Sounds Like Poetry: Song, Slam, and Spoken Word

Spring 2021
Lizzy LeRud
ENGL 1102

Maybe you know a poem when you see one, but how do you know when you've heard one? Poetry is arguably the literary genre that's most interested in sound, but we spend more time looking at it than listening to it. In this class, we will explore the dynamics of spoken sound, especially in those subgenres where sound really matters, like rap, slam poetry, spoken word, and performed poetry of all kinds. Not coincidentally, some of the greatest artists working in these genres are LGBTQIA people of color. How might attending to poetry's sounds help us better understand these artists' work? What else might we learn along the way--about the social and political effects of our longstanding literary biases? This class will challenge you to explore how ideologies of cultural dominance infiltrate conversations that don’t center obviously on race, like the ways our Western classrooms have long taught us to analyze poems first as texts, not embodied speech. As we confront these issues, we will also seek out ways to overcome their ill effects. We will start by turning to the methods of Sound Studies--like close listening, distant listening, and machine-aided listening--to ask what it means to listen critically, attending to pitch, tone, tempo, timbre, stress, rhythm, and more. Our discussions will bring new insight into longstanding debates about art and politics, casting new light on contemporary conversations on race, gender, and sexuality, especially. Assignments will feature oral performance, audio/video projects, and hands-on experiments with sound files, including research with vocal analysis software.

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