Hi Students,

The new syllabus isn’t easy to load, so I’m going to try to paste it here:

Learning Goals

  1. This course follows the argument that there is so much great American literature, even if we merely accept the synecdoche that American literature is written by or for U.S. citizens that we will not be able to survey all of them and have fun conversations about literature and have lives. We are, instead, exploring great works of American literature that give us an opportunity to explore and reflect on the “literaturization” of American experience and national aesthetics.
  2. Capacity to read interpretively in order to attend to imaginative claims on “America,” and over what it means to be a person in several literary genres over different periods of United States literature.
  3. Knowledge of rhetorical conventions (e.g., voice, tone, figures of speech, narration) for thinking about literature in a few genres.
  4. Familiarity with some conventional disciplinary language from literary studies and its use to think about how texts work.
  5. Uses of reading, discussion, informal writing, and out-of-class essay writing as opportunities to discover one’s own interpretive ideas in conversation with the ideas of others.
  6. Produce critical and creative compositions.
  7. Communicate complex ideas to a public audience.
W 1/31 The Invitation: Syllabus and Trickster tale
Homework: Comp book, journal about breathing, read Whitman
W 2/7 Song of Myself and Intro to Leaves of Grass
  Homework: Exquisite Corpse Revision
W 2/14 Emerson, “Nature,” and “Experience.” Share 3 annotations, journal reading reflections.
  Homework: Image collection and comments
W 2/21 Black Elk Speaks. Hand in Comp Books.
  Homework: Continue class exercise in journal.
W 2/28 Black Elk Speaks
  Homework: Images and connections journal entry
W 3/7 Black Elk Speaks
  Homework: Synthesis journal entry
W 3/14 William Carlos Williams  and American Moderns, annotation exercise.
  Homework: poetry exercise, paste in journal.
W 3/21 Class Cancelled: Snow Day
  Homework: Annotations in Howl book.
W 3/28 Howl and Supermarket in California. In-class reading includes “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” some excerpts by William Carlos Williams, and “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.”
  Homework: flesh out annotations into a page of notes and reflections, following this general model:


“Pg. (#) intriguing. Lots of imagery. There’s a fullness here, like the poet is overwhelming my senses, and it mixes gross and appealing images. Seems ironic that he’s praising both.”


On another page, reflect on an aspect of “Howl” or “Supermarket in California.” Include details and analysis of the text as well as some reflection on how your background knowledge and experience, or lack of it, are brought to bear on what you notice and how you interpret Ginsberg’s poem.



Finish midterm zine and submit in next class.

Complete essay on Black Elk Speaks and submit by April 11th at 9:30pm.


NO CLASS W 4/11 – classes on F sched. Read “Bartleby the Scrivener” in preparation for our next class, held Wednesday April 18th.

Journal entry: in your composition book, draw a portrait of the two central characters in “Bartleby the Scrivener,” and draw an “anatomy” of their character, pointing out two or three of their characteristics. Example.

W 4/18 In class with rhetorical analysis:

Ralph Waldo Ellison, “Living with Music.”

  Homework: TBA
W 4/25 Beloved
  Homework: journal writing.
W 5/2 Beloved. Hand in comp books.
  Homework: Images and reflections
W 5/9 Beloved
W 5/16 Final project zine due by 11:59pm
Final Exams 5/17-5/24  





For Wednesday 3.28

Bring your copy of Howl to class, with the poems Howl” and “Supermarket in California” annotated, and bring your copy of Whitman’s “Song of Myself.” 

Annotations: in order to get credit for this part of your annotation assignment, your annotations should include:

  1. Three things that you have looked up, such as literary references, historical detail, or terms/vocabulary.
  2. Three places where you see a connection between Ginsberg’s poem and Whitman’s “Song of Myself.”
  3. Three personal reactions–interested, surprised, confused, disgusted, curious, etc. Give a little bit of detail about your reaction.
  4. One ambiguity in the text, where you feel uncertain how you should or want to interpret it.


Midterm Zine Assignment

What is a zine?

The answer, with any genre, is it depends on the context.

A genre is a combination of form and content created to suit a specific context or purpose. Essays, for example, may have similar form and content, but the differences depend on their contexts. Some essays have contexts that encourage writers to use “I,” for example, and some essays have contexts that forbit it.


A zine is a form (a self-published “magazine,” often made as a folded booklet) with content that is related to the zine’s author. Writers of zines combine visual and textual material, and often the material is a combination of stuff the writer made and stuff the writer took from sources In some contexts, zine writers are not expected to cite their sources. They just grab images and texts and reprint them, often adding text, drawing on top of them, and so on. In this context, the university, all writers are expected to cite their sources.

