Poetry and Objects

August 2, 2018

By Nancy Kuhl

Well known on campus and around the world as a site of important historical documents of all kinds, the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript is also a regional and national center of the living art of American Poetry. In addition to collecting significant contemporary poetry books and archives and hosting the Yale Collection of American Literature Reading Series, a dynamic series of readings and related events on campus, the Beinecke’s Yale Collection of American Literature is co-sponsoring a Fall 2018 seminar with the Humanities Program, and the Departments of English and American Studies, and the Yale University Art Gallery: Poetry and Objects  ENGL 235, HUMS 252, AMST 346 . Professor Karin Roffman will lead the course.

Course Description:

This class, which alternates meetings at the Beinecke Library and the Art Gallery Objects Classroom, will look at objects in three ways: from the point of view of the institutions that house and display them, the artists who collect them, and the poems in which they appear. 

This semester we will focus on approximately 25 (primarily small) objects that are generally overlooked and under described, both by institutions and in poems.  Yet there is an art to non-description, as we will discover, and quite a bit of variety as to how seemingly unexceptional things are named.  At the same time, there are exceptional examples of unexceptional things, as we will see in both the Beinecke library and the art gallery.  When poets write about these things—often actively flattening their uninteresting qualities—does that practice of non-description make these things especially worthy of our attention?  In this course, the less interesting the description of an object in a poem, the more we will pay attention to its history and life in and out of poems.

For the first half of the course, classes are organized around groups of objects; in the second half of the course there will be visits by three contemporary poets who will discuss a relationship between poetry and objects and between writing poetry and collecting in their own life and art.  Throughout the entire semester, we will read their poems and study related poetry, essays, objects and manuscripts.

Poets Terrance Hayes, Ann Lauterbach, and Ron Padgett will visit the class.


Above: Title page of Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons: Objects illustrated and interpreted by Sandra Gibbons (YCAL MSS 1092VIEW ALL 59 IMAGES


Collections and Resources:

Guide to the Ann Lauterbach Papers at Beinecke Library (YCAL MSS 736)

Guide to the Ron Padgett Papers at Beinecke Library (YCAL MSS 721)

Readings at Yale Fall 2018

About Karin RoffmanNYTimes Review of Roffman’s The Songs We Know Best: John Ashbery’s Early Life

Yale Collection of American Literature Curators

American Decorative Arts, Yale Univeristy Art Gallery