A presentation for
Student Support
Troy University
Troy, AL 36082
Provide students with a general overview of a
few poets who have greatly influenced literary
culture in the United States and internationally.
Encourage students to develop an appreciation
for poetry, literacy, creative writing and artistic
Encourage students to think critically about the
various literary elements that poets apply.
POETRY . . . What is it?
Slide Source:
Poetry is “a type of
literature that expresses
ideas, feelings, or tells a
story in a specific form
(usually using lines and
Poetry can break from
traditional forms and
continue to be poetry
with its infusion of
literary elements.
A poet is a literary
artist who uses
words to create
images or messages
that evoke an
intellectual or other
critical thoughts and
responses in readers.
Slide Source: http://home.comcast.net/~vldschool/Poetry%20Terminology.ppt#256,2,POETRY
Shakespeare was brilliant, and . . .
Many other poets are great and have contributed much to the
literary and poetic arts.
Consider American poets and their contributions to the poetic
diaspora (the dispersion or population of poets in the world).
Consider, too, that poets, though they may be well-known for
their writings, are humans whose lives impacted their creative
Consider how many great poets have been forgotten, despite
their major contributions and genius.
First, look at these influential American Poets
who have gotten limited recognition
Sterling Allen Brown(1901-1989)
Sterling Brown is one of the unsung heroes of AfricanAmerican poetry. Born in 1901, died in 1989, Brown spent
most of his life as an English professor at Howard University,
where he taught a wide range of courses from Shakespeare to
World Literature.
While generations of students—Amiri Baraka and
Gwendolyn Brooks being two of the most famous—have paid
tribute to his influential teaching, his poetry was largely
neglected during his lifetime.
Sterling Brown Poem excerpt
Riverbank Blues
A man git his feet set in a sticky
A man git dis yellow water
in his blood,
No need for hopin', no need
for doin',
Muddy streams keep him
fixed for good.
Source: www.poets.org;
Brown’s use of
dialect and blues as a
mantra for
expressing the
reality of black life
in the United States.
Paul Laurence Dunbar
(another often forgotten poet)
Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906)
Paul Laurence Dunbar was the first African-American to
gain national eminence as a poet.
Born in 1872 in Dayton, Ohio, he was the son of ex-slaves
and classmate to Orville Wright of aviation fame as one of
The Wright Brothers.
He suffered depression and alcoholism after separation from
his wife, yet he still published 12 poetry books.
He worked as an elevator operator and in several other job to
pay off debts incurred from publishing his poetry.
He died of complications of tuberculosis. It is believed his
work in the Library of Congress with all of the dusty books
contributed to his declining health.
Paul Laurence Poem
We Wear the Mask
WE wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.
Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.
We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!
“We Wear
the Mask”
Lyrics of Lowly Life, in 1896
by Dodd, Mead, and
Relevance of Our Un-song Poets
Dunbar exemplifies the stifled voice of many
peoples and the frustrated voice of many
Voices may be stifled because of differences:
political, racial, gender, economic, social,
psychological, philosophical, emotional, etc.
He represents the power of poetry to evoke feelings
and teach people to apply a literary psychology in
order to survive daily.
Despite their genius and fame, many poets were
often misunderstood because of their unique
dispositions and ideals.
Sources for the following slides unless otherwise specified: http://www.online-literature.com/dickinson/;
inson.html; poets.org; http://www.vcu.edu/engweb/eng384/emilybio.htm;
Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)
Images: yahoo.com
Emily Dickinson Biography
Born December 10, 1830 in Amherst, MA.
Educated at Amherst Academy.
At 17, began college at Mount Holyoke Female
Seminary; she became ill the spring of her first year
and did not return.
She would leave home only for short trips for the
remainder of her life, leading scholars to speculate
she may have been agoraphobic (fear of going in
public or managing crowds).
Was She Weird?
Known for being a recluse, she didn’t leave
her family’s homestead for any reason after
the late 1860’s.
She almost always wore white.
She often lowered snacks and treats in baskets
to neighborhood children from her window,
careful never to let them see her face.
Dickinson’s Poetry Famous for . . .
Regular meter—hymn meter (musical) and
ballad meter, also known as Common meter
Quatrains (four line stanzas)
Often 1st and 3rd lines rhyme, 2nd and 4th lines
rhyme in iambic pentameter
The use of dashes
Thematic handling of nature and spiritual
themes (life and death in particular)
Dickinson’s Publishing Career
Sent poems to Thomas Wentworth Higginson,
a literary critic and family friend.
