Teaching Romanticism, Poetics, and Lyric Theory

Cumbersome terminology aside, this essay demonstrates the use and interest of teaching the debated concept of lyric ontology in the Romantic Poetry classroom across undergraduate and graduate levels. It moves from a narrative introduction on Robert Frost's very material practice of "lyric overhearing" on his Derry, New Hampshire party-phone line, to extended consideration of the recent scholarly turn to historical poetics in the study of nineteenth century British and American Poetry. I discuss Virginia Jackson's influential and compelling anti-lyric anti-theory——Jackson's version of the resistance to theory——as it presents a teachable conflict with the Romantic "literary absolute." The essay ends by reconsidering the metonymic linkage between the position of Romanticism and the position of poetry/ literature/ the Humanities in the institution of the contemporary university, and with brief suggestions for lesson plan ideas and student readings. (Post-production note: contemporary American poet Ben Lerner's The Hatred of Poetry [Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016] makes for a timely addition to the essay's bibliographic suggestions and also may impart something like a critical mass to the essay's approach to teaching in the rift between poetic ontology and historical poetics.)