Faculty of Arts


Modern Poetry: Making it New

Please note: this is archived course information from 2018 for ENGLISH 222.


"On or about December 1910", according to Virginia Woolf, "human character changed".  Like Ezra Pound with his famous dictum "Make it new!", Woolf spoke for a generation of artists and writers who were subverting traditional forms, reimagining genre boundaries and foregrounding the conditions of art-making and writing. Henceforth, a poem might find itself in a sculpture court, a cabaret or a little magazine. A reading might consecrate or burn down its theatre of operations. A flow of language acts might look like prose on a page or a typographical vortex whirling off into space. When you break up the world and remake its fragments, new possibilities open and old hierarchies are levelled.

Today, whenever we read, write, watch or listen to contemporary poetry, we are embracing and transforming the consequences of that Modernist moment, responding to acts of poetic provocation now more than a hundred years old. 

This course takes transformation as its theme and a selection of influential Modernist works from the 1910s and 1920s as its textual focus. We will investigate Gertrude Stein’s seriously playful Tender Buttons, Hilda Doolittle’s time-travelling Sea Garden and Lola Ridge’s Sydney-based Sun-Up. We will explore TS Eliot’s ruinous Waste Land, William Carlos Williams’ ecstatic Spring and All and William Butler Yeats’ searing political poems. We will read Imagist, Futurist, Dada and Surrealist proclamations (and an unpublished feminist manifesto) to map some of the possibilities for avant-garde poetry. We will consider the lasting impact on English language poetries of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus and Federico Garcia Lorca’s Poet in New York. We will take Virginia Woolf’s letter-press Kew Gardens, illustrated by her sister Vanessa Bell, as a supreme example of the modern prose poem. We will hear black Harlem find its voice in the poems of Langston Hughes’ first collection, The Weary Blues. And finally we will attempt to answer the question of Modernist legacies by marvelling at Ern Malley’s Darkening Ecliptic, that most celebrated work of Australian Modernism, a hoax that has become an enduring community project.

We like physical books and we like digital resources. We think Modernism is one of the most exciting developments for poetry in the 20th and 21st centuries. We know there have never been so many ways of accessing the textual and contextual treasures of the period. We aim to put as many of them as possible into play in order to reveal the richness and connectivity of the poet’s world, building from fragment to mosaic to sequence to epic.

View the course syllabus

Availability 2018

Semester 2


Lecturer(s) Professor Michele Leggott
Professor Helen Sword


English 222 Modern Poetry: Making It New. Course Reader.

Gertrude Stein, Tender Buttons: Objects, Food, Rooms. Facsimile edition. City Lights, 2014.

Lola Ridge, Sun-Up: A Poem. Facsimile edition. English, Drama and Writing Studies, 2015.

TS Eliot, The Waste Land. Facsimile Edition. Liverwright Classics, 2013 or WW Norton & Co, 2015.

William Carlos Williams, Spring and All. Facsimile edition. New Directions, 2011.

William Butler Yeats, Easter 1916 and Other Poems. Dover Thrift Edition, 1997.


100% coursework


ENGLISH 222: 15.0 points


30 points at Stage I in English

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