He recognized her talent, but tried to
“improve” them, which made Dickinson lose
At the time of her death, only seven of her
poems had been published.
Dickinson’s poem
I heard a fly buzz when I died;
The stillness round my form
Was like the stillness in the air
Between the heaves of storm.
The eyes beside had wrung them dry,
And breaths were gathering sure
For that last onset, when the king
Be witnessed in his power.
I willed my keepsakes, signed away
What portion of me I
Could make assignable,- and then
There interposed a fly,
With blue, uncertain, stumbling buzz,
Between the light and me;
And then the windows failed, and then
I could not see to see.
“The death in this poem is painless, yet
the vision of death it presents is
horrifying, even gruesome. The
appearance of an ordinary, insignificant
fly at the climax of a life at first merely
startles and disconcerts us. But by the
end of the poem, the fly has acquired
dreadful meaning. Clearly, the central
image is the fly. It makes a literal
appearance in three of the four stanzas
and is what the speaker experiences in
dying.” – source:
Dickinson’s Legacy
Dickinson died May 15, 1886, of nephritis
(kidney disease).
Dickinson is considered influential to poets
such as Adrienne Rich, Richard Wilbur,
Archibald MacLeish, and William Stafford.
Along with Walt Whitman, Dickinson is one
of the two giants of American poetry of the
19th century.
Walt Whitman (1819-1892)
Lived between time of the
War of 1812 and The American Civil War.
Gained prominence as a “Free Verse” poet
Walt Whitman
Born and raised in New
York (Manhattan)
His poetry broke every
rule of traditional poetry
Famous volume of
poetry: Leaves of Grass
Walt Whitman
Mixed reactions to his poetry, possibly because of
its sensual references.
Ralph Waldo Emerson/Abe Lincoln loved it.
Whittier hated it—threw it in the fire
Themes Whitman covered were Nature,
Democracy, and Common Man.
He introduced Free Verse to America
Slide Source:
alt Whitman
Whitman’s Free Verse . . .
Presented a series of images
Used Other Literary Devices other than rhyme form
Alliteration (repeated sounds at the beginning of words) :
Ex: “CELEBRATE myself, and sing myself”
Onomatopoeia (use of words that sound like their
meaning) – Ex: buzz
Repetition – rhetorical device (repeating certain words
or sounds for effect or emphasis)
Imagery – creating sensory details or pictures using
specific and deliberate word choice
Whitman’s “Song of Myself” poem
I CELEBRATE myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer
My tongue, every atom of my blood, form'd from this soil,
this air,
Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and
their parents the same,
I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin,
Hoping to cease not till death.
What is “Song of Myself” About?
Whitman reveals his desire to examine the individual, the
communion between individuals, and the individual's place
in the universe.
The poem is a meditation on what it is to be human, as well
as a song to the America that Whitman felt so passionately
about, and a sermon about the equality of man.
It is a long poem in which he makes mention of people in
various occupations, people of different ethnicities, and the
original energy (ability or potential to do work) that all
individuals have in the universe.
Phyllis Wheatley (1753-1784)
“America's first published, black poet”
Wheatley’s life
Born in Senegal, Africa in 1753, she was sold into slavery at the age of seven to
John and Susannah Wheatley of Boston.
Although originally brought into the Wheatley household as a servant and
attendant to Wheatley's wife, Phillis was soon accepted as a member of the
family, and was raised with the Wheatley's other two children.
Phillis' popularity as a poet both in the United States and England ultimately
brought her freedom from slavery on October 18, 1773. She even appeared
before General Washington in March, 1776 for her poetry and was a strong
supporter of independence during the Revolutionary War.
She felt slavery to be the issue which separated whites from true heroism: whites
can not "hope to find/Divine acceptance with th' Almighty mind" when "they
disgrace/And hold in bondage Afric's blameless race."
Wheatley’s Talent
Phillis displayed her remarkable talents by learning to read and write
English. At the age of twelve she was reading the Greek and Latin classics,
and passages from the Bible. At thirteen she wrote her first poem.
Phillis became a Boston sensation after she wrote a poem on the death of the
evangelical preacher George Whitefield in 1770. Three years later, thirty-nine
of her poems were published in London as Poems on Various Subjects,
Religious and Moral. It was the first book to be published by a black
Most of Phillis Wheatley's poems reflect her religious and classical New
England upbringing. Writing in heroic couplets, many of her poems consist
of elegies (mournful poems) while others stress the theme of Christian
Although racial equality is not a theme to be found in Phillis Wheatley's
poetry, one allusion of injustice appears in one of her most famous poems, On
Being Brought From Africa To America.
