).


Photo: Carp

At Niedecker’s mention of where she and her parents were from, I couldn’t help but ponder that maybe she was comparing them to these animals. It is a stretch, but bear with me. Being “sworn to water” could only make one a fish. (Faulkner would be proud. “My mother is a fish”. See As I Lay Dying. Haha, literary humor). And Niedecker’s father, “thru marsh fog / sculled down / from high ground” leaves me with the image of a water bird flying from the sky and skimming across the surface of lake water. (And then honestly all I can think about is The Notebook where Rachel McAdams is screaming, “Say I’m a bird!”)


Photo: Canvasback duck

Anyway, while the rest of the poem doesn’t exactly support this reading, seeing as the father character is connected to fish language and the mother character to that of birds, I thought it was interesting considering the different worlds from which Niedecker’s parents actually came from. Maybe this is how she saw her parents, in a metaphorical sense. Birds and fish are two completely different creatures, and while they may dwell in the same space, they can never assimilate into each other’s worlds. Hence the demise of the Niedecker family.

I think what’s important to note is that we all got a different impression from “Paean to Place”. We saw mermaids and sacrifice, and objects spiraling into water. The sound and punctuation lent different movements of the poem for different people – it was fluid, it was choppy, slow or fast. What does that say about this poem? And what about the tone… I felt sad reading it. Sad in the ways one would feel about their family, a longing for normalcy and perfection that most of us don’t have when it concerns out parents. And yet we still yearn for it. The tone contrasts with the title, “paean”, a song of joy. I didn’t feel joy. Only sadness.

On a side note, I have a small obsession with names, and when I saw “Lorine”, I had to look it up. Turns out one of its meanings is “the bay”. Interesting. Niedecker really was, from birth, a part of the water. A part of a place.

-Bekah Smith


Images found on Google.

Websites consulted –

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Speaking of Poetry Events…

So, this is just a brief post. 

This Thursday, April 25th, at the Arts Garage, there’s an open mic/poetry competition-esque event, starting at 7PM. If you’re going to participate, it’s free, but if not, it’s $10. It’s supposed to be really cool and fun. I also will be participating, and I figured you guys would appreciate the invite. Just an idea. 

So, let me know if you want to go or if you have questions! Thanks guys! 



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The Curious Typo – “Property of Pigeons” – Mina Loy


Many of us received the photocopied PDF of The Last Lunar Baedeker from Professor McDonald. In the sepia-colored copy, one stanza in the poem “Property of Pigeons” read as follows:

where caressive dusts,

the residue of furnaces

upholster the gossamer

festoons of interstate spiders

for nuptial furniture 

Sounds good and all. The problem was that not all of us read from the same edition, and upon our usual daily analysis of Modern poetry, one student came across something peculiar: the absence of one letter, an “R”. A typo? Her copy read “intestate” instead of “interstate”. But which copy was right? Which was wrong?

After class that Friday, I journeyed into the stacks of Paley Library to encounter the work of our friend Mina Loy. I pulled The Lost Lunar Baedeker from between its dusty neighbors. (To briefly go off on a tangent, someone should have considered some title variation when it came to Loy’s collections. Another typo could easily occur with Last/Lost. But I digress.) I traced my finger along the inky lines of the Table of Contents. Property of Pigeons, 120. Thumbing through the pages, I found what I was looking for. 




The proof is in the pictures. “Intestate” 2, “interstate” 1. Also, in the back of my copy, the editor provided a nice note on the text, stating:

“I have made several emendations to the [text], based on ML’s (Mina Loy’s) hand-corrected MSS (manuscripts)…which clearly establish her wishes at the time of publication: 44: intestate] interstate”

My curiosity was satisfied. I had found the answer.

But what is so important about a typo anyway? Besides being completely irksome, (I’m a literary nerd; I can’t help it).

In this instance, the typo is crucial because it affects the meaning of the stanza, and perhaps one’s understanding of the poem itself. According to the handy dictionary located on my laptop, “intestate” is an adjective that refers to one who failed to prepare a will before death, while “interstate” is an adjective that means “existing or carried on between states”. So… what are interstate spiders? Intestate spiders?

For me, this section of the poem is meant to describe a house. Loy wrote of “caressive” dust,  filth that lovingly touches everything upon which it lies. There is “the residue of furnaces”, the old remnants of the black coal that burned to warm the home’s inhabitants. And this dust, this residue, is stuck to the mess of cobwebs, to the “gossamer”, which as the dictionary also informs me, is “a fine, filmy substance consisting of cobwebs spun by small spiders”.

This is where the “intestate spiders” come in. The gossamer of the poem came from long-dead spiders, spiders which Loy personifies by likening them to people who die without a will. Like these people, these spiders left their possessions, their gossamers, their “nuptial furniture” to no one, and as a consequence, they languish inside this house. They are forgotten.

A word with a typo, like an added “R” to form “interstate”, just doesn’t have quite the same analytical effect.

Oh, and please excuse my cat Leo in the first photo. He’s a Mina Loy fan as well. I couldn’t resist posting the cuteness.

-Bekah Smith


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