Blogging about Renaissance verse

Stanford’s Center for Medieval and Early Modern Studies is full of great examples of blogging-about-literature. Each post focuses on one or two figures, events, or problems in the study of medieval and Renaissance culture, and relates it, just as precisely, to a modern-day topic. The authors manage to be conversational without neglecting grammar and style, to be detailed without (much) technical jargon, and to produce an argument freed from the burden of step-by-step documentation. Here are two posts which relate well to our last few discussions:

Michael Ursell’s post, “The Endless Sonnet,” describes a clever Twitter-based algorithm called the Pentametron. This program “discovers lines of iambic pentameter within millions of tweets and reassembles them into rhyming couplets, which are then retweeted as ‘an endless crowdsourced sonnet.'” The idea offends some professional poets, who feel it makes the venerable sonnet form “disposable”–but, Ursell points out, some poets declared the sonnet dead as early as the 1580s. Does it count as found poetry if the text has been “found” by a computer program? It does, in any case, remind us how much of everyday speech is loosely iambic.

While Ursell’s post described the sonnet form being consciously retooled for a new medium, another post, by Katie Kadue, finds an early modern poetic convention repeated in the unconscious of American culture. In “Upon Some Women: Steubenville, Lyric Poetry, and Female Irrelevance,” Kadue responds to an ongoing rape investigation at a high school in Ohio which has gained national attention. She argues that some depictions of the victim bring to mind “a tradition of love lyric that goes a step beyond…objectifying women and instead casually disposes of them altogether.” As an example of lyric misogyny, she refers to Donne’s “The Flea,” which, as well as being the paradigmatic example of the metaphysical conceit, is also one of the most unusual attempts at seduction in literary history.

Either post–or any other story featured on our class blog–can be a springboard for your writing or presentation. For instance, do you find Kadue’s argument convincing (i.e., does the poetry cast a different light on the news story, or vice versa)? What if one of Shakespeare’s Sonnets had furnished her example, instead of Donne and Herrick?


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