What does artistic production look like during a time of cultural unrest? How did America’s poets help shape the political landscape of the American 60s and 70s, two decades that saw the rise of the Black Panthers, “Flower Power,” psychedelia, and Vietnam War protests? Through reading poetry, studying films like Easy Rider, and engaging with the music of the times (Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors) we will think about art’s ability to move the cultural needle and not merely reflect the times but pose important questions about race, gender, class, sexuality, and identity at large. We will think of poetry as a tool with which to interact with the world, looking at it critically on the basis of language and aesthetics, but also as a countercultural product that has the ability to occupy both cult and mainstream status.
The poets we will study include Allen Ginsberg, Amiri Baraka, Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, Eileen Myles, and others. We will talk about The Beats, The San Francisco Renaissance, The New York School poets, and the Black Mountain poets as well. There will be creative and exploratory exercises including writing poems, making videos and collages, in addition to writing critical essays and partaking in visual analysis. Often we will consider how the time period we’re studying compares with the grunge phenomenon of the 90s, the rise of hip hop, the Occupy movement of 2011, Black Lives Matter, and today’s #resist collective. Modes in which artists and the public have organized resistance, whether person to person, on college campuses, or today, via social media, will be additional subjects to consider, as well as contemporary poets carrying the torch and rallying cry of the 1960s into 2019. The commodification of art as protest and capitalism’s ability to absorb all critiques of itself will be posed as challenges to all the texts and poets we study.