American Poetry: Comparing Selected "Native" Poetic Voices
Fall 2003


English 3342-001 American Poetry
Instructor: Dr. Roemer Office Hrs.: T/TH 2:30-3; MW by apt., 405/203 Carlisle
103 Preston Please schedule appointments in advance; indicate your phone #.
T/TH 12:30-1:50 Phone: 817-272-2729


This is not a survey of American poetry. If you are interested in a survey, begin by consulting Jay Parini and Brett C. Millier's The Columbia History of American Poetry (1993), the poetry essays in Emory Elliott's Columbia Literary History of the United States (1988) and the multiple volumes of Sacvan Bercovitch's Cambridge History of American Literature, and recent anthologies such as Allen Mandelbaum and Robert D. Richardson's Three Centuries of American Poetry (1999) and Cary Nelson's Anthology of Modern American Poetry (2000). You can find an introduction to the ways the American poetry canon has changed at my Web site Covers, Titles, and Tables: The Formations of American Literary Canons (<>).

The basic question "behind" this course is: what happens when we juxtapose selected poems by two of the best-known American poets (Whitman and Dickinson) and selected examples of Native American oral and written poetic performances? To be more specific: How do the juxtapositions change or reinforce our views of Whitman and Dickinson and the Native poets? How do the pairings: reflect processes of canonization and exclusion; affect our concepts of "poetry" and the "poet"; and suggest the power of cross-cultural and "within"-culture poetic "influence"? By the completion of the course, I hope that each student will be able to address these questions with regard to the poets examined as well as to other poets they admire.

I divided the course into two interrelated sections. The first pairs Whitman's "Song of Myself" and "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry" with selections from Washington Matthew's translation of the Navajo Nightway. Although Whitman was fascinated by chant forms and briefly worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, he did not know Matthews' translation, which appeared after the poet's death in 1902; and, to my knowledge, no Navajo singers knew of Whitman's poetry. Hence the basis of comparison is not "influence." Rather the many similarities in form and the numerous differences in function raise the questions stated above, especially about what a poem "is" and "does." The second part of the course does include the issue of influence, though not necessarily Harold Bloom's concept of "the anxiety of influence." Dickinson influenced Momaday; Momaday influenced Ortiz; Ortiz influenced Harjo; and all three Native poets knew parts of Matthews' translation.

In some ways this course is cutting edge; in others it is old fashioned. The cutting part reflects the current interests in "comparativist" American Studies, in canon formation, and in ethnic studies. All these trends are expressed in Kenneth Lincoln's book Sing with the Heart of a Bear: Fusions of Native and American Poetry, 1899-1999 (2000). The old fashioned part will be reflected in our classroom focus on "close readings" of individual poems, although our readings will differ from "New Critical" readings, since we will be placing our readings within biographical, cultural, and historical contexts. In your research paper you can be as new or old fashioned as you please, though I will expect you to be able to justify your approach(es). (See "Paper" below.)
REQUIRED READINGS (The books are available at the UTA Bookstore; the course packet (CP) at Bird's Copy Ctr., 208 S. East Street, near the Post Office

"Poetic Forms and Literary Terminology, " Norton Anthology: English Literature (handout)
Matthews / Bierhorst, Night Chant (handout)
Whitman, Leaves of Grass (Norton Critical Ed.) We will focus only on "Song of Myself" and "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry."
Dickinson / Johnson, The Final Harvest: Emily Dickinson's Poems
Momaday, In the Presence of the Sun ; also selections from The Gourd Dancer and In The Bear's House (in CP); Momaday Web site (see below)
Schubnell, "Momaday's Poetry" in N. Scott Momaday (189-254) (on reserve in the UTA Central Library)
Ortiz, Woven Stone
Harjo, She Had Some Horses; also selections from Secrets from the Center of the World, In Mad Love and War, The Woman Who Fell from the Sky, and A Map of the Next World (in CP)
Course packet of short readings (designated as CP)


Introduction to the Course and to How We Define Poetry 8/26

Reading: "Poetic Forms and Literary Terminology" The degrees to
which this standard introduction to poetic forms is and is not
relevant to the texts examined in this class will be used as
catalysts for our discussion of how we define "poetry."

Note: The reading assignments are short at the beginning of the
semester. This would be a good time to decide: (1) which Dickinson
poem you would like us to discuss; and (2) what your
paper topic might be.

Crossing Over Chantways: Songs of Self and HÛzhÛ (Whitman & The Nightway)

Readings: Matthews / Bierhorst, Night Chant (handout); Map & 8/28, 9/2,4,9
Diagrams, Witherspoon, Faris, Roemer, "Nightway
Questions" (all in CP)
Viewing: By This Song I Walk

Readings: Whitman, "Song of Myself" and "Crossing Brooklyn
Ferry," Emerson, "The Poet" (CP) 9/11,16,18
Readings: Whitman and Nightway Compared -- Implications 9/23, 25

Decide which Dickinson poem you would like discussed before 9/30
(Indicate your selection in writing.)

