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Understanding Poetry


Period/Genre: understanding Poetry


Lecturers: Dr K. Moolman & Mr V. Mtyende
First semester only
4 seminars per week
Enrolment: 50 places
OMB Room 23


The aim of this course is to enable students to explore the genre of poetry, familiarising themselves with its history, features, forms and uses of language – everything that makes poetry the complex, expressive, enjoyable mode of writing that it is. Students will be helped to develop the skills and confidence needed to read, discuss and write about poetry effectively and with understanding.
The course will be divided into two parts. The first part of the course will use the recent anthology In the Heat of Shadows (see below) as a way of coming to an understanding of some of the defining characteristics of contemporary South African poetry. Some commentators claim that the ‘intense inward focus required to deal with a situation of systematic oppression, the enclosing effort of concentration on a single predicament’ (Hirson), has gone. Others claim that ‘today’s poets are not hungry enough. They are as disconnected as the rest of our pliable society’ (Nyezwa). By means of a close study of the poems in this anthology – and from others which will be provided in class – students will come to grips with some of the central themes in the poetry being written today in South Africa. In this way students will get a chance to practice the fundamental skills involved in the detailed and accurate reading of any poem, and they will learn how situate their reading within the historical moments and cultural contexts of the poem’s production.
The second part of the course will build upon the first by introducing students to African contemporary poetry. This will cover the major movements and follow the trajectory that African literature meandered since ‘independence’ to the current era of ‘disillusionment’. This section will also explore the link between African arts (in poetic form) with the poetic artistic expression in poetry & song lyrics from the Black Diaspora (focussing mainly on African-America and Caribbean poetry). There is no prescribed text for the second part of the module, a departmental hand-out, compiled by the English Studies Department staff, will be made available to students in due course.


The class mark will count 50% of the final mark, and will be made up of a combination of essays, tests, in-class writing assignments and presentations. There will be a three-hour final exam which will count for the remaining 50% of the mark for the course.

Prescribed texts

Denis Hirson, ed.   
In the Heat of Shadows: South African Poetry 1996-2013
Deep South
Understanding African Poetry         
Department of English

Who is this module for?

The course should be of interest to anyone who enjoys and is interested in poetry and wishes to improve his or her skills in reading, analysing, and discussing poems. It should also be of use to students considering a career in teaching. You do not need to have extensive previous experience of the study of poetry, but having done English 101 and 102 will be an advantage.

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