Zines are usually somewhat personal. This does not mean they cover intimate information about the author, express a bunch of the author’s feelings, or make everything “about” them. It means that the questions asked, and the ideas discussed, related “back” to the author’s process of making sense of things. Here are some of the “moves” that zine writers make:

“I have been exploring X. Here is a little bit of X (a picture or quotation, or full reprinting if it is a short poem). I think X about it. It makes me ask questions A and B.”

Sometimes “Questions A and B” make up the theme of the issue, and at other times they continue the line of inquiry that were introduced by another, previous question that determined the theme. Each entry in that issue, then, relates to the theme.

What have we established then, so far, about zines? Zines are self-published, mini-magazines in which writers combine collage and quotation with original writing and images. The writer ties them together by subject and theme, and relates its material to the writer’s process of thinking about the subject. Notice, also, that questions are just as important as assertions in a zine, because questions and assertions, in the form of reflections and arguments, are what drive the process of thinking about the subject.


In the case of this class, the subject of every zine should be the texts and theme of Great Works of American Literature. That said, your zine should have its own theme, one that reflects the way you read and consider the course texts and topics. All borrowed sources should be cited, on the page and in a “works cited” section in the back.

Zines can be made by copying material that is glued to a page, or they can be made using publishing softward like Adobe InDesign or Pages.

The layout and font each give writers an opportunity to share something about how they see the world, their tastes, and their creativity. These are all exciting decisions for you to make! Writers must balance creativity with function—material should be legible and relevant. Your zine will be an artifact of the class.

Your final project for this class will be a complete zine, with a relevant theme, reflections, images, a collage, samples of your more formal writing for this class, and selections from your composition book entries. To prepare you for this formal project, this assignment will walk you through the creation of your Midterm Zine.


Take a few pieces of card stock. This will serve as your art board. Fold the stack of cardstock in half to make up your imagined booklet, and go through and number your pages. This way, when you take the pages apart, you’ll have an idea of how they fit together. Please do not cover more than one page number per page side. Now you have the “canvas” for your zine. Let’s work on content! Remember: save the last page for your Works Cited. This is an important section for just about every genre in the university. You will also need a blank page in the front if you intend to have a Table of Contents (your choice). These are genres that invite a lot of creativity.

  1. Read

    Download (PDF, Unknown)

    ’s chapter from The Vocabulary of Comics, in which he discusses the icon. Remember the assignment to choose an image and write about how it is an argument? I asked you to describe what you see as the “America” or “Americanness” or the “American beauty/ugliness” that you take to be the photographer’s vision, using as much detail from the image’s composition as you could. You wrote about symmetry, nature, cities, isolation, ethnicity, and so on. Remember your image? On one of the pages of your zine, draw the image as you remember it, and write a caption, in 3-4 lines, that explains the photographer’s argument about America/Americanness. You might add to it now that you have spent a little more time reflecting on it.
  2. Cut the poems from today’s stack out of their pages (see links below if you need to print out your own copy). Paste them in your artboard (your zine pages) in an order that makes sense to you. What is your organizing scheme? What kind of thinking does it reflect? Be sure to allow for space between poems, for your reflections, and be sure to include those reflections. Your reflections should take up roughly 1-2x the space of the poem itself.
  3. Reflect on the poems, including details such as word choice, tone, and imagery.
  4. As you discuss each poem with your peers, be careful to annotate the poems. This becomes part of your zine. Draw in the margins, and reflect on the poem and the way we talk about it. Your reflections can also be personal—what does this bring up for you and your life experience?
  5. By now, you should have some theme come up, some “bigger picture.” What has been your thematic focus? What pattern do you see in the way you read the texts? Write about that in your
  6. Your next job is to give it a title and a cover. Do this at home and bring your completed Midterm Zine to our next class meeting.

Here are links to the poems to include in your zine:


Revised Syllabus


As I mentioned in our last class, I’ve decided to revise our course syllabus in order to give  students more time to read and prepare for class. The reading will be divided so that a useful fraction of it is completed in class, in the context of the course discussion.

This week you will receive your composition books. Please note that you will be expected to copy pages of your book for your final project zine. With this in mind, it is vital that you make your writing legible. Your work will be shown to other students in the class.

Download (DOCX, 84B)

Snow Day

Hi Students,

All of the CUNY campuses are closed today, and we will not make a special exception for our class. Please see the course blog for a post about next week. I will also announce the new post via Blackboard.