First Examination (Nightway & Whitman) 9/30



Emily and Her Native Offspring (Dickinson, Momaday, Ortiz, Harjo)

Emily Dickinson
Readings: Dickinson / Johnson, Final Harvest; also Lincoln
(compares Dickinson to Sitting Bull) & Miller (in CP) 10/2,7,19,14, 16
Second Examination: Dickinson 10/21

Introduction to Poetry in English by American Indians 10/23
Reading: Maddox (CP)

Work on Paper 10/28,30

N. Scott Momaday
Reading: In the Presence of the Sun; also Momaday
selections in CP; also Schubnell "Momaday's Poetry"
(on reserve UTA Library); also the Momaday entry included
on <> . [10/23],11/4,

Simon Ortiz
Readings: Ortiz, Woven Stone; Scarberry-Garcia (CP) 11/ 11,13,28, [20]

Paper Due 11/25

Joy Harjo
Readings: Harjo, She Had Some Horses; also Harjo
selections in CP; also Wilson's "Joy Harjo" (handout) 11/ [20], 25,
12/2, [4}

Review for Exam 12/4

Final Exam (Momaday, Ortiz, and Harjo) 12/11, 11 am


Each of the three exams will consist of two sections: a closed-book, short-answer section; and an open-book essay section. Typically part two will include two types of essays. One will focus on a series of interrelated questions about one poem or part of one poem. The other will be a question related to the issues raised in the second paragraph of the "Nature and Goals" section of this syllabus. Grading criteria: I am particularly interested in the logic, support, and focus of your arguments. I expect you to support claims with specific relevant examples from the poems and to direct all your arguments to the question asked. The class before the exam I distribute detailed study guides. I use a "blind" grading procedure, i.e., I do not know who I am grading as I grade.


Approximate length: 2500 words (about ten, double-spaced pages). Although we stress a comparative approach in this course, your paper can, if you wish, concentrate on an important aspect of one poet, and you are free to adopt whatever critical or theoretical approach you deem most appropriate for your analysis (provided you can justify your approach).

Criteria: your paper should demonstrate your ability to: (1) select a focus, argument, and approach that you can justify as being significant and (in the case of the approach) appropriate; (2) integrate intelligently your own ideas and the ideas of relevant critics; (3) support arguments adequately and organize them in logical and convincing ways; (4) present you arguments in an engaging fashion; (5) submit a final draft that is not marred by "mechanical" problems (e.g., typos or spelling, punctuation, and grammar problems). Your focus should be influenced by the length requirement. Too broad a focus invites superficiality. An overly narrow focus can invite repetition and pose problems in defining the significance of the topic. Discuss your paper topic with me well before mid-November.

Those of you who select Whitman or Dickinson can survey the scholarship for your topic by first consulting James Woodress's Eight American Authors, revised ed., which covers the scholarship through 1970. Then you can survey the relevant parts of the Dickinson or Whitman sections of each of the annual American Literary Scholarship Volumes. The advantage of these sources is that they offer descriptions and evaluations of the articles, chapters, and books. These can be supplemented with surveys of the Walt Whitman Quarterly and the Emily Dickinson Journal, and of Whitman and Dickinson bibliographies and critical / reference works such as The Emily Dickinson Handbook. For the American Indian poets, begin with relevant sections of Norma Wilson's Native American Poetry, Kenneth Lincoln's Sing with the Heart of a Bear, Robin Fast's The Heart as a Drum, and the relevant essays and bibliographies in Kenneth Roemer's Native American Writers of the United States and A. La Vonne Ruoff's American Indian Literatures. Another good beginning point is Studies in American Indian Literatures (SAIL ). And of course there are a variety of other web and home pages and listservs. The UTA Library offers a valuable resource: the Minority Cultures Collection on the second floor. I require the MLA format for the paper. Except for documented emergencies, I do not accept late papers.


Class discussion is important. This is a cooperative enterprise. Hence class attendance is important. Professors are not permitted to drop students for excessive absences; however, in this class for every five unexcused absences, the semester grade drops by a half grade. If you withdraw from the course, please follow Graduate School deadlines and University policies. Otherwise your transcript will be graced with an F. Plagiarism and other forms of academic dishonesty will be handled according to University policies. For a good definition of various types of plagiarism, see the "Writer's Responsibility" section of the Graduate School's Web site <> .


Each of the exams (20%); the research paper (40%). Improvement and consistent class participation can raise the semester grade. Also I am very willing to work with students with disabilities. At the beginning of the semester, these students should provide me with documentation authorized by the appropriate University office. Students needing academic or personal counseling should contact the Office of Student Success Programs (817-272-6107).