Wheatley’s Poem
On Being Brought From Africa To America
'Twas mercy brought me from my pagan land,
Taught my beknighted soul to understand
That there's a God, that there's a Savior too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
"Their color is a diabolic dye."
Remember Christians; Negroes, black as Cain,
May be refin'd, and join th' angelic train.
----Phillis Wheatley
T. S. Eliot (1888-1965)
T. S. (Thomas Stearn) Eliot’s Life
T. S. Eliot . . .
Being an introspective kind of person, as most poets are, Eliot
underwent a profound religious transformation. Eliot was
confirmed as a member of the Anglican church in 1927. This
brought him a much more positive attitude towards life that can be
seen in his writings after this date.
It is rather difficult to find much information on T. S. Eliot, which
is quite hard to understand, considering the profound impact he had
on American and English literature. Eliot was a very private man
and forbade in his will an official biography.
Eliot died on January 4, 1965. He was closely affiliated with Ezra
Pound and James Joyce, who had very controversial writing
T. S. (Thomas Stearn) Eliot’s Life
T. S. Eliot . . .
Born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1888.
Attended Harvard University, in addition to the best preparatory
He finished his bachelor’s degree in only three years.
Eliot held many different kinds of jobs throughout his lifetime, as writing
poetry was not and still is not the most lucrative of occupations when one
is not well-known. His occupations varied from schoolmaster, bank clerk,
free-lance writer, assistant editor (of the Egoist), editor (of The Criterion),
publisher (with Faber and Faber) and even professor of poetry at Harvard.
T. S. (Thomas Stearn) Eliot
Most famous works focused on human feelings of disillusionment and Alienation:
The Wasteland (His disillusionment with the economic and social state of the world
in the 1920s) -- He wrote this poem after suffering a serious writer’s block.
The “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”
Loneliness and Alienation: Prufrock is a pathetic man whose anxieties and
obsessions have isolated him.
Indecision: Prufrock resists making decisions for fear that their outcomes will turn
out wrong.
Inadequacy: Prufrock continually worries that he will make a fool of himself and
that people will ridicule him for his clothes, his bald spot, and his overall physical
Pessimism: Prufrock sees only the negative side of his own life and the lives of
Soruce: http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/a_f/eliot/life.htm
From “The Love Song of . . . Prufrock”
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.
I have seen them riding seaward on the
Combing the white hair of the waves blown
When the wind blows the water white and
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.
The speaker realizes that
time is passing and that he
is growing old. However,
like other men going
through a middle-age crisis,
he considers changing his
hairstyle and clothes. Like
Odysseus in the Homer’s
Odyssey, he has heard the
song of the sirens.
However, they are not
singing to him. Source:
Ezra Pound (1885 - 1972)
“The Poet’s Poet” because
of his belief in the
superiority of poetry as
an art form.
Ezra Pound Biography
Born in Hailey, Idaho, and raised in Philadelphia.
Spent most of his career in self-imposed exile from America because he could not get
published here as a young writer. (very controversial because of his political views
and relentless commitment to free speech and support of new writers and theories.)
Started the Imagist school and participated in the Vorticist Movement in Europe.
Imagism: a movement of American and English poets whose verse was characterized by
concrete language and figures of speech, modern subject matter, freedom in the use of meter,
and avoidance of mystical themes.
Vorticism – “It was Pound who coined the name Vorticism, which was
meant to connote vital, violent, rather mystical action” (Encyclopedia of Art (New
York: Greystone Press, 1971), s.v. "Vorticism.“ / library.flawlesslogic.com.)
Supported the publication of other controversial writers -- T. S. Eliot and James
Wrote Cantos, an experimental epic (long narrative poem) which he never finished,
yet it is considered “one of the most influential pieces of American literature.” He
worked on it 50 years.
Source: http://www.bookrags.com/Ezra_Pound
Ezra Pound’s Biography (cont.)
The Cantos records the poet's “spiritual quest for
transcendence, and his intellectual search for worldly
wisdom” and has been compared by many to Dante’s Inferno.
