The Russian Modernist Poets (LIT4175.01)

Michael Dumanis

The period between the 1890s and 1920s was known as the Silver Age of Russian poetry, a time of invention and innovation against the backdrop of revolution, war, societal upheaval, and the eventual formation of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union’s repressive authoritarian regime sought to stamp out artistic experimentation and personal expression that wasn’t in service to the propaganda of Socialist Realism, and by the 1930s, most of these vital, original voices had been silenced. This course will provide an overview of the tumultuous political and historical context as it takes a close look at the avant-garde movements that developed during these decades of Russian poetry (Symbolism, Acmeism, Futurism, and OBERIU), focusing on the work of Anna Akhmatova, Alexander Blok, Sergei Esenin, Daniil Kharms, Velimir Khlebnikov, Osip Mandelstam, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Boris Pasternak, Marina Tsvetaeva, and Alexander Vvedensky. We will read all poems in English translation (sometimes multiple translations) and consider the particular challenges of translating poetry from Russian into English. We will also consider the avant-garde Russian visual arts movements that developed at the same time. Additionally we will watch and discuss Dziga Vertov’s 1929 silent documentary film Man with a Movie Camera and read Mayakovsky’s play The Bedbug. Each student will be responsible for one presentation, one detailed annotation of a poem, and one longer essay.


Learning Outcomes:
Each student will

1) develop a familiarity with early 20th century Russian poetry, and an understanding of particular aesthetic schools and movements ranging from Symbolism to Futurism to Socialist Realism
2) study the political and societal consequences of the collapse of the Russian empire and the emergence of the USSR
3) research individual writers and concepts, and develop a presentation of their research
4) develop their close reading skills and their critical writing skills
5) consider the challenges of translation and comparatively assess multiple translations of the same text

Delivery Method: Fully in-person
Prerequisites: All students interested in this course should submit a statement of interest and brief sample of critical writing (3-4 pages -- can be an excerpt from a longer piece) submitted via this form by November 12.
Corequisites: As this is a 4000 level class, attendance at all Literature at Bennington and Poetry at Bennington events on Wednesdays at 7pm is required.
Course Level: 4000-level
Credits: 2
Th 10:00AM - 11:50AM (Full-term)
Maximum Enrollment: 15
Course Frequency: One time only

Categories: All courses , Fully In-Person , Literature
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