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Martin Kevorkian, Chair CAL 226, Mailcode B5000, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-4991

Fall 2008

E 376M • African-American Poetry and Poetics: Language, Music, Performance

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
35470 TTh
3:30 PM-5:00 PM
PAR 204

Course Description

Surfacing in gospel, the plantation song, the dozens, the blues, jazz, and hip-hop, poetry is an integral element in black expressive culture. In this course, we will examine the poetics of African American verse, focusing on its linguistic schemes, its dialogues with music, and its arguments for black culture and aesthetics. We will pose the questions: What formal innovations and complications lie at the crossroads of poetry and musical performance? How do African American writers engage language in ways that go beyond the page, and what are the politics of writing in dialect and vernacular? In what ways and at whose expense are arguments for a black literary tradition made? The course material covers a broad spectrum of African American poets, asking how they engage broader traditions in American letters as well as those of black expression. In particular, we will compare poets rendering experiences of slavery from both historical and contemporary perspectives, study poets who play with language and dialect to create aesthetic arguments, and explore the influence of the blues form and hip-hop culture in contemporary black verse.

Grading Policy

15% Response papers (1-2 pages)
25% Comparative study (5-7 pages)
5% Formal analysis proposal and revision (1-2 pages)
25% Formal analysis (5-7 pages)
15% Student-led discussion
15% Attendance and participation


The Vintage Book of African American Poetry, Eds. Michael S. Harper and Anthony Walton
Paul Laurence Dunbar, Lyrics of Lowly Life
Elizabeth Alexander, American Sublime
Lucille Clifton, Quilting
Natasha Trethewey, Bellocq's Ophelia
Tyehimba Jess, Leadbelly
Cornelius Eady, You Don't Miss Your Water
Ntozake Shange, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf
Saul Williams, The Dead Emcee Scrolls
Harryette Mullen, Sleeping with the Dictionary


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