Credited with being the inventor of modern Chinese poetry
because of his powerful translations of ancient Chinese
According to Katherine Anne Porter, "Pound was one of the
most opinionated and unselfish men who ever lived, and
he made friends and enemies everywhere by the simple
exercise of the classic American constitutional right of free
speech." (The Letters of E.P., 1907-1941, New York Times
Book Reviwe, 29 Oct. 1950)
Ezra Pound Poem excerpt
At fourteen I married My Lord you.
I never laughed, being bashful.
Lowering my head, I looked at the wall.
Called to, a thousand times, I never
looked back.
At fifteen I stopped scowling,
I desired my dust to be mingled with
Forever and forever and forever.
Why should I climb the lookout?
At sixteen you departed,
You went into far Ku-to-en, by the river
of swirling eddies,
And you have been gone five months.
The monkeys make sorrowful noise
“The River
Wife: A
Ezra Pound’s Themes (some)
That language can be translated clearly.
That human experiences transcend time and
culture. He translated Japanese and Chinese
poetry into English.
That free speech is for all.
That language should be used purposely in
order to achieve maximum meaning out of
Langston Hughes (1902 - 1967)
Langston Hughes Biography
James Langston Hughes was born February 1, 1902, in Joplin, Missouri.
After his parents divorced and until his mother remarried, he lived with
his grandmother. His father moved to Mexico.
Hughes’ writing influences were Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Carl Sandburg,
and Walt Whitman, though Huges if known for his insightful, colorful
portrayals of black life in America from the twenties through the sixties.
He was a major player in the Harlemn (New Negro Renaissance)
Langston Hughes died of complications from prostate cancer in May 22,
1967, in New York.
Hughes Poem
What happens to a dream
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore-And then run?
Does it stink like rotten
Or crust and sugar over-like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
Understanding Hughes’ “What Happens to
a Dream Deferred?” poem
The questions are all rhetorical questions, because they
intend to answer themselves.
Each question in the first stanza uses simile: “like a raisin in
the sun,” “like a sore,”like rotten meat,” “like a syrupy
sweet.” The second stanza which is not a question but a
suggestion also uses simile “like a heavy load.” The last
stanza uses metaphor, “does it explode?”
The poem employs rime: sun-run, meat-sweet, load-explode.
The poem also uses imagery: “raisin in the sun,” “fester like a
sore— / And then run,” “stink like rotten meat,” etc.
Gwendolyn Brooks (1917 – 2000)
Gwendolyn Brooks Biography
Gwendolyn Brooks quickly rose to national prominence.
Born in Topeka Kansas, but raised in Chicago, IL. Became Poet Laureate of Illinois in
1968. She was married and had two children.
In 1945 her first book of poetry, A Street in Bronzeville (published by Harper and Row),
brought her instant critical acclaim.
She was selected one of Mademoiselle magazine's "Ten Young Women of the Year," she won
her first Guggenheim Fellowship, and she became a fellow of the American Academy of
Arts and Letters. Her second book of poems, Annie Allen (1949), won Poetry magazine's
Eunice Tietjens Prize.
In 1950 Gwendolyn Brooks became the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize.
From that time to the present, she has seen the recipient of a number of awards, fellowships,
and honorary degrees usually designated as Doctor of Humane Letters.
Her poetry moves from traditional forms including ballads, sonnets, variations of the
Chaucerian and Spenserian stanzas as well as the rhythm of the blues to the most
unrestricted free verse.
Source: http://www.english.illinois.edu/Maps/poets/a_f/brooks/life.htm
Gwendolyn Brooks Poem
We real cool.
We Left school.
We Lurk late.
We Strike straight.
We Sing sin.
We Thin gin.
We Jazz June.
We Die soon.
Link to web page and audio:
Robert Frost (1874 - 1963)
“America’s Most
Celebrated Poet”
Robert Frost Biography
Though his work is principally associated with the life and landscape of
New England, and usually very traditional in its forms, Frost gained
universal prominence for his universal themes and modern use of
language as it is actually spoken
His poems are also deeply ironic and thought-provoking.
He received the honor of four Pulitzer Prizes.
Robert Frost lived and taught for many years in Massachusetts and
Vermont, and died in Boston on January 29, 1963.
Despite his success, he never earned a college degree.
Robert Frost’s Poem excerpt
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
“The Road
Not Taken”
Frost describes this as his
“Tricky Poem” -Interpretation: We can
not know how our choices
will affect our future until
after we have made the
choices and waited to see
their outcomes.
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