Great women poets: Sappho, Dickinson and Tsvetaeva
Time: 10:15 - 12:15
This course will be delivered online. See the ‘What is the course about?’ section in course details for more information.
Course Code: HLT07
Duration: 8 sessions (over 8 weeks)
What is the course about?
Above all, we will want to experience the intellectual and emotional challenge of each of the three on her own startlingly original and uncompromising terms: the Sappho, stripped of as many preconceptions as we can manage, who has come down to us from antiquity in a scatter of luminous fragments, which one commentator has called “beautiful, isolated limbs”; the Dickinson who cultivated, assiduously, her own resistance to categorisation or any overweaning interpretation, reminding us that “those who know her, know her less / The nearer her they get”; and the Tsvetaeva whose relentless ardour brooked no resistance and propels us into a world of destructive cycles of longing (“her recklessness commands, her nakedness flames” says Susan Sontag), but whose singing voice, melodic and incantatory (“Mother gave us to drink from the opened vein of Lyricism”) and belief in the transcendent value of poetry astonish as much as they terrify.
This is a live online course. You will need:
- Internet connection. The classes work best with Chrome.
- A computer with microphone and camera is best (e.g. a PC/laptop/iMac/MacBook), or a tablet/iPad/smart phone/iPhone if you don't have a computer.
We will contact you with joining instructions before your course starts.
What will we cover?
Three preliminary sessions will be needed to place each of the three fully within her own geographical, historical and literary contexts and to read closely a range of selected key poems. We will consider the ways in which other women (and sometimes men) - writers, critics, theorists - have responded to their poetry, aspects of their original reception whether appreciative or otherwise, and the meanings of what they achieved for political and gender discussion today. We will also need, of course, to consider the difficulties placed in our way when we seek intimate, sensory and intellectually convincing access to these writers (what is poetry if not the most intimate of art forms?) by the hurdle of translation - or, in Dickinson’s case, by the efforts of a succession of male editors to stifle or even silence her “eccentric”, irreverent and thrillingly all-embracing vision.
The remaining sessions will place the three poets side by side thematically and in terms of their respective poetics. We will bring their work to the table rather in the manner of Caryl Churchill's play "Top Girls", which begins with a colloquium between, among others, Pope Joan, Lady Nijo, Chaucer’s Griselda and Brueghel’s Dull Gret, in order to set up a series of dialogues across the centuries and between cultures. We will allow Sappho, Dickinson and Tsvetaeva to speak to one another and we will have the privilege of listening.
What will I achieve?
By the end of this course you should be able to...
• Discuss the poems studied in depth and with considerable sophistication
• Return to these poets’ other works with a renewed sense of their richness, their complexity and their ability to
comment on human experience irrespective of the times or places in which they were written
• Understand the aspects of their own worlds – cultural, artistic, political, ideological – that most preoccupied them and therefore left the most significant marks on their outputs.
What level is the course and do I need any particular skills?
No previous knowledge is required. Anyone who enjoys close reading and is willing to take part in discussion is welcome.
How will I be taught, and will there be any work outside the class?
There will be a variety of teaching methods, including direct tutor input, power point, video and audio clips. Small group or pair work will be encouraged and there will also be plenary feedback and discussion. There will be opportunities to express why individually we are participating on the course and what we hope to take away from it. No work outside class apart from any reading of one or more of the featured texts you are able to do beforehand.
Are there any other costs? Is there anything I need to bring?
There will be a substantial core selection of poems recommended and provided by the tutor. Recommended editions for those who wish to buy them are: Stung with Love: Poems and Fragments of Sappho, Penguin 2009; any recent collection of Emily Dickinson’s poems (also widely available on Kindle), although there are none that can be considered definitive apart, perhaps, from the sumptuous Emily Dickinson’s Poems: As She Preserved Them ed. Christanne Miller; and Bride of Ice: New Selected Poems by Marina Tsvetaeva, Carcanet 2009.
When I've finished, what course can I do next?
Please look for other poetry courses at www.citylit.ac.uk/ History, Culture and Writing/literature/poetry.
Stephen Winfield has lectured in English for over thirty years. He taught Language and Literature at Richmond upon Thames College in Twickenham from 1989 to 2017, and was Coordinator of the International Baccalaureate there from 2004 to 2016. He has also lectured in English Literature at the University of Katowice in Poland and taught Business English in Paris. He has taught a range of EFL courses at Richmond College, for the Bell School of Languages, the Sinoscope Project at Kings College London and the BBC Summer School. He has taught classes in English, American and International Literature at City Lit since 2014.
Please note: We reserve the right to change our tutors from those advertised. This happens rarely, but if it does, we are unable to refund fees due to this. Our tutors may have different teaching styles; however we guarantee a consistent quality of teaching in all our courses.