English, 2017 curriculum - Free topic 4: Contemporary Experimental Poetry + Oscar Wilde and Aestheticism

Course content

Contemporary Experimental Poetry

This course looks at experimental poetry in the wake of T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. Since their innovations a hundred years ago much poetry has been written to push their experiments further. Such poetry is difficult, not only to understand but even to read. The purpose of this course is to teach students how to look at poetry while also voicing it and hearing it. Experimental poetry is named thus chiefly because of two characteristics: first, that it has little regards for traditional metre, and, second, that its layout is an obstacle to voicing. To appreciate such poetry it is necessary to read with the eyes as well as with the ears, or—otherwise expressed—to see with the eyes, not only to read with them.

Among the topics to be considered and questions asked:

Gender: women have played an important part in this tradition, since Gertrude Stein and H.D.

Genre: at what point does verse cease to be distinct from prose, and what happens to definitions of genres, and their linguistic characteristics, when the borders are made unclear? We will look at terms such as ‘projective’ and ‘conceptual’ verse, ‘concrete poetry’, ‘L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E poetry’ and ‘open field’ composition.

Layout and typography: the importance of layout in verse is not an entirely modern phenomenon, but can be traced back to the Metaphysicals and even earlier. We will look at the links between layout and technology.

Phonetics: what happens to written language that resists being spoken aloud? A question related to layout: how do you voice a space?

Syntax: what happens to words when they are detached from syntax without becoming mere lists? What happens to punctuation when it is no longer in the service of grammar?

Translation: what happens to translation when a text is not in the ‘normal state’ of any one language? This accounts for the international and polyglot character of experimental poetry.

Digital literature: what are the emerging possibilities for verse composed and received on line?


Oscar Wilde and Aestheticism

This course aims to give students an introduction to a broad range of Oscar Wilde’s writings: his poetry, his short fiction, his journalism, his only novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, his plays and his autobiographical De Profundis, written while he was imprisoned in Reading Gaol. Issues such as Hellenism, renaissance revival, new men and women, cosmopolitanism and the complex interrelationship between art and life will be discussed, as will Wilde’s ongoing dialogue with the great English writers of the past and the present.

Classes, with particular emphasis on reading primary and secondary texts, oral discussion and developing proficiency in English.

Contemporary Experimental Poetry


  • An anthology from previous courses, preferably the Penguin Book of English Verse, ed. Paul Keegan.  (This will be used for reference to Eliot, Pound and others.)
  • Poems for the Millennium, Volume Two: From Postwar to Millennium, ed. Jerome Rothenberg and Pierre Joris (University of California Press, 1998)
  • One or two other anthologies will be used. A preliminary list of critical essays will be provided.


Oscar Wilde and Aestheticism


The basic course book will be:

  • The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, introduction by Merlin Holland (London: HarperCollins, 2003) ISBN 0007144350 (ISBN13: 9780007144358)
  • In addition, students are also asked to purchase:
  • Nicholas Frankel (ed.), The Annotated Importance of Being Earnest (Cambridge MA.: Harvard University Press, 2015), ISBN 9780674048980
  • Michael Patrick Gillespie (ed.), Oscar Wilde: The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Norton Critical Edition (New York: Norton, 2006), ISBN: 978-0-393-92754-2
  • Walter Pater, Studies in the History of the Renaissance (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), ISBN: 9780199535071
  • Joris-Karl Huysmans, Against Nature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), ISBN: 9780199555116o
Type of assessment
Criteria for exam assessment


  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 56
  • Preparation
  • 353,5
  • English
  • 409,5