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projects: notable authors

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Saved by Mark Gaipa
on October 17, 2010 at 4:52:58 pm


Ideas for working with the Notable Authors & Texts Index


Part 1: Doing things with canonical authors/texts


The MJP (anti-) anthology. Because most of the authors in the Notable Authors and Texts Index have been published in various recent anthologies, we might think of the list as an anthology (or mega-anthology) of key authors and texts in the MJP archives. But there’s this fundamental difference: anthologies extract texts from their original publishing contexts and place them in the neighborhood of other such texts, whereas the MJP archive returns these texts to what is often their original publishing context. In a way, then, the MJP anthology is also an anti-anthology, since it reverses the work (of decontextualization and dehistoricization) performed by anthologies. 


For this reason, the index can help foreground the process and effects of anthologization that may otherwise be invisible to students. Here are some ways to address this topic:


Idea 1. How does anthologization affect the texts anthologized?  You can use the author/text index and the MJP archives to help students recover what has been filtered from the anthologies—and reflect upon the way our perception of a text changes when it’s been anthologized. Select a poem from the index that appears in an popular anthology (ideally, one that students already have available to them in class), and then have students compare how the text appears in the anthology with how it appears in the journal from the MJP archive, while addressing such concerns/questions as these:

  • Context 1: other poems by the same author. If the poem appears in the journal among other poems by the same author that don't also appear in the anthology, you can discuss what makes the anthologized poem more worthy of anthologization than the non-anthologized poems. Could/should any of these other poems from the journal be anthologized instead? How would that change our view of the poet? Likewise, we can also compare the poet's other poems from the journal (which were likely written about the same time) with the other poems by the poet that accompany it in the anthology (which may have been written over the span of a lifetime). What impression of the poet do we get from either set of texts? Do we prefer one version of the poet over the other?
  • Context 2: texts by other authors. We can also compare the poet's neighbors in the journal with his/her immediate neighbors in the anthology: are they the same people (i.e., have other authors in the journal also been anthologized?) or perhaps the same kind of people? How does our understanding of the poet and the poet's works change when read in light of one poetic/literary neighborhood or the other?
  • Context 3: local vs. literary history. We can pull back even further from the poem and read it in light of anything that appears in the journal (on the one hand) vs. the full arc of literary history that is represented by the anthology (on the other hand). In the first case, the context of the poem includes an assortment of texts, images, ideas, and events that likely sprung from a very specific moment in time; in the other, the context is more narrowly defined by some notion of literature while ranging across a much longer span of time. So how does the poem and its poet appear differently when we move between the two contexts? Does the poem seem to resonate with any events, values, or concerns represented elsewhere in the journal? What happens to those resonances when the poem is read against the wider arc of the anthology's representation of literary history? Conversely, what role does the poet (and the poem) seem to play in the story of literary history that the anthology is trying to tell? And can we still discern those aspects of the poet/poem in the journal?


Idea 2. From then to now: examining the publishing history of an anthologized text.  You might assign students to find out how a poem that first appeared in an MJP magazine eventually wound up in an anthology. Students can research how the poem was selected, over time, to appear in various publications and other anthologies, and they may also trace out the rising popularity of the poem by researching the evolving criticism of it and its author. Then have students discuss whether this history of the poem’s reception reveals anything about its significance that is not apparent in either the original magazine or the anthology: e.g., how has the poem been valued, and what does that reading of the text say about the poet and his/her poetry or career?


Idea 3. Building a better anthology (perhaps).  Have students select four poems in the anthology by different authors from about the same period, and then have them select four different poems by the same authors from the MJP journals that don't appear in the anthology but seem to them to have real merit. Then ask them to debate whether or not each selected poem should replace the corresponding poem for that poet in the anthology. What different picture of poetry for that period arises if we switched all four poems in the anthology?


Variation on the above: Have students replace four of the authors (and their poems) in the anthology with four other poets (and an equal number of poems) from the MJP archive who were writing at about the same time but have been left out of the anthology. Then ask them to defend their choices, explaining the difference these new poets and poems make and why the change is an improvement.


Idea 4. Style: individual or communal? To what extent is the style of a poet an individual creation (or the expression of personal genius), and to what extent is it instead a product of the literary context in which he or she lived?  Have students debate this question by selecting from the class's anthology a poet whose work shows up in MJP journals, and then see if they can find in those journals historical, social, or literary "sources" for the poet's work or for the kind of poetry s/he typically writes. Also ask them to look in those magazines for examples of poetry by other poets that seem to resemble the style (or stance, or subject matter) of the poet in the anthology. Then discuss whether the anthology disposes us to see poets' work as the original product of individual genius by omitting other writers from the period who may have been working in a similar vein.


Idea 5. Discrepancies between versions of the same text.  It may come as a surprise to students that alternative versions exist of the texts printed in their anthology. If an anthologized text appears in one of the MJP journals, it’s almost always different in some way—sometimes, in startling ways. For such texts in the MJP archive, you might check the teaching pages for their authors, as we’ve tried to call attention there to these discrepancies (which may make it easier to start comparing the two versions). Here are some questions for thinking through those discrepancies:

  • How important are the differences between the two versions of the text? Do they strike you as incidental or essential to the composition of the text?  Is there any difference that seems to strongly change the meaning or effect of the text?
  • What do you think explains the differences between the two texts? (Students will probably have to conduct research into the bibliographical history of the text to test their surmises.)
  • Which version of the text do like more? Why?
  • What assumptions or values do you think are expressed by the author's decision to change the text?
  • What scholarly values are at working in the decision by the anthology's editor to publish one version instead of the other?





Part 2: Doing things with non-canonical (or minor, or neglected) authors/texts

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