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LIT 6394: Literature of Place: Florida


Class 8: Land and Exploration


Reading Assignment:

    Finish McGrath's Florida Poems
    Snyder, Tallmadge, Oliver, and Rabkin from Alphabet of the Trees (in course docs)
    Garrard's Ecocriticism through chapter 4
    Post #7

Class Objectives:

    Consider McGrath's poems from a variety of perspectives
    Student-led discussion on McGrath (Paul Corrigan and Melissa Carroll)
    Discuss further consideration of ecocriticism via Garrard
    Consideration of nature writing


Notes and Discussion Questions:

Our main focus this week will be the poetry of Campbell McGrath and the evocations of Florida therein. We can draw on the insights from Garrard (and previous theories of place and ecocriticism) to enhance our understanding of the poetry. This week I also introduce some readings on nature writing, which we will begin to take up and consider more thoroughly throughout the next section.

I have assigned the entire collection, Florida Poems which allows us to do several things: first, we get to sample many poems by a single author and so develop a sense of his artistic palate and range.

Second, we can examine the collection itself as a structured work of art, with a beginning, middle and end. For example, what is the effect of framing the collection with a long sequence of poems in "A City in the Clouds" and the final epic-style "The Florida Poem"? How are these appropriate beginnings and endings? What happen in between? Can you identify a trajectory or arc? Can you identify a play of themes or styles? Voices?

Ecocriticism takes up nature poetry with affinity. Place theories seem more attracted to prose narratives. How might some concepts from ecocriticism deepen your understanding of McGrath's poems? For example, is it helpful to think of his poems as environmentally embedded? Do tropes of the pastoral or pollution figure in his representations? Do theories of place help you understand McGrath's rendering of Florida?

Pay attention to McGrath's vocabulary. Look up words that are unfamiliar to you. Words matter. Consider the referentiality versus the symbolism of language-use and describe McGrath's deployment of rhetoric.

Gary Snyder writes: "Truly Excellent Writing... comes to those who have learned, mastered, and passed through conventional Good Usage and Good Writing, and then loop back to the enjoyment and unencumbered playfulness of Naural Language" (3). Would this be an appropriate way to understand McGrath's language use?

McGrath engages with other poets and writers throughout the volume. Choose one (Bartram, Stevens, Bishop, for example) and analyze his treatment of the authors. Is he answering back? Is he in dialogue? Is he incorporating and changing (adapting)? What is the effect?

I am particularly interested in the final poem. What is the controlling question or concern that anchors this long poem?

How would you describe the tone? Does it change throughout the poem? In what ways and at what points?

This is a poem conspicuously engaged with history, which is the traditional subject of epic poems. What history does it tell? What happens in the end? Is this a retreat from history or a revisioning of history? What is the effect?

There are moments of meditation on names, words and themes in the poem, such as the naming of Florida (84). Consider the implications of these meditative moments.

"Another way of conceiving this poem would be / to acknowledge that all of this --- / 16, 17, 18, 19, / even our lovingly eulogized 20th century -- / comprises five hundered years of humid inconsequence" (91). What allows McGrath to make this claim? What is inconsequential?

Would you consider this an environmental poem? If so, how?

Consider the concept of wilderness as a trope of environmental writing. Wilderness plays an important role in the construction of ideas about Florida, of Florida in the literary imagination. What are some of the founding ideas about wilderness? How does Old World wilderness differ from New World? What are some of the challenges to notions of wilderness in ecocriticism? What should we be alert to in the deployment of wilderness rhetoric in the writers we are reading?

What role does wilderness play in McGrath's poetry?


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