Poetry and the American Civil War

This is a 10-week seminar, starting February 22, 2017.

Moderator:                Elizabeth Armstrong
Day and Time:         Wednesday, 10:00AM- 12:00PM
Format:                      Seminar
Location:                   Applewood Meeting Room, Amherst
                                        (free parking on site)

To understand how in the period before and during the Civil War poets gave voice to the beliefs, hopes and fears of Americans and how, in turn, the War influenced the development of American poetry.

“Will not these days be by the poets sung?

From the Antebellum Period through the conclusion of the Civil War, poetry was everywhere – in the popular press, north and south, in magazines, hospital newspapers, carried in the pockets of soldiers’ uniforms, and sung around campfires.  While poetry was used to drum up patriotic fervor, solace the grieving and entertain families around the kitchen table, it was itself transformed by the War.  After the exuberant vigor of Lydia Ward Howe’s “Glory, Glory hallelujah,” the tone of poetry was tamped down to somber meditation.  Recoiling from the spectacle of body-littered countrysides, Emily Dickinson described “chips of blank in boyish eyes” and “piles of solid moan.”  Sentimental doggerel became nuanced realistic poetry.

In this seminar we will sample poems of the time – written on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line – by men and women, free and enslaved blacks.  Emphasis will be on Howe, Dickinson, Walt Whitman and George Moses Horton.  Other poets may include John Greenleaf Whittier, the southerner Henry Timrod and Frances Ellen Watkins Harper.  The historical and literary context of the poems will also be considered.

Role of participants:
Participants will offer a 40 minute presentation and discussion on a poet or related subject.  Copies of poems referenced shall be provided by the presenter.  The moderator will provide lists of print and a/v resources as well as suggested poets and topics.

Recommended, though not required, is Poets of the Civil War, edited by J.D. McClatchy, 2005.  Other books of value are:  Words for the Hour: A New Anthology of American Civil War Poetry, edited by Barrett and Miller, 2005, and To Fight Aloud is Very Brave: American Poetry and the Civil War by Faith Barrett, 2012.

About the Moderator:
Elizabeth has moderated many seminars in literature, most recently on Novellas, and Reading Beowulf.