Stay warm!


Hello students!

Please read these poems three times each:


This Wednesday, we’re going to wrap up our discussion of Black Elk Speaks and discuss the revision of our “Exquisite Corpse” essay. Please bring your copy of Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” which I gave to you a couple of weeks ago, and bring Black Elk Speaks. We’ll discuss the staging of Black Elk’s visions. If you did not include a hard copy of your image of Americanness with your recent journal entry, please bring that as well.

Please note: after this class, you will not be able to submit the current journal entries for credit.


Assignments due 2/28

On Wednesday, the 28th, we’ll talk about the first half of Black Elk Speaks, and we’ll look at your images and talk about them. You will leave your composition book (your journal) with me when you leave class.



Pages 1-80 of Black Elk Speaks


Image assignment: For the class on 1/21, I brought in a collection of photography books in which the artist is making an argument for a way of seeing “America.” The photographer may position the photo as an instance of American beauty, or an instance of American ugliness, or as a specifically American aesthetic. In either of these instances, the argument the photographer is making defines what is American in some way. This is part of how a nation is imagined and defined, through aesthetics. “Aesthetics” is a term that is used differently in different contexts. It comes from the word for sensation, and it has to do with the way people take in information through the senses. We talked about the senses in reference to Whitman and Emerson. Whitman is deeply sensual in his description of his experience of America, a nation that he describes, in his preference, as a poem. Emerson describes the way his senses, namely his eyes, take on a horizon of many particular parts to encounter a whole that is bigger than the sum of those parts. Similarly, American photographers have argued for a way of seeing their landscape, street scene, or portrait as a portrait, also, of an aspect of the “American” sensual (visual, tactile, etc.) experience.


Your job: find an image from a book of photography or an advertisement. The image needs to be by someone who has authored an argument with that image. It is easy to see what an advertisement is arguing if it claims to sell something, but how is the way it sells also selling an image of its audience as Americans?


Find an image as described above, bring a copy of it to class—you may print it out from online or scan it and print it—and write a page or so in your journal describing what you see as the photographer’s argument. What details are included or left out? What is in the background? You might use words like symmetry or asymmetry, balance, contrast, and/or texture. Do your best to write what about what you see, and don’t worry if it’s a challenge—that’s part of the point!


Note: In a later class, you will have opportunities to make your own images. Please do not bring in pictures you have taken to this class.


Important for 2/14: No Class

Dear Students,

Instead of meeting in class, I want you to “watch” the following YouTube video. It is the recording of a reading of Emerson’s Nature. The link to “Nature” is also below. I suggest reading along, using a pen to note (you may need to pause) the following in your journal:

–things that surprise or intrigue you (you’ll be expected to name at least one such instance, in class, next week)

–something you don’t understand (you’ll be expected to go back and look this up, using your collegiate research skills)

Once you’ve gone through “Nature,” go back to your book and flesh out some thoughts about what intrigued or surprised you. Look up anything you noted down as a confusing detail, and write about it enough to be able to discuss it next week, after you’ve forgotten half of the details (your notes will thus be very useful).

Emerson, “Nature”

Read out loud, “Nature”

Due Wednesday, 2/21:

Read Emerson’s “Experience,” and write one to two pages in your journal reflecting on what you believe is the most relevant part of the essay for your world (or your life) today. Write it legibly: I really will be reading this.

There are two other things due, including your journal entry on the breath,  in which you practice one of the postures with deep diaphragmatic breathing described in the handout I gave you, for five minutes, then read a section from Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” OUT LOUD, TWICE,  then write a journal entry reflecting on the poetry passage and sharing any thoughts about the breathing exercise. Lastly, you must bring your copy of Black Elk Speaks. This is required reading. We will begin working with it when we meet; you’re not expected to read any of it in advance. Your reading of Emerson will have prepared you for this kind of reading, which I believe you’ll find much easier.

A note about the essay revision: the essay was so incredibly bad that I would like to talk about it and to some work together first, then send you home for a revision. Therefore, it isn’t something you need to work on this week. Spend the extra time reading Emerson.

Emerson, “Experience”

Some study texts to help with reading:




Assignment for 4/7

Assignment for the weekend:

Buy a composition book.

Read the syllabus.

Read “Song of Myself,” following the links on the course website. Print it out and annotate it. Find a section (4-8 lines) to read out loud and practice it. You’ll have your turn in class next week. Read, also, the Preface to Leaves of Grass and prepare to discuss it in small groups and as a class.

As much as possible, I use links for you for the reading.

Reading for 2/7